How to Do Things with Confederate Symbols

Supporters of Confederate statues and flags fail to understand how symbols generate “meaning” — that is, through social and historical context. In this case, we are confronted with not only the explicit connection of the Confederacy to slavery, but also the resulting use of Confederate symbols by supporters of Jim Crow-era white supremacy and those of “white fight” and segregationist policies during the civil rights era.

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Confederate Monument at the Stone Mountain State Park, Georgia c. 1972

Given that history, how are minorities supposed to think that these symbols are about anything other than racial differentiation or worse? Arguing otherwise is as logical as defending the swastika through a revisionist argument that the symbol invokes the “valor” of the German soldier.

Anyone still defending Confederate symbols today, especially after their repeated use by Nazis and white supremacists, is “doing” a racist thing, even if unknowingly or with good intention.

8/22/2017

Hassanaly Ladha is Associate Professor of French and Comparative Literature at the University of Connecticut.

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