GoGreen58, a student who attends the University of South Carolina Beaufort, is vowing not to remove a Confederate flag hanging in his dorm room, according to a CNN iReport. The producer notes the student, who said he “loves” the South and is proud that one of his ancestors may have been a private in the Civil War, began flying the flag two months ago in his dorm room and had to take it down over the university’s Thanksgiving break.
In the video, the student, who identified himself as Byron Thomas in a previous video on his YouTube channel, said the housing department at the school wants him to take down the flag. “When I look at this flag, I just don’t see racism,” he said in the video. “I see pride, respect and Southern pride.” He goes on to say the flag was used as a “communication symbol.” He notes he’s contacted the Sons of Confederate Veterans to help him in his battle. He also rants about how he “hates” being called an African-American “because he was not born in Africa” and the phrase “makes me feel like I’m a half-citizen.” He noted he will from now on choose “Other” as his race because he is 100 percent American.
I’m really not sure whether to laugh or cry at the video, to be honest. On one hand, I respect the student’s opinion. On the other, I find it hard to defend his rationale behind flying the Confederate flag.
Thomas has every right to stand behind his opinion about the Confederate flag, but he does not have the right to misrepresent and call the flag a “communication symbol.” There’s been plenty of white-washing of history by nostalgic Southerners, 21st century Confederate sympathizers and interest groups about the Civil War and the Confederate flag. The Confederate flag is a symbol of hate as it represented the splintering of a nation based on one region’s desire to hold onto slavery and Jim Crow. The Confederate flag is rooted in the racist, sexist notion prevalent in the south–and across the country–that white men are the sole ones entitled to pursue life and liberty in America. It’s rooted in the racial propaganda used to justify the enslavement, subjugation and subsequent second-class citizenship white southerners inflicted upon African-Americans.
The Confederacy was formed to uphold a society in which white slave owners would be able to freely purchase, abuse, rape, kill and subjugate black bodies in the name of the Southern way of life. The Confederacy was formed to stop so-called Northern aggression from interfering with whites and white slave owners’ desire to continue operating a society that kept black people in physical and mental bondage. The Confederacy was not a place in which people, both black and white, got a long and lived and worked side-by-side in some sentimental, fictitious Antebellum time period. The Confederacy was not a place in which black slaves happily performed endless hours of chores, tended to white children in the big house and, specifically, black slave women enthusiastically satisfied the sexual appetite of their slave masters.
The Confederacy was a place in which a black slave could be beaten or killed at the drop of a hat and in which blacks would not be allowed to obtain full citizenship solely due to the color of their skin.
I find it laughable Thomas could even seriously state his belief that the flag represents “pride, respect and Southern pride.” One could believe the Confederate flag represents that–if they are only talking about white southerners who were the real, tangible beneficiaries of the formation of the Confederacy.
I’m sure the South Carolina chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans would be glad to help him in his cause. What predominately white organization wouldn’t take advantage of a young black man pledging allegiance to the Confederacy to promote their warped belief that the symbol isn’t racist?
I’m also curious about Thomas’s hatred of the term African-American. We often hear white Americans whose families have been here for centuries often disparage any use of hyphenated terms to identify with one’s race or ethnicity. This criticism is often backed by the flawed assumption that race doesn’t matter and these ethnic and racial groups need to drop their allegiance to the motherland in order to become assimilated American citizens. Using hyphenated terms to identify with one’s race and ethnicity is still seen as controversial by some as the celebration of what’s been established as non-white American traditions is viewed as un-American and a throwback to our country’s so-called racist past. I mean, we’re post-racial now!
I’m not sure whether this is a genuine belief of the aforementioned philosophy on Thomas’s part or if there’s some subliminal self-hatred starting to surface. Whatever it is, it’s mind-boggling to watch a black man publicly proclaim he’s not African-American (or black, since he will from now on choose “Other”). While I don’t agree with Thomas’ rationale about the Confederate flag, I’m more disturbed by his belief that using the term African-American somehow means a black person is not a full American citizen. While he has every right to claim the racial category of “Other,” any black person born in this country who refer to themselves as African-American is not any less of a citizen than a white person of Italian descent opting to simply call themselves white. It’s disheartening to hear Thomas publicly proclaim he feels like a “half-citizen” if he calls himself African-American.
I wonder if he realizes those same Sons of Confederate Veterans members he’s seeking support from will use his race as a black man to further their propaganda. Even if he publicly rejects identifying as black or African-American, whiteness will gladly use various ways to conveniently remind him of his otherness.
Unfortunately, it appears Thomas has bought into the white nationalist myth that the use of hyphenated identities never allows citizens, mainly those who are POCs, to fully embrace America and what it stands for. It’s clear Thomas has become yet another victim of whiteness’ campaign to convince POCs, specifically African-Americans, to internalize hatred and contempt for themselves and for blackness.