Tag Archives: flag

Why is the Confederate flag so offensive?

Clare Corbould, Deakin University

Most Australians — aside from a few groups dedicated to reenacting American Civil War battles and history buffs including Bob Carr and Kim Beazley — were not familiar until recently with the charged history of the flag of the Confederate States of America.

Now the flag is in the Australian news with reports SAS military in Afghanistan in 2012 used the bold red, blue and white flag to guide in a US helicopter. Two SAS personnel also posed for a photograph with the flag.

Why do these images of Australian soldiers posing with a flag from another country’s long-ago war provoke such strong reactions? Because the flag has long symbolised defiance, rebellion, an ideal of whiteness and the social and political exclusion of non-white people — in a word, racism.

The Confederacy defeated, but not punished

The flag represents the Confederate States of America (CSA or Confederacy), created in 1861 when 11 states seceded from the 85-year-old nation. This rebellion was prompted by the election of Abraham Lincoln as president. Lincoln argued slavery should not be extended to new territories the United States was annexing in the west. Southern enslavers feared slavery in their established states would be Lincoln’s next target.

The ensuing four-year Civil War between the CSA and US was resolved in 1865 with the defeat of the Confederacy and the near-abolition of enslavement.

In the aftermath of the war, a longer battle began: how to interpret the war. For 155 years, this struggle has turned largely on the contradiction that although the US fought to end slavery, most white Americans, including in the North, had little commitment to ending racism.

Read more:
The Confederate battleflag comes in waves, with a history that is still unfurling

After a decade of military occupation of the South, known as the period of Reconstruction, the US military withdrew its forces. White Southerners, who had retained their land, implemented unjust legal and labour systems, underpinned by violence and racist ideas about black people’s inferiority.

Memorials of war

The reembrace of white Southerners into the nation showed a desire to “heal” the nation by downplaying the horrors of enslavement and the struggle to end it.

New narratives depicted the war as a righteous, though tragic, struggle over “states’ rights”. By avoiding a conversation as to what those rights were about — that is, enslavement — by the 1890s, they remade the meaning of the war.

Read more:
From Louisiana to Queensland: how American slave owners started again in Australia

Confederate flags were a powerful symbol in reinterpreting the War of the Rebellion. In the 1915 box-office hit feature film, The Birth of a Nation, for example, the central battle scene involves a key character, Ben Cameron of South Carolina, ramming the pole of a Confederate flag down a United States army cannon.

In the very next shot, however, the injured Cameron is rescued from the no-man’s land between trenches by his longtime family friend, Northerner and US Army commander, Phil Stoneman.

The movie’s second half cemented the theme of reconciling white Southerners and white Northerners. As it stated in an intertitle, “The former enemies of North and South are united again in common defense of their Aryan birthright”. It even became a tool to recruit new members to the Ku Klux Klan.

The war, in this telling, was a struggle between white and Black Americans, not between the US and the rebel Confederacy.

Old film footage of Civil war film.
Jamming the flag in the famous war film The Birth of a Nation.

Blowing in the wind

The Confederate flag featured prominently in Gone with the Wind (1939), another immensely popular film that again glorified the way of life of white Southerners during and immediately after slavery. In this case, however, Hollywood used the more visually striking Confederate Battle Flag, which General Robert E. Lee had flown during the war, rather than any of the CSA’s national flags.

As Scarlett O’Hara (Vivien Leigh) arrives at a makeshift hospital, the camera pans back to a field of hundreds of wounded and dead soldiers. The scene shifts only once those soldiers are framed by a Confederate flag, blowing majestically in the breeze.

Confederate flag flies over the battlefield in Gone with the Wind.
The battlefield in Gone with the Wind (1939).

These two films buttressed a political economy that relied on a cheap labour force of disenfranchised Black Americans. But as African Americans began to make headway in the fight for civil rights, starting during World War II, symbols such as the Confederate flag became even more important to those who felt affronted by their gains.

Read more:
I am not your nice ‘Mammy’: How racist stereotypes still impact women

Enter the ‘Dixiecrats’

In the late 1940s, a new political party of Southerners opposed Harry S. Truman and the Democratic Party’s relatively sympathetic stance on civil rights.

These “Dixiecrats” adopted the Confederate battle flag as their party’s emblem. From that point, the flag was clearly associated with racist opposition to civil rights and with umbrage at perceived government intrusion into the lives of individuals.

When civil rights activism was at its most visible, in the 1950s and 1960s, many white Southerners became firmly attached to the flag.

The state of Georgia, where resistance to desegregation was fierce, adopted a new state flag that incorporated the Confederate flag.

A few years later, in 1961, neighbouring state South Carolina began flying the Confederate flag above its state Capitol.

Banning the flag

In 2000, after years of protest, South Carolina legislators moved the Confederate flag to the State House’s grounds. Then, after white supremacist Dylann Roof endorsed the Confederate flag and murdered nine black churchgoers in 2015, activist Bree Newsome shimmied up the pole and removed it in a galvanising act of civil disobedience.

Two weeks later, the flag in South Carolina’s house of government was finally removed for good. In the years since, hundreds of Confederate flags, statues and memorials have disappeared, including in the national Capitol.

In 2016, recognising the flag’s toxic history, major retailers announced they would no longer sell the flag.

In the wake of George Floyd’s murder, the removal of Confederate symbols has accelerated. In recent months, Southern company Nascar has banned the flag and the Department of Defense has effectively done so, too.

In a polarised political and media environment, many white Southerners continue to defend their allegiance to the Confederate flag.

They claim the battle flag represents their Southern heritage, as if that heritage comprises an innocent history of mint juleps and church-going. The problem with that claim, as the history of the use of the flag demonstrates, is that the heritage it symbolises is also that of enslavement, inequality, violence and gross injustice. The Conversation

Clare Corbould, Associate Professor, Deakin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Rare Purple Flags

Minority histories of the Indian national flag

File 20170815 28964 1w057go
India’s tricolour (which actually has four colours) hides a complex subaltern history that originates with Mahatma Gandhi.
Adam Jones/Flickr, CC BY-ND

Sadan Jha, Centre for Social Studies

This week, India celebrates 70 years of independence. The tricolour flag, perhaps the most tangible and potent symbol of freedom from colonial servitude, is on particularly full display.

Few weeks ago, a rally was organised in Delhi under a 2,200-foot-long tricolour. At Attari, on the border of India and Pakistan, the tallest Indian flag in the country was recently mounted atop a 360-foot-high pole. Last year, Purnia, a town in northern State of Bihar, had a 7.1-kilometre-long tricolour. Size, it turns out, does matter.

Flag-waving also occupies a wide range of terrains, from banal street corners and sports matches to movie screens, in a display of both fervour and pride. The song “Maula Mere Le Le Meri Jaan” from the Hindi movie Chak De India (2007) is one such moment:

Teeja tera rang thaa main to teeja tere dhang se main to”, it intones, reflecting on the flag’s green shade: “I was your third colour, the one as fashioned by you”.

Chak De India, 2007, starring the well-known Shah Rukh Khan.

Such spectacles generally come wrapped in the visual vocabulary of majoritarian politics, wherein the voices and concerns of the largest community dominate. Loyalty to the flag is never sui generis; its citizens must be inculcated to display and demonstrate patriotism in this specific way.

The vivid shades of the Indian tricolour actually have a secret subaltern history, a genealogy that has been largely forgotten. As India celebrates its independence from Britain, it’s a story worth remembering.

A symbol with a forgotten history

We begin this brief history with an official document called Specification for the National Flag of India (Cotton Khadi), in which the Bureau of Indian Standards prescribes that the Indian national flag shall be a tricolour consisting of three rectangular (sub)panels of equal widths.

The specified colours are “India saffron”, “white” and “India green”. At the centre is a design of the Ashoka Chakra, the “wheel of peaceful change” associated with a legendary ancient emperor Ashoka from the third century BCE. The wheel is in navy blue, the document says, before going into great technical detail on other aspects of the national flag.

Two obvious questions arise here. Firstly, why do we call it a three-colour flag? Why has blue been erased from our cognitive frame when we think about the colour scheme of India’s national flag?

And, second, this document does not tell us anything about meanings, social significance and popular perceptions pertaining to these four shades. We must go back in time to understand their origins.

Blue, the colour of revolt and dalit politics

In the popular memory of colonial period, blue is the colour of resistance. Commonly associated with indigo, the shade owes its political imagery from the “Indigo revolt” (Nil vidroha), a peasant uprising against the white Indigo planters in 1859-60 in Bengal.

Later, in 1917, the country witnessed another massive peasant mobilisation of indigo growers, this time in the northern state of Bihar. This event was transformative even for Mahatma Gandhi, who shifted his political attention from urban centres to rural landscapes of suffering and exploitation under the colonial regime.

Gandhi’s first interview, 1931.

It would be a fitting tribute to Gandhi and those rebellious peasants that the charka, or wheel, in the centre of the flag is in navy blue. But the wheel is bereft of Mahatma’s spindle.

Gandhi in jail, spinning his wheel.

“India as a nation can live and die only for the spinning wheel”, he often claimed, and this symbol occupied a central position in the model of Swaraj, or self governance, laid out in his book Indian Home Rule.

In 1931, the Indian National Congress adopted it to don India’s pre-Independence flag as an emblem of the anti-colonial movement.

But in July 1947, just before independence, the charkha was replaced with the Ashokan wheel (chakra) in the design of India’s national flag. This irked Gandhi, who said he would “refuse to salute the flag” if it did not contain the charka.

Navy blue adorns t-shirts printed with B.R Ambedkar’s face.
JAIBHIM5/Wikimedia, CC BY-ND

There’s also the eerie silence about navy blue, which compels us to confront the deep political prejudices of Indian politics. That’s because its roots trace back to the dalit, to lower-caste politics. India’s most famous dalit icon, a contemporary of Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, is always portrayed wearing a blue coat. Blue is still the colour of dalit politics in modern India, too.

Is it a mere coincidence that the colour of the Ashokan wheel in the Indian national flag, navy blue, remains uncounted when we talk about the “tricolour flag”? Or does this gesture perhaps reveal a deep grudge against dalit politics and subaltern voices?

White for minorities

Another colour that deserves more attention in any story of the flag is white. In the aforementioned official document, while saffron and green are affixed with the word “Indian”, bestowing them a sense of rootedness and specific history, white has been denied similar cultural milieu.

Instead, it is perceived only in the universal vocabulary as representing peace and humanism. Why this erasure of particularities?

White is perhaps the most difficult shade when it comes to telling a tale. From the bridal trousseau of Christian tradition to the Himalayan snow capped Mount Kailasha, where, in poet Kalidasa’s Sanskrit classic Meghadutam, it represents the laugh of Hindu god Shiva, to the ubiquitous caging in the monochromatic uniform of Hindu widowhood, the colour white is a canvas spread wide.

For Gandhi in 1921, while the flag’s red and green symbolised Hindu and Muslim communities, respectively, white was to represent all the minority communities put together. In his scheme, they were to be protected by the other two.

Red and saffron

Soon, however, his own party, the Indian national Congress, officially distanced itself from this direct connection between colour and community. This was particularly important in the aftermath of violence between Muslims and Hindus communities that had gripped the country in the 1920s.

Secular leaders (including the future prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru) championed saffron as a colour of valour, an ancient colour, and underplayed its popular association with right wing Hindu organisation, the Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh and to the 17th-century Maratha warrior king Shivajji.

Yet to this day, the colour remains well associated with Hinduism and with Hindutva, an ideology that promotes an essentialist vision of Hinduism. We have forgotten that saffron also came to India through minority religious traditions, including Buddhism, and via other ascetic religious movements, like ancient Shramanic traditions.

Saffron flags today are associated with right-wing Hindu politics.
Al Jazeera/Flickr, CC BY-SA

It is rather ironic that in today’s aggressive nationalism, India has completely forgotten the minority histories of these colours.

Bypassing the green

The amnesia acquires a sinister property considering that the outgoing vice president, Hamid Ansari, recently voiced his anxiety pertaining to the vulnerability of minority communities in contemporary India.

In the song from the film Chak De India, this anxiety is palpable. Premised upon the popular equation of green with Islam, the lyrics refer to green as the third colour, using the past tense – “I was your third colour” – lamenting the Muslim’s community’s growing marginalisation in contemporary India.

This erasure from the present, green’s exile into the past, calls for deep introspection.

The ConversationSadan Jha is the author of Reverence, Resistance and Politics of Seeing the Indian National Flag (Cambridge University Press, 2016)

Sadan Jha, Associate Professor, Centre for Social Studies

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Article: France – The French Flag

The link below is to an article that takes a look at the origin of the modern French flag.

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Today in History: 12 April 1606

The Union Jack Becomes the Flag of Great Britain

ABOVE: The First union Jack

ABOVE: Current Union Jack


On this day in 1606, Great Britain adopted the Union Flag (also called the Union Jack) as its own, by proclamation of King James I.

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