The Rebel Flag A Southern Living Native Northerner’s Perspective

As anyone who reads this blog or knows me, I’m a native Cheesehead who spent the first 25 years of my life living mostly in Marshfield, Wisconsin with 2 stints in Madison, Wisconsin for school and a job shortly after college. I’ve been in Austin, Texas for over a year now and I have gained some interesting insights on a lot of things, either through my travels or just having my assumptions challenged by living in a completely different location all the way across the country. One interesting perspective I have gained is on the Rebel, or Confederate Flag.

The first thing I find interesting is my findings from the thousands of miles I’ve traveled down Texas roads. My job has taken me all over Texas and I have had to drive through some very remote locations to get to my destination. What I have found is the Rebel Flag flies more in a 10 mile radius of Marshfield, Wisconsin, than what I have seen in all my Texas driving. Now let’s really think about that for a minute. Texas was officially a part of the Confederacy. Wisconsin was not. The fact that the flag is flown more in a non-Confederate state than an actual Confederate state is a little perplexing.

Now I understand the Southern Pride thing, especially living in Texas. On top of Southern Pride, there’s Texas Pride. It’s actually kind of cool to see people take this kind of pride in their state in one way or another. Wisconsinites do it in the same fashion, but it mainly deals with the Packers.

So how did the Southern Pride and the Rebel Flag find its way to go hand in hand? Well after a little thing called the Civil War was done, that specific flag was long forgotten. Actually, what we think of the Rebel Flag is really the Army of Tennessee’s battle flag.  Most people don’t know that, because after the South surrendered, they basically were walking a fine line due to their treasonous acts. The reason the Rebel Flag as we know it made a rebirth was the Civil Rights movement. This flag was resurrected from the dead to rub it in the face of blacks as Southern whites actively tried to prevent their civil rights.

Now you might be asking, what does this have to do with Southern Heritage? Well think of when this flag flies at every county dance and fair with several generations growing up. The kids are then told it’s a symbol of their Southern heritage. After a while, people tend to believe it and associate this flag with all the good memories of they have while being proud to be Southern. This is where Southerners can lay a legitimate claim to heritage and not hate. Most modern Southerners do not intend to offend black people and truly see it as a symbol of their heritage.

Now let’s go to a state like Wisconsin. Wisconsin was a part of the Union. The Union actively fought to quell the rebellion brought on by the Confederacy. One thing I have found out is “Rebel Flag” is a very Northern term. People call it the Confederate Flag down here and there is actually a Confederate Heroes Day in Texas (ironically the same day as Martin Luther King Day). Northern history sees the Confederate flag as it is, a symbol of an act of treasonous rebellion. Specifically, Wisconsin history doesn’t take kindly to that flag and many Wisconsin soldiers died in the Civil War to save the union. That’s right, the Southerners committed an act of treason in their attempt to secede from the United States.

Now I know how growing up as a male in Central Wisconsin goes. There’s not a lot to do. That’s why I moved to Austin. Almost every male will go through a redneck rebel badass stage. They see the Rebel Flag almost as a middle finger to tell people how badass they are. It’s basically like small town teenage rebellion. I will admit, I was not immune to it. I owned a Rebel Flag and went through that stage myself. I’d cross my arms and go, “Stars and bars,” while my buddies and I laughed. It was really a joke and a form of telling the world to f*ck off. After a while, it was something that you basically outgrew, just like other forms of teenage rebellion.

That brings us to current events. After the church massacre of 9 innocent black people in one of the most sacred places there is, something needs to change. The old racist head of that flag has reared itself again. Dylann Roof shrouded himself in that flag and put that imagery right before everyone to see. The history of the flag is deeply rooted in racism and the misdeeds and atrocities that were carried out in the name of that racism.

This is why I find it weird it’s flown more in Wisconsin than Texas. Southerners do have a legitimate claim to heritage, as I explained before. The claim isn’t super strong in the whole scheme of things, but they do have a leg to stand on and I do respect their heritage and pride and living down South, you do see a lot of pride. I actually think it’s awesome in a way and really don’t have a problem with them flying the flag if that’s the reason they are flying it and it’s not to try to intimidate minorities. Even with that heritage claim, they still seem to fly it less than people in Wisconsin.

Now in a state such as Wisconsin, there’s no leg to stand on. Besides the whole Billy Badass phase every teenage male goes through, there’s absolutely nothing that flag represents any Northern or Wisconsin heritage whatsoever. In fact, those Confederate soldiers wanted nothing more than to kill Northerners. If this was the Civil War, that flag represented treason against you as a Northerner. People try to claim this flag in the North means freedom, but it really was the opposite to any Yankee. This flag represented a rogue nation hell bent on secession and would stop at nothing to kill anyone preventing it. That’s why it’s coined the, “Rebel Flag.”

On my first major road trip to Atlanta, I was specifically told not to go to any bars with a Rebel Flag in front. They didn’t flat out say, but I knew what they implied. Lately, in Marshfield, there have been a few guys thinking it’s cool to fly the flag around their loud jacked up trucks. They parade around town, make a bunch of noise, and show that flag to try to show just how badass they are. In reality, they’re just showing how dumbass they are. I actually challenged them to take their trucks with Wisconsin plates down to the Deep South and fly that flag. Let’s see how welcome they truly are. I bet in a good scenario they might get, “F*ck you Yankee, get the hell out.” In a worst case scenario, there might be some worse things happening.

My point is, it’s time to find a new symbol of being Billy Badass. The American Flag in itself represents that and it is actually something to be proud of since it unifies everyone. I am not saying we need to go as far as pulling Dukes of Hazzard episodes and trying to rewrite history. I am actually saying the opposite. We need to actually learn the true history of the Rebel Flag and go from there. The true history is very colored and while Southerners do have a legitimate (not super strong though) claim to heritage, Northerners have no leg to stand on. There’s nothing to be proud about and if you learned history, it should piss you off as a Northerner.

For the most part, this flag has become a symbol of hate, just as a Nazi flag is, and claiming heritage to something you clearly don’t have any to when you’re just looking for a symbol of teenage rebellion is just stupid. Find a new symbol. While this might not change any Yankee’s minds and I respect your free speech rights to fly the flag, just remember, my free speech rights (along with many others) allow me to call you a dumbass and tell you to learn a little history on a symbol that should be fading into the sunset.

Read Part II here

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