Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Fun with Flags

No, not this one....

But this one...

Flags have been in the news a lot over the past few weeks, with objections being raised to the flying of the Confederate Battle Flag and also the Pride or Freedom Flag – one US Christian commentator described the Pride Flag as being “anti-Christian” and  a “banner of fascism and intolerance” and that it should be banned, whilst at the same time arguing it was OK to fly the “stars and bars”.

The flag which today is most associated with the Confederate States of America – those states which seceded from the Union in 1861 over the right to own slaves – is the Confederate Battle Flag, a flag introduced after the Battle of Manassas in 1861, because the Confederate State Flag was too similar at a distance to the Stars and Stripes of the Union forces. Today, it is often erroneously thought to have been the flag of the Confederacy, but it was not.

The Flag of the Confederate States went through several iterations: the first was rectangular, with two horizontal red stripes separated by a white stripe of equal width. In the upper left canton was a blue field, bearing nine, later thirteen, white states – one per state of the Confederacy. It looked like this:

   But because this was too similar to the Stars and Stripes a new flag was designed by newspaper owner William T Thompson  in 1863 and dubbed “The Stainless Banner” because it was predominantly white The body of the flag was white, and in the upper canton the familiar red field with the blue saltire cross. 


 In describing his flag, Thompson stated

As a national emblem, it is significant of our higher cause, the cause of a superior race, and a higher civilization contending against ignorance, infidelity, and barbarism….”

Furthermore the white field of the flag represented racial purity

We are fighting to maintain the Heaven-ordained supremacy of the white man over the inferior or colored race; a white flag would thus be emblematical of our cause.”

The Confederate Battle flag only came to prominence within the last 50 years or so because of its adoption by the Klu Klux Klan and later, as a response in many former “Southern” states as a response to the Equal Rights movement. Even today, in the discussion in the US to banish the flags of the Confederacy for good, many still hold on the idea that the Confederacy was not racist at all, merely

 “a symbol of patriots who were willing to die to protect this country and make sure it remained as the founders intended….Freedom with as little interference from the federal government as possible…. A war for southern independence”.

The Pride or Freedom Flag, by direct contrast was designed by the artist Gilbert Baker for the 1978 San Francisco Gay Freedom Day Parade.  Just as the fifteen stars on the Confederate flag represented the states of the Confederacy, so each of the six stripes of the Pride Flag has its own meaning
Red for life

Orange for healing

Yellow for sunlight

Green for nature

Blue for art

Purple for serenity

 Is it flown horizontally so that the stripes form a natural rainbow. The original flags were hand-sewn as a peace demonstration; it grew in popularity after the death of Harvey Milk and the burgeoning of the Gay Rights movement in the US.

It has often drawn controversy: in 1998  in the US John Stout sued his landlords – and won- after they forbade him from flying a pride flag; in 2004 Westminster City Council forbade the display of the pride flag by gay businesses. The decision was later overruled and only this year, again in the US, one Christian group has complained about the placement of rainbow coloured candles in a front garden, for being “relentlessly gay”.

So I ask this question, which of the two flags – the Confederate Battle Flag or the Pride Flag is really a banner for intolerance? I suppose it all depends which side of the political spectrum you sit, but the Confederate States of America- despite their romantic image via the likes of Gone with the Wind or The Blue and the Grey extolling the virtues of an idealised south –  was a country established over racism, over slavery. Whilst those who apologise for the South will say it was all about small govmint and states rights, what it actually was about was slavery. Stars and Bars or Rainbow Stripes? And if the flag, the symbol embodies the country or movement it represents, displays their virtues, then the Pride Flag is a flag of hope, a flag of freedom, and  - despite the machinations of the Christian Right, a Christian emblem, embodying the virtues of life, of healing and spirit. Moreover, it embodies the values of humanity. There's nothing fascist or intelorant represented in the values - the virtues - represented in the Pride Flag.

You chose. But I know which flag as the side of history with it, and as we approach the Gay Pride time of year, let us all fly our Rainbow Stripes with pride.

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