I'm from the North but now live in the South. As such I have no strong ties to the Confederate Flag (in fact, I have no emotional ties at all.) But I have a friend Jay who is Southern. Let it be noted that Jay is the furthest thing from a racist as anyone who knows him will tell you; he also loves the South and thinks the following about "the flag": It is sometimes thought of as a symbol of racism. But for him, he does not think of it as a symbol of racism. He realizes that some think of it as (at least in part) a symbol of racism, but as he views the matter it is one of the primary symbols of the South (the land of BBQ, blues, the SEC, etc.) with which he identifies. In fact, he wants to take the flag back and reclaim it, not as a symbol of racism but as a symbol of all (and only) the good things he thinks it once stood for and can stand for. Moreover, he argues that the flag is a symbol of a region (or states or nation) which has a complicated past and that all flags are symbols of a similar mixed bag. (A number of progressives I know shutter in horror more at the U.S. flag than the "Hammer and Sickle." I know numerous Christians who loathe their own Christian flag.)
When I was growing up in the Midwest, the Confederate Flag was rarely thought of as a symbol of racism. Everyone I knew identified it with the Dukes of Hazard and country music. For various reasons, race relations have gotten worse in the last couple decades and the Confederate Flag is thought of by many now as (only) a symbol of racism. As few as four years ago, most blacks did not have a negative view of the flag.
Some questions: Why is that? How was it that people in favor of Clinton were able to use the flag seen above just a few years ago without weeping and gnashing of teeth? Why is it that some say today that the flag is "too toxic for public use." (Do they think it caused nine murders?) How did that happen and who turned it toxic?
The who is fairly easy: the left (and people who jump on the bandwagon--the mindless "memers" who want to be on the "right side of history" and form beliefs on the basis of volume and not arguments.) But why? Well here is a theory subject to empirical disconfirmation. The South, post-Clinton has turned strongly Republican. Moreover, the South is one of the final strongholds in support of traditional marriage, gun-rights, anti-abortion, Federalism, and all the things progressives hate. Slavery and racism are only a small part of what accounts for today's reaction to the flag I reckon, except insofar as progressives would be out of a job if not for their Marxist bent to turn every issue into an issue of class, race, and gender warfare and then exploit said warfare. If there is one group that has universal scorn heaped upon it in my own corner of the cultural elite--academia--it is the South. Your chance of landing a job drops if you are a white man with a southern accent. (If you ask your favorite professor if this is true and he denies it, he is either lying or a dolt.) And how many people in the media have a southern accent? Hardly any because they don't want to sound southern.
So the hatred of the Confederate Flag, I suggest, is not due entirely to its history with slavery or racism. And it is not because the South has become more racist in the last couple decades that the ire is hire. (Ask yourself this: how many white Southerners do you actually know who are racists? How many do you know who are not? Are there more or fewer racists today than 20, 50, 100 years ago? What are the percentages?)
The flag is a symbol. And like any other symbol its meaning can be complicated and its meaning can change.
So we are faced with either of two options:
(1) Get rid of the flag.
(2) Change its meaning for good.
The KKK burns crosses in yards. For some, the sign of the cross is associated with hatred and racism. One could thereby not use the cross as a symbol. Or one could redeem the symbol.
Is the Confederate Flag as a symbol irredeemable? I fail to see that it is. (And please, no swastika comparisons unless you care to fully tease out the analogy.) If Obama, Al Sharpton, Hillary Clinton, Mitt Romney, and so forth all stood together and said,
"We know the flag has such and such a history. We know that in the eyes of many it is a symbol of slavery and racism....But we also know the good of the South and how far it has come. The Confederate Flag was once a symbol of division and racism but we will not let racists own the meaning of the flag just like we will not let the KKK own the meaning of the Cross...."you cannot tell me that if there were this concerted effort by the right and left to pour new meaning into the Confederate Flag that eventually more people would think of it positively than negatively.
So those are the options and I have no dog in this fight. I can predict that (1) will prevail and not (2). That is because progressivism is on the upswing and there is no great love of the South therein. Slacktivism is too tempting especially when accompanied with a feeling of moral superiority.