Wednesday, October 15, 2003

The Confederate flag in the Northwest

From my neck of the woods, so to speak ...

One arrest over alleged racial slur at meeting

BELLINGHAM, Wash. – A 14-year-old girl was arrested Monday and accused of yelling a racial slur and threatening to hang a classmate during a meeting at Meridian High School near Bellingham, Wash., according to Whatcom County Sheriff Bill Elfo.

The meeting was called by school administrators in response to reports that nooses were found hanging from a tree at the school and some students displayed Confederate flags.

The source of the dispute, it seems, is an in-school debate over the Confederate flag. It appears there is a contingent of neo-Confederates at the school who are promoting it as a symbol of white heritage. Some have been sporting it on their cars. But school rules prohibit the flag, a prohibition that has court sanction:
The courts took away students’ choice. Judges said the Confederate flag did not belong at school.

Some said flying the Confederate flag was offensive, but some students believed it was not racist.

Why would the Confederate flag be an issue in northwestern Washington? Because it is a symbol of white supremacism for people well outside the South as well. This is why phony arguments about its meaning are only cover for the stark reality that anyone -- particularly anyone of color -- who is confronted by the flag knows all too well: The Confederate flag is meant to intimidate -- to trumpet the values of white supremacy. The "heritage" which it harkens back to is mostly rife with the charred corpses of lynched innocents.

Whatcom County has a history of right-wing extremism: The Washington State Militia, whose trial In God's Country covered in detail (and which was the subject of Jane Kramer's excellent Lone Patriot: The Short Career of an American Militiaman) was based in rural Whatcom. In recent years there have been cross-burnings aimed at immigrants, and death threats aimed at peace protesters. The Patriots who filled the ranks of the WSM are still very much at large in the county, and their effect keeps bubbling to the surface.

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