The S.C. Secessionist Party has disbanded. The group is mostly known for their “flagging” exercises during which they present the Confederate flag in public arenas around town. The group has also reportedly seen legal action after taking and posting photos of two young African-American boys holding Confederate flags.
It’s worth noting that the group was not an actual political party and was basically a one-man show with a bunch of digital followers. The interesting part of this story is not that the group is disbanding. What caught my attention was leader James Bessenger’s case for ending the group.
No mention of a lawsuit or even lack of interest. In fact, there was apparently an abundance of interest. According to Bessenger, the sheer number of racists and homophobes who found the Confederate flag representative of their views was surprising to him.
In other news, water is wet.
Now, Bessenger’s ignorance is not newsworthy. He’s just another dude who happens to love the Confederate flag. His revelation, though, creates a unique case study in the arguments surrounding the Confederate flag.
As the creator of a group which he described as an alternative to the Sons of Confederate Veterans, Bessenger represents the epitome of the “Southern pride” argument. The contention that the flag represents non-racist Southern heritage is the key reason why groups like the Anti-Defamation League don’t recognize the flag as a hate symbol like swastikas and Klan robes.
Bessenger’s revelation that the same people who follow his flagging group just happen to have a penchant for prejudice and hate does a bit to dash all those claims of non-racist “pride,” to say the least. That is the nuance on which we should focus.
I’ve made this point several times. The Confederate flag cannot be separated from white supremacy, racism, and bigotry. Today, even if one tried to claim that slavery wasn’t the most important reason for secession, the primary symbol of secession sure draws out the racists, as Bessenger has come to learn.
If we can agree that selling merchandise displaying Nazi symbols also adopted by hate groups is unacceptable, I have to ask why selling Confederate flag memorabilia is OK if the banner is also intimately attached to hate? Would Bessenger agree?
In a sense, Bessenger himself has become a symbol of why the Confederate flag needs to be removed from public display for all matters aside from historical education — the man who stood across the street from a Black Lives Matter demonstration has come to be a symbol for the flag’s removal.
For this reason, I have to appreciate Bessenger’s change of heart. I can’t say for sure that he no longer holds his passion for the flag, but I can hope that as a self-proclaimed outsider to the Confederate heritage community, Bessenger may be able to appreciate the feelings of those people who have fought the weight of systemic bigotry and oppression since the European conquering of the New World. The work of eliminating bigotry from our government and country, no matter how benign, continues today.
It is not enough to proclaim equality as a reality simply because of emancipation long ago or Affirmative Action today. To pretend that American history is not based on white supremacy simply because not all white folks or leaders had slaves or because time has passed is a lazy way to enjoy that privilege. Our government was founded by white men who believed enough in white supremacy to allow for the legal enslavement of other human beings. In 2019, acknowledging the Confederate flag as a symbol of hate and keeping it from public view is not erasing history. It is, in fact, acknowledging history. More than that, it is acknowledging equality as a goal toward which those who love divinely continue to strive.
Bessenger told the P&C that he is “too jaded” and “can’t commit any more energy to this movement.”
I am thankful for those who pursue equality and love tirelessly, yesterday and today.