America still won't confront the demons of the Confederacy: Denying racism & ignoring inconvenient history

A new poll reveals a staggering number of white Americans don't see the Confederate flag as racist

By Sophia Tesfaye

Senior Politics Editor

Published July 1, 2015 1:36PM (EDT)

  (Reuters/Brian Snyder)
(Reuters/Brian Snyder)

As the United States of America prepares to honor Old Glory with fireworks and hot dogs, the union finds itself divided over the Confederate flag -- because this isn't 2015, it's actually 1956.

I'm only half-kidding. Pro-Confederate flag rallies are popping up throughout the South, and there are reports of a planned KKK rally in support of the flag after a racist attack on a Charleston church by self-avowed white supremacist and proud Confederate flag flyer, Dylann Roof, sparked a nationwide debate on it's symbolism. Despite the relatively swift response from Southern Republican governors who acquiesced to demands it be removed from state grounds, half of America remains recalcitrant on the matter.

According to a new USA TODAY/Suffolk University poll, 42 percent of Americans think the flag is a racist symbol while 42 percent do not. While the overall split may be disheartening, the dividing lines are hardly a surprise. More than 75 percent of black respondents agreed that the Confederate flag was a racist symbol and supported its removal from public lands while only a third of whites agreed. Half of white respondents defended the flag remaining on public lands as a symbol of Southern history, denying the notion that it is a racist symbol.

And as is to be expected, respondents in the South, the region where the Confederate flag is most common, were least likely to see it as racist. A near majority, 49 percent, said the flag was not a racist symbol but "a representative of Southern history." Americans in the Northeast and West were most likely to view the flag as racist while Midwesterners were more evenly split, with 44 percent calling it a racist symbol and 42 percent disagreeing.

As Preofessor James W. Loewen explains in the Washington Post, the reason there even still remains a debate in America over the Confederate flag despite all of the documentation surrounding it's inception, usage and reintroduction in the South, all deeply rooted in the white supremacist cause, is because systemic misinformation has been passed off as history. "The Confederates won with the pen (and the noose) what they could not win on the battlefield: the cause of white supremacy and the dominant understanding of what the war was all about. We are still digging ourselves out from under the misinformation that they spread, which has manifested in both our history books and our public monuments."

By Sophia Tesfaye

Sophia Tesfaye is Salon's senior editor for news and politics, and resides in Washington, D.C. You can find her on Twitter at @SophiaTesfaye.

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Confederate Flag Polling Race