I'd been developing studies for “Pride Not Prejudice” for quite sometime and during one of those studies, the longstanding movement to remove the Confederate battle flag from the South Carolina statehouse had started to make real progress. I agreed with the movement because, as a state building, only the American flag and/or the state flag should be flying above it. A flag used by a handful of Confederate Army units during the Civil War didn't, politically and governmentally, belong there.
What has followed the Rebel flag’s or Dixie flag's removal from the South Carolina statehouse is a deepening sentiment against the flag on a larger scale. There are calls to remove its presence from everywhere and everything: within designs of state and county flags, from peoples' front yards, and so on. That eradication of the symbol does not sit well with me because it seems that, as a society, we keep yielding to the hate-mongers when it comes to symbolism. These groups take symbols of pride, peace, and hope and co-opt them into something heinous. And that needs to stop.
90 years ago, a failed Austrian artist took the Sanskrit symbol of luck and auspiciousness, rotated it 45 degrees, and put on a new background. Unoriginally, he created the 20th century’s most iconic representation of evil: the Nazi flag.
The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum has a concise article about the History of the Swastika and it touches upon the symbol's well-established and positive meanings from the other cultures. Those varied cultures include Buddhism, Native American, and Judaism to name a few.
Sadly, this is not the first time that a symbol had been manipulated into something negative, nor will it be the last. However, I do think that society as a whole can curtail and even eradicate these conversions.
Prejudices are borne of ignorance. I believe that is why we so often see the misappropriation of symbols by hate groups—these groups are not able to create something unique because they are stymied by their ignorance and by their own contempt.
As I undertook realizing this painting, I was conflicted: I didn’t want to create something hurtful and I knew that this painting might be perceived as such. At the same time, I did not want to bow down to people who have maligned something that may represent something positive to many good people.
Think about this for a moment: If the Ku Klux Klan or the Dixiecrats had never been allowed to use the Rebel flag or, rather, they had selected something else (because we know that they can't think of something original), what would today's sentiment be about this now-iconic flag of the American South?
Showcasing the Rebel flag does not automatically equate to being a hateful person. For many it is about being a proud Southerner, about a historic renaissance after a terrible war, about acknowledging a shameful slavery past, and being a better and stronger community now. For others more, this symbol has nothing to do with the American South at all, but it still has an assured connotation for them. Yet, those people who see something positive in the Rebel symbol may now feel a sort of shame or apprehension in displaying it.
I don’t believe that they should feel shame; I believe that is an acquiescence to hate.
I am not insensitive as to why many view the Rebel flag as oppressive, rather I fully understand. However, I believe that any symbol—be it an image, an acronym—can be claimed or reclaimed by positivity.
Perhaps it’s too idealistic for some, but for me, the belief that we can change things for the better is paramount.
I am sure that people will ask if I am a “proud Southerner” and if that why I created this piece. To that I will say that I am a proud American. As such, I am especially proud of those who have fought and continue to safeguard the rights that afford all of us the freedom to create art without fear and to speak about that art honestly and with conviction.