Confederate flags being noticed more in the Okanagan

Confederate flags flying

A wave of protests following the death of George Floyd in the United States has resonated across the world and here in the Okanagan. 

Perhaps because of heightened awareness around racism, or a response to what some perceive as the state curtailing civil liberties, the Confederate flag has been spotted flying with more frequency in the Okanagan.

Castanet reader, Mike, reached out to Castanet with a photo of a confederate flag hanging in a Rutland window, "it shocked me all lit up like that, I was surprised to see it."

Mike says he was upset and disheartened when he saw the flag, which he feels likely means different things to different people.

"My association with this flag as a young naive Canadian kid was 'The Dukes of Hazzard' and that is all. As an adult, I now realize the complexities of emotions and meanings that this flag represents to many people."

Another Confederate flag was spotted flying on a Peachland porch recently as well. Anyone that has spent any length of time on Okanagan roads has probably spotted vehicles adorned with it.

"The flag means different things to different people. I do see more people brandishing the flag as a car decal or flying the flag lately," said Okanagan resident Aaron Chan, who says he is from a mixed-race family and was inspired to speak at the Black Lives Matter rally in Kelowna on June 5. 

Chan says he was the victim of racism recently in Vernon, where someone yelled at him to go back to his country, "it showed the ignorance. I'm a Canadian."

Dr. Heidi Tworek, UBC Assistant Professor in International History said, "what a highly troubling development," to see the Confederate flag flying in the Okanagan.

Mike says, "sadly I realize that people do have a right to freedom of expression but at what cost to their immigrant neighbours that live within the same complex?"

Nascar recently banned the Confederate flag from its events, while the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marines have announced plans to ban all public displays of the Confederate flag.

Still, a recent poll by Morning Consult and Politico, which appeared in Newsweek, indicated, "nearly half of Americans consider displaying the Confederate flag as merely expressing southern pride, compared to just over one third who consider it a symbol of racism."

The modern-day Confederate flag is the battle flag of General Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia.

For some white people, the flag signifies defiance to liberalism and historic pride of the civil war. But to most people of colour, it stands of a symbol of hate, white supremacy and racial violence. 

While it has been embedded in Mississippi's state flag since 1894, its modern use was revived in the 1950s in response to the civil rights movement and was used heavily by segregationists and the Ku Klux Klan. Its roots, as a flag for an army that was, in part, fighting to maintain slavery is also not forgotten by its critics. 

"I am mindful that many people believe that flag to be a symbol of heritage or regional pride. But I am also mindful of the feelings of pain and rejection of those who inherited the cultural memory and present effects of the scourge of slavery in our country," said U.S. Marine Corps commander Gen. David Berger when he announced this week that displays of the flag would be banned.

Chan says he is saddened that in 2020, someone would still feel it's OK to fly the Confederate anywhere, but especially in Canada.

"We are a nation of immigrants and minority groups," he said.

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