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Time to let go: The Confederate flag and identity in contemporary America and Hawai‘i

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Confederate Flag

Imagine the Germans defending the swastika as a tribute to their history and pride. Imagine them keeping it in disregard of Holocaust remembrance and protests by human rights organizations. Most citizens of the European Union would look to the flag with horror and disgust. This scenario is almost parallel with what is happening in the United States now. The Confederate flag, a symbol of white supremacy and the brutality of slavery, is still flying at full staff on South Carolina’s statehouse grounds, defended as an emblem of historic pride.

Controversy surrounded activist Brittany Newsome’s removal of the Confederate flag from the state’s capitol grounds over last two weeks. The flag originated as an emblem for the 13 states that sought secession from the U.S. during the Civil War, but its more common connotation is with racial hatred and violence.

It is time for the U.S. to move on from a past when people would celebrate haunting reminders of racism and discrimination. The removal of the Confederate flag from public grounds doesn’t deter its preservation in museums or exhibits, but will advance the U.S. in its goal of building mutual respect. 

Hawai‘i’s Kanaka Maoli flag is also an example of cultural independence, but despite the controversy about it, it does not signify the same harm as the Confederate flag.

Heritage not hate?

Those who still fight for the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia 150 years after the Civil War don’t see it as a gruesome threatening icon. They argue it is an emblem of history, integrity and respect for their ancestors.

“I see it as a symbol of heritage and nothing more. I have ancestors who fought for the Confederacy,” legal analyst Philip Holloway wrote for CNN. “That being said, the problem with the rebel flag, flown by the state government of South Carolina, is that many people — people whom I love and care for — do not see that flag the way I do.” 

“If we are going to be an inclusive society — a society that values all people and values diversity, then the flag must come down — at least as an official government symbol,” Holloway said.

First Amendment

It is easy for white Southerners to be comfortable with the flag’s public placement, but true acceptance and healing can come only after we demonstrate we don’t always have to accommodate our personal desires. America is a diverse country where everyone is free.

“I think the Confederate flag should be removed from the grounds of state capitols as the flag is controversial and offensive to many,” UH Mānoa sophomore Joey Brown said. “As the president and others have stated, it belongs in museums, history books, and yes, Civil War strategy games. Individuals should still be free to fly the flag on private property in exercise of their First Amendment right to free speech.” 

A first step toward a respectful and accepting culture involves action on the government’s part. Hopefully, private citizens will follow.

Flag politics in Hawai‘i

Our state is no stranger to controversy in the struggle to preserve native heritage. When we think of the Hawaiian flag, two images come to mind: Ka Hae Hawai’i (the red, white, blue banner) and the Kanaka Maoli flag (the green, yellow, red banner).

Ka Hae Hawai‘i banner is the official Hawaiian flag erected and partially designed by King Kamehameha. It was flown in 1816 as a way to represent Hawai‘i while paying homage to the British Union Jack. The Kanaka Maoli flag should not be mistaken for Hawai‘i’s official state flag. 

“Because the Hawaiian kingdom’s flag incorporates the British flag and striped elements like the American flag, there are some who oppose its use and see it as an imperialist flag,” said Hawai‘i Pacific University history professor Douglas Askman. “While the Kanaka Maoli flag does not contain these symbols, it is not a flag from the Hawaiian kingdom. It is a modern flag of recent design.” 

Like the Confederate flag, it seeks to establish local cultural individualism. 

“We are not British. We are Kanaka Maoli [Native Hawaiians],” said Gene Simeona, a proponent of the flag. 

The controversy behind it shows that the U.S. is a country of diversity. While the Confederate flag and the Kanaka Maoli flag both signify cultural independence, the former nonetheless has different historical significance. Despite that the Kanaka Maoli banner is not authentic, it has never been harmful to people. Its existence is proof that cultural identity does not require historic establishment to allow people to represent themselves.

This flag should still be flown as it does not suggest harm to anybody. The Confederate flag, however, does have a history of racism and prejudice. Cultural independence is a good thing, but it should not go as far as to infringe upon the rights of other citizens, which is why the Southern symbol should go.

The abundance of cultures in the U.S. is beautiful. We should work to preserve ourselves as a free country and an open, accepting nation. To do so, we must accommodate the needs of those who make it a melting pot. Removal of the Confederate flag will allow more freedom for black people. The Kanaka Maoli allows Native Hawaiians to do likewise and represent themselves, but without threatening others.