Friday, June 25, 2004

Teeny Boppers and Confederate Flags

I am pretty actively committed to avoiding the smug superiority that many Canadians reflexively exhibit when it comes to the United States. In fact, when it comes up in conversation either from a fellow Canuck or from a Michael Moore-ish U.S. citizen, I do my best to actively oppose the myth of the great liberal Canada.

In terms of the issue of racism, for example, though I am not someone who experiences it I know that it is no less fundamental to the ordering of Canadian society than it is to the ordering of life in the U.S. In fact, I would not be surprised to hear an anti-racist activist of colour who has lived in both cities argue that there are some things that are actually slightly better in LA than in Hamilton, perhaps connected to the more prominent history of uprising and collective resistance by communities of colour in the former.

However, racism and other oppressions are the result of very real material and cultural forces, and so the details of how they manifest will be different in different places. My expectations and political instincts (such as they are) were developed in Canada, so I'm sure there are aspects to how oppression happens there that I do not see as clearly as I should because they are coded in my brain as "normal", while things here in the U.S. jump out at me more just because they are unfamiliar.

I had one such experience this afternoon.

I was out for a walk on a section of a street busy with tourists when I saw something that caught my attention. It was a white, middle-class, "coolly" dressed teenage woman; and one who would not deviate much from the stereotypical image that such a brief demographic description brings to mind, in terms of appearance. That is, except for the t-shirt she was wearing, which bore the slogan, "These colors don't run!" over images of the Confederate Flag and several other flags that seemed to be variations on that one, which I assume are the flags of some states that belonged to the Confederacy.

I hesitate to speculate what it might mean to her to be wearing symbols that so blatantly trumpet white supremacy -- I would suspect she was a tourist from the South, someone who would hotly deny being at all racist, but who will probably vote reliably for the Republican Party just like her parents and deny that racism has anything to do with her vote. But what shocked me was how completely unremarkable and unremarked upon the blatant display of such symbols was in such a public place. Which, I suppose, is yet another example of my white privilege making me surprised at things that should not surprise me.

1 comment:

crcates said...

The onion has a similar take on the entire issue this week. There's a very appropriate image on their site right now (but probably not for long). It's