I’m working on a english question and need a sample draft to help me learn.
WHAT’S IN A FLAG?
If you’ve received even a fundamental education in America, there’s a few bits of basic U.S. history you should know. You should know, for example, that America fought in two world wars in the 20th century. You should know that, in Nazi Germany during the 1940s, about 6 million Jews, Roma people, Slavs, and others were mass murdered in the Holocaust. (Sadly, two-thirds of millennials and Gen Z don’t seem to have been taught this (Links to an external site.).) You should know that, prior to the arrival of Europeans, the American continent was inhabited from coast to coast by splendid, sophisticated indigenous peoples. You should know that America’ early economic success relied on human slavery, and that millions of black Americans labored in shackles and suffered hideous abuses. You should know that, from April 12, 1861 to April 9, 1865, America was engulfed in a catastrophic civil war (Links to an external site.) that claimed far more lives than all of America’s other wars combined.
Hopefully your teachers taught you one essential historic fact about the American Civil War: the war was fought over the South’s determination to preserve slavery. This is not a matter of opinion. It is not a matter of interpretation. It was not kept as a secret. In fact, the states of the Confederacy explicitly declared the right of property in negro slaves as their reason for seceding in their formal documents of secession (Links to an external site.).
All of this brings us to the Confederate flag (Links to an external site.), which was the flag of the Confederate States during the five years it existed. I was born 99 years after the end of the war, and grew up in Wisconsin, far removed from the South, where the flag had been flown. Perhaps that’s why I’ve never been able to comprehend the persistence of the flag in American culture. It’s not just that it has been flying for decades at state capitols in Southern states, on Southern university campuses, from the porches of Southern homes. It’s that the Confederate flag is still displayed by people across the nation–even, astoundingly, in Marshfield, Wisconsin (Links to an external site.), the tiny town where I grew up.
I don’t know exactly what the Confederate flag means to that guy in Marshfield, Wisconsin (he claims it’s “a symbol of freedom”), but it’s very clear what the Confederate flags means to others, particularly black Americans: it’s a despised symbol of white supremacy. Appallingly, it was brandished in the U.S. Capitol building by a pro-Trump mob on January 6, 2021 (see the article above).
The murder of George Floyd, a black American, by police in 2020 (Links to an external site.) provoked a fierce campaign against the Confederate flag. Amazingly, even the state of Mississippi, a redoubt of the American South, voted overwhelmingly on November 3, 2020, to abolish its own state flag, which prominently featured the Confederate flag in its design. That dramatic story is told in the superb Radio Lab podcast above. It’s ultimately a story of triumph. After 155 years, it’s hard not to feel elated that change is finally happening.
Yet the decision by the state of Mississippi, while something to be celebrated, doesn’t stop that guy in Marshfield, Wisconsin, from ordering a Confederate flag on Amazon and flying it on Main Street. It’s one thing to change the institutions; it’s another to change a society.
Read the articles and listen to the podcast (see links below). For your reading response, write at least 300 words inspired by this topic. Here are some ideas–but you are encouraged to think independently:
- Why, more than a century and half after the the Civil War ended, do some people believe the Confederate flag has meaning for them?
- What do you think the Confederate flag now signifies? If someone says they don’t fly it as a statement of racism, what are they trying to express?
- Will the removal of the Confederate flag from state capitols inspire others to move their flags from porches, businesses, and bumper stickers on pick-up trucks?
- What other symbols can you think of that contain powerful messages and meaning–for either virtuous or awful ideas?
- What in human nature compels us to display symbols from our homes, cars, tee shirts, and water bottles?
- Are some symbols really so toxic that they should be banned? If you were making laws, how would you determine which symbols are unacceptable?
- If you’re not from the United States, are their symbols in your country that have powerful meanings–for good or for bad?
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