In the aftermath of the shooting of nine black people in Charleston, South Carolina, people with an undying allegiance to the Confederate flag have come under heavy scrutiny. Now, after selling the flags for years, big retailers and online shops are finally taking notice.
Multiple photos of Dylann Roof, who has been charged with murder for the shootings, surfaced with him posing with the Confederate flag, and other symbols of white supremacy. After politicians on both sides of the aisle called for the flag’s removal from government property, a few manufacturers said they’ll stop making the flags, and retailers like Amazon, Walmart, Alibaba, and Etsy have pulled all Confederate flag merchandise from their stores.
Make no mistake, this isn’t the end of the Confederate flag. White supremacists will express their hatred in other ways, and anyone who wishes to find or purchase one of the flags still can. But the change in course from major businesses might change who decides to buy them.
In recent days, demand has been high for Confederate memorabilia. As LocalMemphis.com reports, the owners of FlagCenter.com said the products have been flying off the shelves. In fact, many retailers have sold out of anything Confederacy related, as customers scramble to find stores or manufacturers who still carry them.
A forum query on Godlike Productions asks for places where Confederate flags are still sold, a thread that now contains a slew of links, but nearly all of those stores are out of the merchandise until further notice.
But when the goods are restocked, anyone in the market for a flag will have to reckon with where they’re buying them from. Many of the remaining suppliers are distinctly political, in ways that may be unsettling for consumers who practice socially responsible spending. Unlike the neutral marketplaces of Amazon and Alibaba, they have names like Proud Rebel, Confederate Shop, and Rebel Store. Even their “sold out” messages belie their beliefs.
“We appreciate your support during this terribly sad time while the intolerant and the uneducated attack our Proud Southern Heritage with a vengeance,” writes Rebel Store. “Visitors to our store often thank us for our commitment to “flying the flag” and providing a store where they feel a kinship with like-minded, proud Southerners,” says Dixie Republic.
If the names of these business alone are any indication, they won’t just sell items to meed demand and make a profit. They’re also in the business of promoting the values represented by the Confederate flag, according to their political beliefs.
If one thing has become clear in this debate, it’s that people forget history easily. The goals of the Confederate rebels, in their own words, were clearly pro-slavery and white supremacy. But during the past 150 years, these hateful ideologies have been remixed and reframed into vague notions of “Southern heritage” and “rebellious spirit.” You could watch the Dukes of Hazzard and conflate the flag with a couple of scrappy underdogs, or listen to the controversial song “Accidental Racist” and assume it means you’re a Lynyrd Skynyrd fan (and that LL Cool J will totally give you a free pass).
It became easy to see it as another pop culture symbol. Slavery, oppression, and white supremacy ceased to be a part of the Confederate flag conversation for white Americans, easing steadily into the mainstream.
Now, more than ever, there aren’t many excuses left for not knowing history. As the Confederate flag flew high above the South Carolina statehouse, while churchgoers at Emanuel AME and black Americans everywhere mourned those who died, many rightfully highlighted why it was unacceptable.
That flag was Dylann Roof’s flag, the values of which motivated his vicious terrorist act. It took the blood of nine black people for the Confederate flag to, once again, be publicly associated with all the negative things it always represented. And it’s no longer as easy to casually fly it or defend its place in history.
Still, some sites are trying to reconcile their affinity for the flag and the racism it has long represented. A message at Dixie Memories says, “Those whose heart is filled with hate for another race are alien to the Kingdom of God. I ask all who have such hate to please leave my web site.”
The conversation about the flag, and the actions of larger retailers, are finally forcing people to choose sides. Either admit it’s time for the Confederate flag to come down, or fight for it and everything it stands for.
Amazon’s ban will not keep white supremacists and confederate sympathizers from buying and displaying the Confederate flag. They will always find a way, even if they have to sew their own. But if pro-confederacy websites are the only places to buy them, it may force those who never thought twice about it to seriously question their dedication to such a racist symbol.
Plenty of people didn’t even know they were on the fence. But with options limited to unapologetically white supremacist retailers and sympathizers, it’ll be easier than ever for them to choose a side.
Jaya Saxena is a writer from New York City, and still lives there, making her somewhat of a townie. Her writing has appeared on the Toast, the Hairpin, Men’s Journal, Gothamist, First We Feast, Serious Eats, the Guardian and others.
Photo via eyeliam/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)