Monday, September 09, 2013

Symbol of Hate?

I passed a pick-up truck on the highway yesterday that was covered in Confederate Battle Flags. A large sticker featuring one of these flags read, "It's not a symbol of hate; it's part of our history."

Does this make sense?

Imagine a German driving a car covered with Nazi swastikas coupled with the saying, "It's not a symbol of hate; it's part of our history." Does this make the symbol any less objectionable?

On the other hand, the Star of David is a symbol of oppression to millions of Palestinians. Can I excuse this with the notion that "It's not a symbol of hate; it's part of our history," or do I have to find another symbol that is somehow neutral? And is there such a symbol?

Please don't jump on the "moral equivalency" soap box.* That isn't my point. I am NOT equating Nazis and Israelis. I am asking the question when, if ever, is a symbol beyond the pale; when, if ever, do I let other peoples' reactions to my beloved symbols influence my use of those symbols?

*I know saying this won't stop some of you from going there anyway, but please try. 

15 comments:

eashtov said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
eashtov said...

Shalom Rav,

How about the American flag to Native Americans (God knows if that's still the "in vogue, PC" term)?

And its corollary: sports team names and or their mascots/logos that use the word "Indian," or portray one?

Perhaps to avoid the "moral equivalency" charge the first of the examples may have been at least somewhat better? Then again I'm not a Native American.

Biv'racha,
Jordan

Dennis Attarian said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Maggid said...

It comes up - over & over again, doesn't it? It's a challenge to sort - symbols -

I'm super glad you brought it up again - then, I'm sorry I STILL don't have a good answer . . .

Sometimes i depend rather heavily on YOU to light up the path for us to see more clearly . . .

I'm thanking you this time for giving me the opportunity to grapple - once again . . .

-g-

andrea perez said...

Maybe the problem is understanding what the symbol actually means to them. Those using it to make such a statement...
We see some things and are hurt by the "history" without ever really asking what it is they are saying here and now.
That's the problem with any kind of language. If we were outside the conversation, we really don't get their point. We just fill in the blanks with our own understandings.
So the symbol in and of itself may not mean what it meant 65 years ago. At the same time, it just might.
In either case, maybe we just need to ask and listen to what they have to say. And, if we don't like it, or it causes more fear, we need to speak up or walk away.

andrea perez said...

Maybe the problem is understanding what the symbol actually means to them. Those using it to make such a statement...
We see some things and are hurt by the "history" without ever really asking what it is they are saying here and now.
That's the problem with any kind of language. If we were outside the conversation, we really don't get their point. We just fill in the blanks with our own understandings.
So the symbol in and of itself may not mean what it meant 65 years ago. At the same time, it just might.
In either case, maybe we just need to ask and listen to what they have to say. And, if we don't like it, or it causes more fear, we need to speak up or walk away.

Sue said...

Perhaps it is a maturity issue. As I work with young adolescents, the conversation is often about HOW the choices made become hurtful. We hope, as they grow and mature, that they more consistently choose the path toward "not hurting." Is this debate about the symbols to which we attach, the same issue grown up? Do we only need to come to fully understand how we are hurting another, to choose another way?

Mordechai Ben Nathan said...

Well the Civil War was about many things not just slavery. Mostly it was about State rights as opposed to a centralized federal governmental power. It was the culmination of the showdown between a Federalist notion of governance and a Jeffersonian notion of decentralized democracy. Obviously slavery needed to be rooted out. But even Lincoln (who was a racist in his own right) did not free the slaves until well after the Civil War began.

Mordechai Ben Nathan said...

Well the Civil War was about many things not just slavery. Mostly it was about State rights as opposed to a centralized federal governmental power. It was the culmination of the showdown between a Federalist notion of governance and a Jeffersonian notion of decentralized democracy. Obviously slavery needed to be rooted out. But even Lincoln (who was a racist in his own right) did not free the slaves until well after the Civil War began.

Dennis Attarian said...

Does anyone actually believe the symbols on his truck are ways to remind us of our country's history? That to me is doubly offensive; 1/insensitivity towards those who feel the indignity of losing a most bloody civil war and 2/ believing anyone who reads it are dumb enough to believe it has a historical significance other than "Mistakes were made and painful lessons learned". Why rub folks noses in it.

Erick Reynolds said...

Symbols and images are just forms of communication. As with all communication there is the intended message sent and the independent message received. Often message sent has little to do with message received. The sender may or may not intend to offend. The receiver may ignore or intentionally take offense or not even understand there was a message. Hindus have a religious symbol that can be easily mistaken for a swastika. It is up to the viewer the take a meaning or try to understand the sender.

Erick Reynolds said...

I think the owner of the vehicle with confederate flags is protesting people with certain sensitivities and interpretations insisting their interpretation of a symbol is the morally correct one and therefore all others should be like minded. It is just a graphic. The message in your mind.

But one can be simply offended by someone burning an American flag or try to seek to understand why the offender needed to send the message of anger.

Fraser said...

I think it is in the same bag as free speech. You may object to what is being said or shown but the only thing for it is to let your point of view or flag fly and hope for the best.

kate said...

Symbols are not "just graphics." They are graphics imbued with powerful meanings. Certainly, symbols that suggest power over another are not just graphics. The gentle, caring thing to do would be to realize that a symbol can be a source of pain just as easily as it can be a source of pride, and then to reflect on whether maintaining one's sense of pride is worth the pain and fear it may be inflicting on another.

Unknown said...

the jews used the swastika for 10,000 years prior to it being co-opted by the nazis. the hindus and jains still use it, and there are parts of india where the people are completely ignorant of the nazi connotations of the swastika.

it's not evil because it's a swastika. it's evil because it's a symbol of nazi philosophy, and if it is in context that doesn't contain other nazi philosophy, it should be of no particular concern to jews, or anybody else