Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Symbols & signs & all those flags

I see by the news that the South Carolina Senate voted overwhelmingly on Monday to remove the Confederate battle flag from the Statehouse grounds --- and a similar outcome is expected in the House. That's a good thing, I'd say, although as an Iowan rather than a South Carolinian the decision isn't up to me.

But it got me to thinking of North Iowa's Rockwell-Swaledale school district, long since vanished into a consolidated district that now has a more geographically generic name, West Fork, and as a symbol, the "warhawk" --- whatever the heck that is. 

Back when I first moved to North Iowa and for many years thereafter, Rockwell-Swaledale athletic teams were known as the "Rebels" (were girls' teams ever the "Rebelettes?" --- just wondering) and the symbol was a Confederate battle flag upon which the blue stripes had been replaced by black. But obviously a Confederate battle flag none-the-less.

As late as the year 2000, that symbol remained an issue --- as indicated by this story from The Mason City Globe-Gazette, written by my friend Deb Nicklay.

I just don't remember what the outcome of the debate was --- or if, in the end, consolidation was needed to resolve it. Iowa-stubborn can be a powerful force, too.


Whoever dreamed up the symbol of the Chariton School District many years ago --- prior to the 1930s when my parents graduated --- did a pretty good job. So far as I know, the symbol of a mounted knight in armor has proved both sufficiently aggressive and sufficiently inoffensive to endure --- and "The Chargers" we remain.

That was not the case in Russell, where I graduated as a "Bluebird." That symbol, as the 1960s advanced into the 1970s, proved to be not nearly macho enough and while casting about for a replacement, "The Trojans" was decided upon. And so my old school district, until it vanished more recently, was symbolized for many years by a brand of condom rather than a pretty bird.


Signs and symbols are peculiar things --- with no meaning other than the very powerful ones attributed to them. It does seem likely now that the Confederate battle flag will recede in South Carolina and elsewhere, as it did in Rockwell-Swaledale, although that certainly doesn't guarantee that racism is becoming a thing of the past. There's still much work to be done in that area.

The tongue-in-cheek editorial cartoon at the top here, widely circulated recently, suggested that as one symbol is lowered, another rises. And that's interesting to think about, especially if you look upon the rainbow flag as a symbol for diversity in general, inclusive of everyone, in addition to the specific cause of LGBT equality.

It struck me --- long before the Supreme Court decision that made marriage equality the law of the land --- that the fundamentalist/evangelical wing of the Christian church --- and the Republican party --- have of late  invested a huge percentage of their assets, publicly at least, in a symbolic effort to keep LGBT people in their place --- outside the church and among the socially marginalized. So it's unlikely you'll see the rainbow flag flying anytime soon outside a Southern Baptist church or a gathering of the Iowa GOP.

The question remains, then, is there anything worth saving now in either?

As a symbol of the rainbow people we are in the United States and elsewhere, countless colors and creeds, outlooks and orientations, I like the rainbow flag. But I like the U.S. and Iowa flags better --- so long as they represent everyone. Even Republicans --- and Southern Baptists.

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