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Is Kanye’s Confederate Flag a New Fashion Trend?

Fashion should push the envelope…But not everyone wearing Kanye West’s shirt will be a black person who is trying to change the meaning of a symbol that has so much pain behind it.

Is the Confederate Flag a New Fashion Trend?

According to Kanye West it is. Kanye West is known to shock. He’s also known to coin phrases (his infamous line about George Bush’s lack of affinity for black folks is hardly forgettable). And he’ll fire off all caps rants into the interwebs on anything. And I mean anything (Kanye’s top 5 rants).

You know the storyline; we’ve seen the blogs. He’s very opinionated.  He’s been photographed recently rocking the Confederate flag like it’s no big deal. It doesn’t stop there.

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He’s also incorporated the Confederate flag into his Yeezus concert apparel – perhaps playing into the theme of one of his songs titled “Black Skinhead.”  So do we expect anything less from hip hop’s most opinionated? We shouldn’t, but this just rubs me the wrong way.

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*Kanye’s Concept Art Work

The Confederate Flag Will Never Symbolize Freedom

In my mind the Confederate flag is as offensive as would it be if a white person called me the n-word. So why on earth, and for the love of ‘Yeezus,’ would I wear clothing to support this?

I get it. WE get it. The n-word has been turned around. Black people use it as a term of endearment. Kanye West does what he wants. This is 2013 and everyone is so tolerant. True style is about pushing boundaries. Racism “doesn’t really exist.”

But the Confederate flag is not a symbol of Americanism or freedom, and it’s surely not a fashion statement.

The Confederate battle flag, called the “Southern Cross” or the cross of St. Andrew, has been described as both a symbol of Southern heritage and as a gut-wrenching reminder of slavery and segregation. The Confederate battle flag has been seized by the Ku Klux Klan and other racist hate groups and used as one of their emblems.

And that is the view most of us have of the flag. Not one of strong American heritage, but that of pain, racism and controversy.

Does Controversy Equal Art?

Fashion should push the envelope; after all, that is the only way we see new trends. Someone was brave enough the go against the grain. But not everyone wearing Kanye West’s shirt will be a black person who is trying to change the meaning of a symbol that has so much pain behind it. Kanye West fans are multi-racial.

The real issue becomes a disregard for people’s emotional connections to slavery’s dark past. We dismiss it by trying to embrace a symbol that should be left to rest or maybe even discussed at greater length.

It is OK to still be disgusted by racism (this of course doesn’t mean you run around thinking ‘the man’ is after you). Forgiveness doesn’t always mean forgetfulness–but I simply can’t get with this.

There are SO many other flags. Why this one? Why push the envelope just for the sake of pushing the envelope?  Does controversy equal art? The truth is, Kanye West hasn’t explained his use of the confederate flag well enough.

He told Hot 107.9 in a recent interview, “It’s not the question of racism and symbols, but more of being free as an artist. As an artist, I can use whatever I want to use to create with.”

But can he really use whatever he wants? Like I’ve said before, I generally applauded him for his style. He wears interesting things and I can’t be mad at someone who attempts to have a fashion POV. But let’s leave the historically offensive symbols at the door and move towards creating art that yes, evokes emotion, but is ultimately just plain dope – sans unnecessary controversy.

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Do you think the confederate flag has lost its meaning? Or is Kanye’s confederate flag just as offensive as it’s ever been?

  • William Charles McNeill

    The answer I’d look at when thinking about Kanye is this simply… When the confederate flag was created, was the thought behind it “Yeah, when we make this it’ll be a symbol of us hating black people?” If so then no matter what Kanye says it’s wrong. I thought the Flag just represented the south. And today people look at the flag as being southern and not a symbol of racism. I’ll probably have to look it up some more to be sure.

    • Tenika Small

      Originally the flag was a symbol of southern heritage, but groups like the KKK have used it in favor of segregation, racism, oppression, etc. The issue I have is that the flag doesn’t just hold the meaning of Southern heritage. It has become a very real reminder of America’s past with race in this country. So to me, even if people are wanting to reclaim this flag, it needs to be a real dialogue because this isn’t a simple issue.

      • William Charles McNeill

        Thanks for the answer! Using your understanding of the flag I wont have a problem with it. I will look at the character using the confederate flag as the symbol and what they’re using it for. I don’t believe every person who uses the flag is racist so I don’t take offense to the flag especially since it was for something positive originally and then taken negatively by racists. I do understand your position though.

        • cemoore

          I think Tenika is right. Some symbols are irredeemable. The German swastika was previously a Roman symbol and then adopted by the Germans as a symbol of national pride after being stuck with the bill for the first World War. But, if we were to see anyone walking around with a swastika on their arm, this would be a very different conversation. Some symbols of hate cannot be redeemed. I had a friend who was simply fascinated with Nazi history and had the Nazi flag hanging in his apartment. His interests did not matter. His thoughts about German pride did not matter. Emblazoned on his wall was a symbol of hate that recalls pictures of cattle cars, gulags, gas chambers, and 11 million dead. The Confederate flag is that same symbol…only perpetrated here in America…

          • William Charles McNeill

            Interesting. I stand corrected. I didn’t think of it that way although I think the nazi flag is an extreme. For some the pain of the past is carried over when they see the flag and I respect that as well.

  • Mr. 116

    Kanye West has lost his mind. I pray that he finds it….

    • Tenika Small

      Lol. I miss the old Kanye too. He’s definitely on some other level type stuff. smh.

  • Shaun Sorrells

    Yes, there is power in words and symbols, but only the power you ascribe to them. There are some who are deeply affected by certain symbols’ and words’ historical meanings and implications. But there is another group of people, who I think are quite interesting. Kanye may be their leader. They are those who will never allow someone else’s definition of [fill in the blank] affect how they view themselves. They are so self-assured, and secure in their own definitions of themselves, that are simply not impacted by those historical definitions. A word or symbol can never be divorced from its historical context. However, it only has as much sting as you give it when you confront it with truth. Sometimes I wonder, if we still actually struggle with believing the truth that so easily dismisses these images and words. That said, if Kanye is secure in himself, and ‘blackness’, and manhood, and Americaness to wear the Confederate flag, then the only real concern it gives the rest of the world is… ‘how it looks to others’.

    • Tenika Small

      Shaun – such a valid point. I agree with you that Ye is definitely one that doesn’t let someone else’s definition of whatever affect him.

      Kanye is clearly very secure in who he is, but is the rest of the world and those that will be picking up Yeezus tour gear? I’m not sure this holds true for all of Ye’s fans.

      • Shaun Sorrells

        No, certainly not every one will be ok with the gear. But I think it makes a powerful statement. Sometimes I wonder if we just didn’t default to being so easily offended (Im not trivializing history) if we could have much more neutralizing impacts on the offenders’ weapons, and expose their impotence.

      • http://www.relateofficial.com/ Relate

        Great piece. But, respectfully, I disagree. I think that most of what he does is because of insecurities. To me it seems as if he needs to be the center of attention in some way, shape, or form and if he’s not, then it does indeed affect him. He can’t stand to not be in the lime light or people not mentioning his name, which is why I believe he does some of the things he does. It’s as if he stirs the pot or displays these antics for the attention, which to me points to insecurities. Just my .02

  • Bondservant

    I’ve driven on I95 in Florida and seen a 20ft flag hanging on a pole like its no problem. It’s very offensive in my opinion.

    • Tyshan Broden

      OH yeah that thing is giant and just flying in the middle of nowhere…

  • DTheWatcher

    It represents a defeated cause. Those carrying that banner lost the war. If anything it represents treason. Maybe that’s his message.

  • Brett

    I understand the confederate flag is associated with people who owned black slaves, and with the KKK, but It originally represented succession from the Union and rebellion. Frankly it has nothing to do with black people or slavery(The KKK didn’t either when it was founded). The X through the stars means “cross us out from your union”. So what is really important is the way in which it is displayed today, and what it is supposed to represent. Usually, you can get a pretty good idea of what it is supposed to represent based on who is displaying it, and I’m not worried by Kanye West displaying it. I’m not worried by anything Kanye West does. I mean did you see “Bound 2” Come on, we can’t take this guy seriously.

    • Dan Duncan

      Hey Brett,
      Thanks for you thoughts man!!! Love that you joined in! As I got my degree in History, focusing on the civil war, I can support your claim that the KKK had nothing to do with black people when founded. Obviously, this changed and when they carried this flag, as they do today, they had changed to a hate group. I will have to disagree with you that secession and thus the civil war had nothing to do with Slavery. It had everything to do with slavery and finances. Slavery was the means of producing a good and it was the cheapest way to do so. The south was financially vested in owning other humans. States Rights was the way to ensure that this labor force could never be taken from them. So while I agree with others here that this meaning is not eternal, trying to take it back to the original meaning is a dead end.

    • BV

      it might be technically true that the Confederate flag, in and of itself, had nothing to do with slavery nor did it represent slavery. however, southern succession, states rights, and slavery were deeply intertwined in the narrative leading up to the Civil War. thus, i imagine many people have a hard time separating slavery from a symbol representing a union of slave states, nor would this be unreasonable in my mind.

  • Jc Smith

    Kanye is about Kanye and that needs to be the very first thing we understand. Kanye rocking the stars and bars is free advertising, flash, money in the bank through apparel, concert attendance, and selling music.
    With regard to the confederate flag, that’s an interesting one. As a Christian, I don’t want to wear any clothing with the confederate flag knowing it would offend someone else, hurth them, or worse, cause them to stumble (anger, rage, etc…).

    • Tenika Small

      JC – very valid point!

  • Nasia Flood

    I know Kanye is all about pushing the envelope, I get it, that’s dope. But has he considered that this flag as a symbol for some of his tour merchandise might make it even more difficult for him to break into the fashion industry that he’s always crying about being excluded from? No one wants to be known as the group that backed the most offensive, politically incorrect, insensitive black designer. I’m sure it can eventually draw some lawsuits. Makes Kanye appear to be more of a liability than an asset.

    I’m a Kanye fan and I wouldn’t invest in this… Bad decision.

    • Shaun Sorrells

      Agreed. I think the fashion industry insiders don’t want to touch him because he’s a loose cannon, and could do damage to their brands with any one of his fits or rants. Just not safe enough. Maybe that’s why he’s trying out this new ‘tamed’ voice

  • By Jeremy Hunt

    What’s shaking,

    Unfortunately I don’t know much about Kanye West and all
    of his shenanigans but I believe that people in powerful positions like
    himself incorporate things of the past to keep it alive in the present.
    By that I mean it can be positive things or negative things. For
    example, much respect to Tyler Perry and his accomplishments but I think
    he consistently creates films about things that people go through or
    have gone through and reproduces it in society. The movie the
    “Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor” didn’t sit right with
    me and I’m sure people have their own perspective about it. I definitely
    see where he could be trying to say, “Hey these things go on and needs
    to be stopped or go and get help before it’s to late” and I see it like,
    “I want to show people that are in healthy marriages what it would feel
    like to live on the wild side outside your marriage.” As humans we are
    influenced by movies, music, people, and our surroundings (What we see,
    what we listen to, who we are around mostly impacts our behaviors,
    perspectives, and beliefs) and that stuff manifest into our lives
    whether we realize it or not.

    My family teaches me that people
    become lost when money is number one and God is like number 8. Sadly, I
    found that to be true for some people/celebrities.

    Is controversy art?

    I
    honestly think it depends on what’s the controversy. I would consider
    Dr. King’s tactics very artful. He caused a lot of controversy because
    he wanted change for people that deserved to be treated equally. I would
    consider the freedom riders, Abraham Lincoln, Rosa Parks, the brother
    that help his fist up during the Olympics, and some other historical
    events artful. Anything that’s going against the norm is no bueno but
    what’s the motive
    behind it? Will it benefit the masses? Or will it
    just cause chaos and open more doors for pain, hurt, and confusion? On
    top of that, some of us have seen the results of their actions benefit
    the society while these courageous people were living and most of us
    just read about it.

    I personally get an uneasy feeling seeing
    the confederate flag because of what’s behind it and how its being
    displayed like a pair of jordans lol but God has been showing me my
    imperfections in my character and healing me from them so when I see
    craziness like this I just pray that the Lord make it apparent to them
    so they can see what’s happening and how it’s affecting them whether
    it’s good or bad and that the Lord delivers people from their
    imperfections

    Kanye is imperfect just like me but
    God will show him whats up (I don’t mean that super negative either lol
    like he’s going to bring everything down or something. Even though he
    could). What he’s doing isn’t art in my book.

    By the way I want to apologize if I have a lot of comma splices and punctuation errors lol very sorry about that.

  • Chris Styles the MC

    He needs to explain his purpose for doing this. It’s not in good taste and is very offensive. My wife and I lived in an area where a confederate flag was hanging. I hated it; freedom of speech/expression can be used for good and bad.
    I suppose we’ll continue to watch Kanye do strange things for the next 10-20yrs.

  • Nicholas Wilson

    Tenika, I always appreciate your vantage point and thoughts in your posts. Though I think I take a different position than you on this one in particular, I still see the necessity for such a conversation to occur. I have a few thoughts and ideas that I’d love to get your take on (or anyone else for that matter).

    First:
    It is true that the confederate flag is a symbol with many implications and bad history; however, so is the cross. For centuries, the symbol of the cross has been an image of horror for many people groups and cultures due to colonization, pillaging, and crusades all under the banner of the cross. Does this mean that we should take down all of our crosses in our churches or throw away our t-shirts? I believe not. I think what is necessary is understanding that a symbol is more complex than “good” or “bad”. I have friends who view the confederate flag not as a statement of oppression but of freedom. Not of racial differences but political preference or an affinity for southern culture. Yes, it is true that many could wear shirts with the confederate flag with none of these intentions at heart, but this leads me to my second point.

    Second:
    It is my desire that those wearing such clothes provokes us to engage in conversation. In my opinion, the first step towards reconciliation is conversation. It is unfair to see someone in such a shirt and form an opinion, just as much as it is unfair for someone to see a black or latino male in a hoody and form an opinion of who they are and what they represent (just so we are clear, by no means am I saying that this was what you were trying to communicate). What conversation achieves is understanding, clarification and an escape from the American social cycle of “hi and bye” that leaves us still segregated and culturally illiterate today!

    With all that said, I would say that symbols are only as deadly as we make them out to be for ourselves. The confederate flag will represent whatever we make it to be, but understanding what it may mean to others could lead to a deeper understanding and reconciliation with others and our selves.

  • Michael Dobson II

    I’m mad tardy to this topic, but after watching a couple of his interviews and listening to songs like ‘New Slaves’ I think I see what he’s trying to say. I think all this madness is over ownership. I could be completely off, but its just what I see.

    It’s hard for a black man to own anything, and actually OWN it. You can own a business, but have to lease the building it resides in through “the man.” You can have your own shoe(Yeezys) and it not actually be yours. You have no say so for when it drops, how much they will cost, nor even how limited the shoe is. “The man” has the final say. You work on an album for months trying to perfect it, and yet the label has the final say-so on wether of not the content is worth releasing, or even when the album ‘needs’ to be done.

    It’s a buch of other examples out there, many of which he talks about in his interviews. Every business, legal or illegal, “the man” has the final say into how that business is going to go. SO at the end of the day the black man is still a slave of “the man” and there is very little if anything to do about it. We say we miss the old Kanye, but he said on ‘All Falls Down’ “Drug dealer buy Jordans, crackhead buy crack, And a white man get paid off of all of that.” He’s felt this way for a while, just communicating it very differently. I disagree with how he’s displaying his disgust with “the system” but think I understand why he would do these things.

  • Maven of Common Sense

    The Confederate flag, DOES NOT stand for slavery!!!!! It stands for state’s rights, the federal government NOT telling us what to do. And the more and more the federal government intrudes into your life – the more you are going to wish we still had state’s rights!! You do do realize the federal government controls you now, from the moment you get up to going to bed at night.