Thursday, June 25, 2015
The case for flag-burning. posted by Richard Seymour
Every thick white Southern person they interview on television about this stupid flag says something thick about, it's about our heritage, it's not about slavery. It's about the South defending itself, it's not about slavery. It's about states rights, it's not about slavery.
If this was just ignorance, then the ideological function of 'ignorance' would be self-evident and need no elaboration. But we have to remember that ignorance is an active, not a passive factor; people choose ignorance in order to protect the enjoyment they derive from a particular ideological position. So here's where 'whiteness' comes in.
Fundamentally, 'whiteness' is unconscious. The signifier, 'whiteness', is linked to, and holds in place, an unconscious fantasy of a well-ordered racial hierarchy without antagonism, in which the only stirrers are outside agitators, and in which the only agents are white, and in which the only issue is white freedom. This fantasy stages a desire for the impossible: total, limitless enjoyment of black lives, total domination over black lives, total mastery of black lives, and total being in whiteness without boundaries. Obviously, such fantasies can't be expressed or even admitted, any more than the desire which they stage. They're totally unacceptable to the contemporary political superego. But it is a little kernel of enjoyment at the core of contemporary white-supremacist discourse, and my impression is that this fantasy manifests itself all the time in the totally obvious slips and lapses of white Americans.*
So when someone perversely literalises these fantasies by engaging in white-supremacist terror, sincerely trying to put black Americans 'back in their place', it has an interesting series of effects. In the public discourse, there's suddenly an anxiety about whiteness, which the right-wing media try to deflect - like the moronic journalist who questioned whether Roof was even white. But under the surface, people are doing something else: they're buying Confederate flags in record numbers.
The rationalisations for this, we know: it's not about slavery, it's not about slavery, it's not about slavery. "I'm just buying this because the liberal media is about to go on the attack against Southern people, and I want to show that we're a proud, big-hearted people" etc etc. But there's no getting away from the fact that buying this flag constitutes at a basic level an unconscious symbolic identification with the killer, who was seen brandishing it. It's the unary trait through which they establish their equivalence to him.
It's an extremely good idea to burn that flag. You're fucking with the enjoyment of white-supremacy. There can be moments at which desecrating a symbol just reinforces the enjoyment in it, but this is not one of them. Burn the flag.
*I am not letting the white British off the hook here, but our miserable, grotty, grotesque little fantasies are structured differently, around making up for the loss of total omnipotence by creating a small fortified island of whiteness. It's different.