Political Pork and American Ideals

by Ellie

Due to recent events, barbecue has become a political issue in the state of South Carolina. Two years ago, Maurice Bessinger, owner of the legendary Piggie Park barbecue chain, made a decision that would cause a "marketing disaster". He decided to fly the Confederate flag over his Piggie Park restaurants. His choice began a misdirected debate about the racism of this action. This point of these events has been grossly misinterpreted: Pride and Freedom of Expression are the real issues here.

The vast majority of people have sided against Mr. Bessinger. His corporation is being boycotted and snubbed. It has sparked protests likened to the events several years ago that brought down the Confederate flag from over the State Capital of South Carolina. Racism may indeed be the reason for Mr. Bessinger's flying of the flag. His staunch support of segregation in the 1960's certainly backs this up. The first issue to be discussed here, however, is not Mr. Bessinger's motive for flying the flag. The events are important as an example of a common mistake: Being a Confederate does not automatically make a person a racist. The Confederate flag does not represent slavery. The widely shared concept is that the basis of Confederate idealism is racism. This is not so. Simply because slavery, segregation, and racism were a part of the Confederate culture at the time of the civil war, and were widespread concepts in later years, does not make it the base of the society, just as nazism is not the base of German society. The true foundation is pride in heritage. As a general rule, the Confederate flag is not flown to promote racism. It is flown to promote "regional pride", and to raise awareness that Old Dixie is still around. The protesters seem to want Southerners to forget their heritage, and forget their pride. This is blatantly wrong. The flag is a sign of things that should be remembered, not crushed under the fist of uncomprehending liberals. Mr. Bessinger's motive appears to be to promote "regional pride", but in this case, that is not important. It is important in a completely separate argument raised by these events.

The secondary issue to be discussed here is freedom of expression. The protesters would have real cause to be angry if Mr. Bessinger was flaunting racial propaganda (whether legal or illegal, to be discussed later). He is not, however. He is simply flying a flag. The people who deem this a racial event are the true persecutors. If Mr. Bessinger was from, for example, Germany, and flew their national flag over his restaurants, would he be accused of offensive racial action? Most definitely not. No one would blame Bessinger for the events of the 1940's. If he were accused, the protesters would be the ones scorned. Is there such a vast difference between the German flag and the Confederate one? They are both peaceful signs representing a type of people. They may not have perfect histories, but what nationality does? Past events should not detract from pride, and past events should not dictate the flying of flags in America, the nation that prides herself on freedom of expression. No matter his personal beliefs or his past actions: Mr. Bessinger is the one who has been unfairly treated in this case.

There is one more aspect of freedom of expression to be discussed in this instance: What if Bessinger is flying his flag for expression of white supremacy? While legally, people can incorrectly finagle this viewpoint to be unlawful, it is not unconstitutional. If Mr. Bessinger is making a racial statement, it is in no uncertain terms morally wrong, but by the American principle of Freedom of Expression, it is perfectly legal. The prosecutors of Bessinger are not only debasing what the Confederate flag stands for; they are also corrupting the American viewpoint of Freedom of Expression.

There are many issues that Mr. Bessinger's actions and the responses of the people around him raise. Despite the negative attention surrounding them, however, it is a definite bonus that these event have occurred because they have raised American awareness to the true meaning of the Confederate flag and they have reinforced American ideals. Protest all you like, but Mr. Bessinger has done nothing unlawful or unconstitutional. In fact, he may not have even done anything morally wrong. The only person who can answer that question is Mr. Bessinger himself.