The Confederate Flag is Covert Aggression and Bree Newsome is a Hero

I’ve been finding psychological concepts helpful in understanding societal issues including racism. The Confederate Flag is a perfect example of covert aggression. And Bree Newsome‘s act of civil disobedience is a heroic act confronting it.

Covert aggression is an aggressive act done in away to cover up the aggression (which I wrote about in my last post).

The Confederate Flag is used to intimidate, disempower, and put off balance African Americans and others (to a lesser extent). That’s why it’s aggressive. It’s covert aggressive because many try to cover that up by claiming it’s about Southern or rural pride.

As far as the argument that it’s not actually racist I thought this short article did a great job of addressing that, point by point. To summarize: the meaning of the flag was racist, still is racist, and it doesn’t matter if people claim it’s not their intention. And Mia McKenzie wrote a post A Few Words on ‘Accidental’ Racism and Forgetting on her excellent blog Black Girl Dangerous  on why being “accidentally racist” is the same as being racist.

It’s amazing to see people in Europe are not so covert about it. They openly use the American Confederate Flag as a substitute for the banned swastika:

This is the type of thing that people will do on a much smaller scale in daily life. Covert aggressive personalities will bully and intimidate their target but do it in a way that is very sneaky. Sometimes it’s hard to pinpoint that you are being attacked. Here’s a good example from a blog post on covert aggression by Dr. George Simon:

A good example might be the case in which a wife confronts her husband about not spending as much time as she would like him to with the family. He might retort that he constantly feels as if unreasonable demands are being placed on him by her (casting himself as the “victim”), that he works hard to provide for his family but no one seems to appreciate it (casting himself as the suffering, under-valued servant), and that she never has anything good to say about him and is always complaining (using the techniques of shaming and guilt-tripping). Within moments, the woman’s good intention to correct a problem in family relationships is now framed as a heartless attack on an unappreciated devoted husband and father.

See the parallels with the Confederate Flag? If you confront people about it they claim it’s about pride and tradition: why would you take that away from them (guilt tripping)? They may even refer to the American Civil War as the “War of Northern Aggression” (casting themselves as the victim).

How do you deal with covert aggression? A big part of it is first being able to spot it and be honest with ourselves about it. People are often scared to think that a person or group is deliberately trying to attack someone. We like to think it’s all a big misunderstanding where everyone has good intentions. Sometimes that’s the case. Unfortunately, it’s not always the case. And we’re not helping by pretending otherwise. When confronted with covert aggression we need to move past the excuses and hold people accountable.

The #BlackLivesMatter movement is a courageously and powerfully holding people accountable for both covert and overt aggression. And Bree Newsome taking down the Confederate Flag in Charlotte is a very powerful and concrete response. She and those who organized with her looked past the rhetoric, decided this aggression will no longer fly, and they acted. As their statement read:

We removed the flag today because we can’t wait any longer. We can’t continue like this another day. It’s time for a new chapter where we are sincere about dismantling white supremacy and building toward true racial justice and equality.

Bree Newsome is a hero as Rebecca Cohen aka @GynoStar so powerfully illustrated:


2 Responses to “The Confederate Flag is Covert Aggression and Bree Newsome is a Hero”

  1. Abe Lateiner says:

    Eli, you are teaching me much about both internal psychology and also the way that larger social groups can mirror individual psychological traits. It is a little scary to read your writing because it is exploring behaviors that I think I sometimes exhibit, and would rather not learn about! For that, I thank you.

    • Eli Gerzon says:

      Abe, thank you so much for this thoughtful, honest comment. Sorry it’s taken me so long to reply: I’m still getting reacquainted with this blog! It’s brave of you to say that you find these ideas scary because you can identify with them. I was just talking to an old friend about this: I think we can all be manipulative, aggressive, and covert aggressive at times. AND when we try to completely cover up any trace of those tendencies things get really out of control! But in our society we demand perfection of ourselves and other people, especially leaders. As a result, often, the people who are the best at maintaining a “perfect image” become leaders, instead of the people who are the best at leading!

      This might seem far afield but: I also thought about this when I listened to “The Mythology Podcast” episode on Coyote myths among American Indian tribes. The coyote represents different things to different tribes but the stories about him often involve trickery and are very funny. He is often very selfish, thinks highly of himself, and certainly uses covert aggression! There is a lot of wisdom in the stories. One big lesson is simply that these tribes talked openly, and laughed, about the way that people can be sometimes. If you want to listen to those stories check them out here.

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