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:
— Bipartisan Report (@Bipartisanism) June 24, 2015
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:
— Rebecca Cohen (@GynoStar) June 28, 2015