WASHINGTON, June 24, 2015 – “The Negro is indolent and spends his money on frivolities, whereas the European is forward-looking, organized and intelligent … The Negro has maintained his racial purity by his well known habit of avoiding baths.”
This comment might have been penned by a member of the KKK or by a Confederate-flag-waving racist from Charleston, but it wasn’t; it was written by noted revolutionary and pop icon Ernesto “Che” Guevara in his memoir, “The Motorcycle Diaries.”
Leftist apologists for Che say that he was a product of his time and place; 1950s Argentina was one of the whitest countries in Latin America, and it was racist. What matters, they argue, is that Che fought side by side with blacks in Congo and Angola; one of his best friends and bodyguard, Harry Pombo, was black; and he liked the music of Paul Robeson, a black actor, singer, civil rights activist and Stalin Prize recipient.
Che’s racist views were part of his cultural baggage but not really what Che was all about, say his supporters. Fair enough.
What Che was all about by the time he died was Stalinist brutality.
And for over 40 years, his image has been a staple on college campuses, on posters and t-shirts. His memoir was made into a movie by Robert Redford. His visage glares out from the tattooed flesh of Angelina Jolie and Mike Tyson. And mega-corporation and seller of just about everything to middle-America Walmart will happily sell you a poster of Che.
Walmart won’t just sell you Che. They’ll sell you Fidel Castro, Mao Zedong and an Iranian flag. Just don’t ask them for a Confederate flag.
Amazon, a kinder and gentler corporation, will also sell you Che, Fidel and Mao. They’ll also sell you Nazi memorabilia. Just don’t ask them for a Confederate flag, either.
The Confederate flag represents a rebellion that, whatever else it wanted to achieve, wanted to keep millions of black men and women as slaves. Confederate leaders were for states’ rights unless those states, like New York, declined to let southern slave owners take their slaves with them to serve them on their vacations in the Hamptons or opposed returning run-away slaves.
The Confederate battle flag ought not fly over public property. But that flag isn’t the biggest problem in America. It doesn’t make people racist, and removing it from state property won’t make a dent in the racial problems that remain here. Removing it won’t reduce crime in the black community, it won’t make police more or less inclined to abuse civilians, it won’t fix mostly black schools or black families.
Its removal would be symbolic. But what is the symbolism of corporations eliminating merchandise adorned with that flag and selling merchandise adorned with images of Che, Fidel and Mao? Why stop selling the Confederate flag yet continue to sell the flags of regimes as odious or worse? Why ban the Confederate flag from college dorms but prominently display posters of the loathsome and monstrous Che?
This is hypocrisy, of course. Hypocrisy in corporate America and on college campuses is as common as it is in politics, so this instance of it shouldn’t surprise us. It does, however, make it very difficult for almost anyone to speak with any authority on the evils of the Confederate battle flag.
Walmart will stop selling Confederate flags because it’s bad for business, not because it’s the right thing to do. They will stop selling posters of Che when it’s bad for business; the business of business is business, not morality.
I support the removal of the Confederate battle flag from state property, and I expect moral perfection or even consistency from no one. However, it is an exercise in selective blindness to take seriously someone calling for that flag to go while he wears a Che T-shirt.
Much of the chatter about the Confederate battle flag comes from people with no sense of historical perspective. The chatter and hand-wringing prompted by the flag largely represent misdirected effort. On the scale of problems facing America, the flag is very low. The hypocrisy of the surging opposition to it would be much less if their focus were on genuine injustice in this country and not on that particular symbol.