What Persuades White Southerners to Remove Confederate Flags and Monuments?

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tags: racism, Nazism, Confederacy, public history

Across the United States and around the world, record-breaking Black Lives Matter protests and political pressure are pushing governments to remove public flags and monuments celebrating the Confederacy and white supremacy more generally.

Within the United States, white Southerners’ resistance remains the biggest obstacle to removing Confederate shrines. Many continue to argue that the monuments aren’t racially motivated, despite the fact that most were installed to celebrate and enforce Jim Crow. For example, 77 percent of white North Carolinians opposed removing the monuments in an Elon poll last fall, similar to the 80 percent of white Louisianans in 2016 in an LSU poll. What might persuade them?

White Southerners erected most Confederate monuments in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to celebrate their violent victory over Reconstruction, a brief period when the federal government occupied the South to enforce the Constitution’s guarantees of racial equality. Authoritarian Jim Crow followed, in which the new white government and white supremacist groups violently enforced segregation and black disenfranchisement. The Confederate battle flag reemerged in the mid-20th century as a symbol of white resistance to the civil rights movement’s pursuit of black voting rights and desegregation.

By contrast, after Germany’s military defeat in World War II, its postwar government systematically removed all public displays celebrating the Nazi regime, and focused its public history on remembering Nazi atrocities instead. In fact, Germany banned citizens from displaying Nazi symbols, too, arguing that those symbols’ implied violence outweighed the appeal of free speech. The government called this effort “de-Nazification.”

We wanted to know whether comparing Confederate to Nazi symbols would persuade Americans to consider “de-Confederation.”


Remarkably, our tests show that accurate history and an appeal to racial justice can persuade many white Southerners to oppose Confederate symbols.

But comparing the Confederate South to Nazi Germany undid that persuasion. In sum, as social scientists have long known, the message’s framing matters.

Read entire article at Washington Post

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