As South Carolina moves to take down the Confederate battle flag from the grounds of the statehouse, the national debate surrounding the flag grows to a new height. Among all of the impassioned arguments for and against removing this contentious symbol from the public space, it is strange that lawmakers and the public they serve have yet to consider a simple compromise: Let’s just redesign the Confederate flag!
As a pair of marketing consultants, it is painfully obvious to us that the rebel flag is a cluttered and ineffective brand. Whatever your cause—armed insurrection, white supremacy, regional pride—the flag’s minimalist stars and bars leave so much to the imagination that it is no wonder we are plagued with conflicting interpretations of its meaning. Perhaps we could end the debate once and for all by mustering the courage and creativity to give the old flag a new design that more honestly matches the reason it was created and the way it has been used throughout history.
Prepared on spec, here are five redesigns that demonstrate the power of honesty in advertising.
Here we’ve adapted the popular “southern cross” motif to more explicitly celebrate the South’s commitment to the States’ basic right to own human beings as property. For a more historical touch, we considered using this excerpt from the Texas Declaration of Causes of Secession:
“We hold as undeniable truths that the governments of the various States, and of the confederacy itself, were established exclusively by the white race, for themselves and their posterity; that the African race had no agency in their establishment; that they were rightfully held and regarded as an inferior and dependent race, and in that condition only could their existence in this country be rendered beneficial or tolerable.”
But as a slogan, that’s a little too long. And not particularly sexy.
Great brands keep it real. As immortalized in DW Griffith’s Birth of A Nation, the Reconstruction Era presented southern whites with a whole new way of keeping it real: lynching. A way of murdering approximately 4,659 blacks between 1877 to 1950, lynching—held in the backwoods and in the public square alike—was part of a nationwide rebrand of the region, in which the the brutal killing and dismembering of Negroes became one of the hottest ways to display one’s Southern pride. There’s a reason the Dixiecrats of the 1940’s (a group created to oppose Truman’s integration efforts and anti-lynching laws) adopted the Confederate flag as their symbol. It’s why the Ku Klux Klan embrace the flag as an invaluable part of “white culture,” and the reason hanging black bodies became White Supremacy’s first viral ad campaign. The right symbol is worth 1000 words.
Many forget that the rebel flag didn’t fly above the South Carolina Capitol until 1961. Similarly, the flag’s national resurgence in popularity and its adoption into state flag imagery came only as a form of defiance against integration efforts. Let’s not hide from that history. Instead, let’s use this simple design to honor those of our grandparents who bravely raised their arms, bottles, and bricks against the greatest threat this nation had yet to face: children seeking an equal education.
If you look closely enough, the design becomes clear. As a viewer, you say to yourself, “Oh, I see it now! It’s been right in front of my face this whole time. How was that ever invisible?” In this way, the design is a lot like a magic eye poster. Or the legacy of slavery.
In an age where the white middle-class male is increasingly outnumbered, it is troubling to see foreign groups like ISIS and Boko Haram outperforming the United States in one of our oldest traditions: terrorism.
Serving as a Wheaties box for intolerance, this design gives the American public a more personal connection to the many hateful disaffected youth who kill in the name of the Confederate flag. Here’s to the crazy ones (and also white supremacist ones that we label “crazy” because it’s much easier than acknowledging them as domestic terrorists).
It’s simple. If the Confederate flag visually reflected its own legacy more clearly, we would have a much easier time deciding whether it should be flown above our public institutions. Does everyone who flies the Confederate flag seek to honor the history of white supremacy? Certainly not. Many southerners attempt to use the flag as way of honoring the more innocuous parts of growing up in the South. The problem: they are using the wrong brand.
Supplying diehard racists with their own tailor-made brand of the Confederacy gives a second chance to those of us who wish to honor the South without using the same flag as slavers, segregationists, and domestic terrorists. To our fellow southern readers: imagine if the onus was put back on you to articulate and redefine what exactly about Southern heritage makes you so proud. What would you want your flag to be?
Perhaps it’s the unearthly power of sweet of tea.
Perhaps it’s the myriad ways in which your friends and neighbors daily defy the stereotype of being ignorant bigots.
Or maybe it’s the courage it takes for ordinary people to move past their shame, honestly acknowledge their connection to a violent and repressive history, and do whatever they can to keep from passing that legacy on to the next generation.
Here’s to being honest. Here’s to fashioning a new type of Southern pride. Take it from Domino’s (our favorite place for pizza, pasta, and specialty chicken) it’s never too late to admit you’ve been gross and clarify exactly what it is you’re selling.
CJ Hunt is a writer and comedian living in New Orleans. He films and performs with the sketch group Stupid Time Machine. You can find him talking about race and dreaming about cookies at gocjhunt.com and @gocjhunt.
Graham Cumberbatch, an Austin-based graphic designer, writer and creative director. He is also principal brand strategist at branding/marketing collective HUX Storyhouse. You can follow him at @ashtongraham. He’s black, so it’s cool.