It's red, it's white, they wave it all about, but Cork fans' adoption of the Confederate flag raises serious questions, writes Peadar King
Of all supporters, Cork's "rebel army" are truly a colourful and eclectic lot. Not just for them the simple red and white. Lurking in the midst of the blood and bandage are the flags of Croatia, Cuba, Japan, Canada and the US. Not just the official flag of the United States, however, but also the deeply racist Confederate flag that remains anathema to all African-Americans in the United States, particularly those who have lived and suffered in its southern states. The Confederate flag represents the claim of white hegemony over black people and is still flown in many places in the South in defiance of the expressed wishes of the African-American community there.
For the many white people who continue to embrace it, the Confederate flag remains a potent and cherished symbol of white supremacy, of deep-seated hostility to black people and a consciously proud and obdurate resistance to the rights not only of African-Americans but of Native Americans as well. It's a very public and deliberate reminder to black Americans of the days of their utter subjugation - of horrific violence, lynchings, slavery and the whole edifice of apartheid that existed up to 40 years ago, as well as the social, economic and legal hold that many white people continue to exert over the African-American community. As a symbol of subordination of black people and as a reminder of the precarious world in which they live, the Confederate flag retains its power to threaten, insult and offend almost 13 per cent of the population of the US.
For Cathleen Price, an African-American civil rights lawyer in Montgomery, Alabama, the confederate flag represents "a hostile symbol of race-based white supremacy, a central feature of which was the complete subjugation of black people on the basis of their 'natural' inferiority". And Price should know. Montgomery proudly advertises itself as the first capital of the Confederacy. It was here that George Wallace famously said on his inauguration as governor of Alabama in 1963, "From this cradle of the Confederacy, this very heart of the great Anglo-Saxon southland . . . I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny . . . and I say . . . segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever."
And despite the long, hard struggle of the civil rights movement that coincidently came out of Montgomery, Alabama, black people continue to be treated as second-class citizens and largely excluded from the levers of power. As an attorney at law, Price is in a small minority. In a state where 28 per cent of the population is black, only 5.7 per cent of all attorneys in Alabama are African-American. As Martin Luther King once said: "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." And the confederate flag is a particularly noxious symbol of injustice.
While acknowledging that flags change their meaning over time, both on and of the pitch they have an objective meaning and therefore retain a tremendous capacity to instill and inflate deep feelings. The deep seated sectarianism within Scottish football is a case in point, while off the pitch, the racist British National Party seeks to wrap itself in the flag of St George.
CLEARLY, NOT EVERYBODY carrying the Confederate flag to Croke Park this summer or indeed flying it in their front garden is aware of its oppressive symbolism and its power to hurt and offend. Nonetheless, senior figures within the GAA ought to know and take action. It is most unlikely that the GAA authorities would allow the swastika of the Third Reich be flown in Croke Park, yet the Confederate flag has the same power to offend African-Americans as the swastika has for the Jewish community.
While the GAA may not have had to deal with overt evidence of racism thus far, it needs to acknowledge that it has a duty of care to players and supporters. And clearly, the players and management of the Cork hurling team along with the vast majority of its supporters would have no truck with racism in any of its various manifestations.
The blindness of Croke Park authorities to this racist symbol is further underscored by the lack of any policy on racism within the GAA. While kids from a whole range of ethnic backgrounds can be seen playing Gaelic football and hurling in every county in the country, the absence of any anti-racism policy at national level, unlike their counterparts in the FAI, is a glaring omission.
Crucially, the kaleidoscope of red and white that follows Cork need not be sullied by the red, white and blue of the Confederate flag that for years brutalised the daughters and sons of African people robbed from the continent of their birth.
Peadar King is a documentary film-maker