The North Carolina State Fair is one of the best things about living in this state. There aren’t many places where you can buy crafts, view art, ride rides, and learn a few things, all while eating some of the most deliciously unhealthy food in the country.
But I didn’t go this year. Sadly, I won’t be going for the foreseeable future.
I won’t go to the state fair again until it ends its association with the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV). As an African-American woman, I simply can’t enjoy my funnel cake if it is served with a dollop of racially revisionist white supremacy.
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Initially, I had no idea that the SCV were given an annual opportunity to spread their backward ideology to the citizens of North Carolina. I learned otherwise when I saw the group handing out Confederate flag stickers to attendees at the 2014 Fair.
This year, when I called to ask about the SCV, fair officials confirmed the SCV would participate. Reports indicate they passed out Confederate flag stickers. Though passing those out is problematic, the fact that the Fair gives the SCV an opportunity to pass along their twisted philosophy is worse. The ideas behind the flag are more offensive than the flag itself.
I have lived in the South long enough to be familiar with the “Heritage, not Hate,” argument that is used to defend groups like the SCV. However, history shows that love of the Confederacy and hatred of racial and religious minorities go together like barbecue and sweet tea.
The Confederacy was founded on the belief that some humans, based on their skin color, were so inferior that other humans could own them. No amount of revisionist history can change the fact that the Confederacy supported slavery, the ultimate expression of white supremacy.
Though the Confederacy died, the white supremacy it championed has not. After slavery ended, physical violence and Jim Crow segregation were used to intimidate African Americans and other non-whites. In the 1950s, as African Americans began to fight for equality, white groups dedicated to opposing integration formed across the nation. And when groups like the Ku Klux Klan or the Dixiecrat Party beat nonviolent demonstrators, their chosen emblem was the Confederate flag.
In 2017, the pattern holds. Those that marched in Charlottesville carried Confederate flags as they beat innocent protesters. One person died.
To be fair, the SCV’s official position is that it rejects hate. The Southern Poverty Law Center, an organization dedicated to monitoring domestic hatred and extremism, does not include the SCV on its list of hate groups.
Nevertheless, many of those with leadership positions in the SCV are members of established hate groups, according to the center. The SCV might not directly endorse hate, but it is certainly hate-adjacent.
The SCV is part of a network dedicated to racism and white supremacy. These ideas do not deserve to be spread in a forum that is paid for by North Carolina taxpayers of all races and religions.
The First Amendment gives the SCV no recourse. Though the First Amendment requires that speech in public places not be restricted based on the content of a speaker’s message, the Supreme Court has also held that when the state itself is the speaker, it can restrict the messages that get put out under its banner. In a recent case, the Supreme Court held that Texas does not have to put Confederate flags on its state-issued license plates. The state has the right to distance itself from the offensive views promoted by the SCV. It should take steps to do just that.
There is no legal or moral reason for the state to allow the SCV, an organization one step removed from extremist hate groups, to appear at state-sponsored events. I hope the state will correct this issue in the future.
Until it does, I’ll continue to experiment with my funnel cake recipe.
Nareissa Smith is a lawyer and freelance writer. You can follow her on Twitter (@nareissasnotes) or Facebook (www.facebook.com/nareissasnotes/).