Every so often the news cycle throws us a story that combines multiple long-term sociopolitical narratives. These opportunities are wonderful for providing perspective on the myriad of issues currently populating the American consciousness. Today’s story weaves a current controversy with one that has existed for decades, focused on a working-class Utah family demonstrating what can only be described as “true patriotism” at a demolition derby in West Jordan.
There are few things that pander to preconceived notions of American culture like a demolition derby. People come together, eat shitty food, drink watered-down beer, and thunderously cheer as people smash cars into each other like something out of Henry Ford’s worst nightmare. It’s an evening of automotive bedlam, and if television advertisements are any indication, fun for the whole family!
But that night of family-friendly ruination didn’t bode so well for Daniel Argueta, his wife, and his children. An incident prior to the carnage to which they paid to bear witness left the family bothered, ultimately contributing to their decision to leave the event.
Before most sports and entertainment events in the United States, we take a moment to show solidarity with each other, our cultural values, and our nation in standing up to recite our national anthem. San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s decision to not stand a few weeks ago has brought an analysis of that tradition into the forefront. The Argueta family, three weeks and 525 miles removed from Colin Kapernick’s ripple-effect protest, also didn’t stand during the national anthem, but their motivation for doing so wasn’t police brutality and institutionalized racism in the United States.
It was modern racism’s antebellum predecessor.
The PA system at the West Jordan Fair Grounds boomed, “Please stand for our national anthem!” Vehicles bearing American flags formed a procession to the delight of spectators. But mixed in with Old Glory was the Confederate battle flag — made famous by southern racists and southern rock bands — and the Gadsden flag, the yellow, rattlesnake-emblazoned declaration of sovereignty — “Don’t Tread on Me” — shanghaied in recent years by the populist bigots of the Tea Party and the alt-right.
The scene disturbed Daniel Argueta and his family, who sat through the national anthem while the attendees of the demolition derby stood up. They would ultimately leave the event.
The Argueta’s believe strongly in showing support for their country, so the decision to stay seated, and ultimately leave, wasn’t an easy one for them to make. In an interview with KSTU, the area’s regional Fox-affiliate, Daniel Argueta spoke of the internal conflict he endured in making the decision to sequester himself from one of the United States’ most overt nationalist traditions.
“You kind of get caught in, yes, you want to stand, you support the U.S. flag. You support the troops, you support police officers, but what is the Confederate flag doing there? For anybody that knows history and understands the negative impact of that flag and how it’s been used historically, it’s hard to stand up.”
Daniel Argueta also proved insight into how difficult it was for him to do what he considered to be the right thing.
“It was humiliating, it was demeaning, because with all the controversy going on with the flag recently and people sitting during the anthem, we had all intended to stand, but we couldn’t. People probably looked around, probably wondering what we were doing.”
Even his children were aware of the disturbing nature of the display. They, too, refused to stand for the National Anthem. 10-year-old Jasmine Argueta said of the spectacle:
“When I saw the Confederate flag, I didn’t want to stand because it meant slavery.”
Even a 10-year-old girl knew what she was seeing and being asked to stand in support of on Saturday night. The Confederate flag, while championed by many a Southerner as a symbol of “pride” and “heritage,” is indeed not that, but a symbol of hate, human ownership, and treason. It’s more anti-American than a scarlet field and a gold hammer and sickle, making the spectacle that was the National Anthem at the Sept. 10 demolition derby in West Jordan, Utah all the more harrowing.
As an act of patriotism, attendees of the event were asked to show their support for a flag that personifies treason. It’s the very definition of incongruity.
But it isn’t just the Argueta’s who are bothered by the events of Saturday night. The City of West Jordan, who sponsors the annual demolition derby event, has also expressed displeasure with the incident, which also shocked a Salt Lake County employee in attendance.
“A prominent Salt Lake County employee who was in attendance, but asked not to be identified, told Gephardt Daily he was startled when he saw the Confederate flag, especially in light of West Jordan’s sponsorship. He said he was further troubled when he realized the flag was going to be part of the national anthem presentation.
Kim Wells, spokeswoman for West Jordan City, told local media the flag’s inclusion in the ceremony was inadvertent and made without the city’s knowledge. She characterized its use as poor taste and apologized to those who were upset by the presentation.”
Similarly to how both issues have independently proven divisive, not everyone associated with the incident in West Jordan believe the flying of the Confederate battle flag can be classified as spatting in the face of true patriotism. Jim Simko, the proprietor of Stirrin’ Dirt Racing, who is contracted by West Jordan to put on the event, the Confederate flag was added by a “helper” who did so without the company’s knowledge. But, Simko believes people who are upset about the incident are overreacting.
“I honestly think that this is blown way out of proportion. It wasn’t politically correct, I’m sure, for some people. But there’s some people who look at that flag and say this is the land of the free.”
Even if this is a genuine answer from Simko and not some half-assed attempt to preserve his company’s image, he fails to acknowledge, or perhaps even understand, how the controversy surrounding the Confederate flag has less to do with political correctness and more to do with an open endorsement of what the Confederacy was. He also fails to acknowledge how horrific the idea of coexisting the American flag and the Confederate flag is, especially at a time when the question of true patriotism, vis-á-vis the national anthem, is being so furiously debated.
Since the city of West Jordan had nothing to do with the demonstration of Confederate symbolism during the national anthem, the decision to fly the Confederate flag is on Stirrin’ Dirt, or the driver of the truck in question at least. It’s an example of ignorance, at best, and bigotry, at worst.
The incident has prompted the city of West Jordan to issue an apology.
“We strive to bring family friendly entertainment to the arena and regret that this incident made some patrons feel uncomfortable. We will be discussing steps we can take to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
The Confederate flag is a representative symbol of oppression, hate, and the worst horrors that have manifested in United States history. Calling it “Southern pride” and “Southern heritage” is not only ignorance of the highest order, but acknowledging, however inadvertent, that “Southern pride” and “Southern heritage” are synonymous with chattel slavery and a legacy of brutality rivaled only by other large-scale human sins like the Holocaust, the Armenian Genocide, and the “Trail of Tears.”
Flags mean different things to different people, but there are some empirical notions that cannot be disputed. Few people, if any, will lose it when they realize the Argueta family refused to stand for the national anthem due to someone unaccountable slipping a Confederate flag into the ceremony. It can be argued that such a decision may be applauded as a refusal to equate a symbol of a failed, bigoted, and treasonous state with their pedestal-placed home country. But it’s unfortunate that when someone who views the American flag as a symbol of a nation just as accountable in his people’s suffering as the flag to which American culture, on the whole, views accountable for that suffering, he is slandered and dragged through the mud.
But he, like the Argueta’s in West Jordan, Utah on Saturday, are correct in their anger and correct in their actions. We’re just incorrect in our outrage.
Featured image via PublicDomainPictures.net.
h/t Raw Story