My turn, André Resner: Arguments for symbols increasingly specious

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 18, 2020

By André Resner

It’s a little known fact that up until 1941, the yearbook at Catawba College was called “The Swastika.” I can just imagine the discussions in committee meetings among faculty and administrators about whether to change the name or not after Nazi Germany began using the Swastika as their primary logo and symbol.

I am quite certain that there were some in those meetings at Catawba who argued that the name and symbol not be changed. They might have built their case around the fact that the swastika was an ancient religious symbol for divinity and spirituality. It was associated with prosperity and good luck. It was used in multiple religions since 10,000 B.C.E. and even in Christianity at different times and places.

The legend at Catawba is that it was adopted as the yearbook symbol because it was a native American symbol of luck and fortune found in one of the college’s buildings.

Someone in favor of retaining the symbol must have said something like, “We can’t let Adolph Hitler and the Third Reich hijack our symbol. We need to make a stand on this! We just need to keep educating people about what it really means.”

Of course, we know how that turned out. The symbol did get hijacked. And no matter what positive and healthy connotations the swastika may have had before Hitler, it was to be, since then, forever associated with Nazism, fascism, racism in its (white supremacy) form, the Axis powers in World War II and the Holocaust. The swastika remains a core symbol of neo-Nazi groups. No one can possibly attempt to use it in a positive sense anymore. It is irretrievably tainted.

There are a number of people who make the argument that the monuments in the south commemorating Civil War generals and soldiers — monuments that lament the Confederacy’s loss to the Union in the war between the states and anticipate God’s vindication of their just cause at the end of time — are commemorating a just war that was really about states’ rights and that President Abraham Lincoln threw in the slavery issue at the end to muster up support for the Union cause.

Here’s the thing: even if this argument had merit, even if it were 100% accurate, it cannot erase the reality that the monuments, the Confederate flag and all other symbols of the confederacy have been hijacked as symbols of white supremacy, fascism, neo-Nazism, and hate and violence against people of color. Whatever the symbols may have meant many moons ago, does not change the fact that persons of color as well as people who visit the South from elsewhere see these symbols as statements of intolerance, hate and as justifying prejudice and violence against non-whites.

Here’s the other thing: these symbols of hate, violence and intolerance will come down sooner or later. What those in the future will want to know is: how could anyone have continued to tolerate their presence when their presence was used to perpetuate violence and hatred? Arguments about what these monuments “really mean” in face of their increasingly troubling connotations are increasingly tiresome, weak and specious.

André Resner is a professor at Hood Theological Seminary in Salisbury, director of the chapel and director of digital learning.