An African-American employee of a federal agency complained about being harassed by a co-worker wearing a cap with a Gadsden flag depicted on it. The complainant found the cap racially offensive citing that Christopher Gadsden was a slave owner. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is investigating the matter.
The flag is connected with the American Revolution. Benjamin Franklin suggested the coiled rattlesnake to be the symbol for the new country.
I recollected that her eye excelled in brightness, that of any other animal, and that she has no eye-lids. She may therefore be esteemed an emblem of vigilance. She never begins an attack, nor, when once engaged, ever surrenders: She is therefore an emblem of magnanimity and true courage. As if anxious to prevent all pretensions of quarreling with her, the weapons with which nature has furnished her, she conceals in the roof of her mouth, so that, to those who are unacquainted with her, she appears to be a most defenseless animal; and even when those weapons are shown and extended for her defense, they appear weak and contemptible; but their wounds however small, are decisive and fatal. Conscious of this, she never wounds ’till she has generously given notice, even to her enemy, and cautioned him against the danger of treading on her.
Was I wrong, Sir, in thinking this a strong picture of the temper and conduct of America? The poison of her teeth is the necessary means of digesting her food, and at the same time is certain destruction to her enemies. This may be understood to intimate that those things which are destructive to our enemies, may be to us not only harmless, but absolutely necessary to our existence. I confess I was wholly at a loss what to make of the rattles, ’till I went back and counted them and found them just thirteen, exactly the number of the Colonies united in America; and I recollected too that this was the only part of the Snake which increased in numbers. Perhaps it might be only fancy, but, I conceited the painter had shown a half formed additional rattle, which, I suppose, may have been intended to represent the province of Canada.
Christopher Gadsden was an American patriot above all else.
Christopher Gadsden was an American patriot if ever there was one. He led Sons of Liberty in South Carolina starting in 1765, and was later made a colonel in the Continental Army. In 1775 he was in Philadelphia representing his home state in the Continental Congress. He was also one of three members of the Marine Committee who decided to outfit and man the Alfred and its sister ships.
The EEOC in a prior decision declared the Gadsden Flag originated in a non-racial context and has been used throughout American history in a non-racial context. However, the EEOC says the current meaning of the symbol is ambiguous and instead of dismissing the matter they will investigate for evidence to “illuminate the meaning conveyed in this context”. Eugene Volokh, a UCLA law professor who teaches free speech law, says there are serious implications in ascribing racist meaning to a symbol on the basis of context.
The EEO described the current meaning of the symbol as ambiguous, saying this meant the claim must be investigated to determine the ‘specific context in which (the co-worker) displayed the symbol in the workplace’.
‘In so finding, we are not prejudging the merits of Complainant’s complaint,’ the EEO added.’Instead, we are precluding a procedural dismissal that would deprive us of evidence that would illuminate the meaning conveyed by C1’s display of the symbol.’
Forget beauty being in the eye of the beholder. Today racism is anything the offended party says it is. Racist symbols can be the clothes you wear, the food you eat, the books you read, the music you listen to. Agencies like the EEOC are treading in a dangerous direction.