Can you spot the irony?
Look closer (while considering that the name of this fine establishment is FreedomUSA):
Ah, the Confederacy lives! In FreedomUSA...in...Jersey? Having grown up in Jersey, I've come to expect anti-foreign language sentiment. But rebel flag swag? Really?
Maybe I was too immersed in reality TV to notice New Jersey's secession some 200 years late? Because, I ask, like apparently so few have before me: if your state was never part of the Confederacy, why in the blue fuck would you want to wear something with a rebel flag on it?
And, if you're a thinking person, why would you want to wear such a flag at all? Really, I'm curious. I can't offer you answers, but I can offer you options if you're convinced that the Battle Jack is the new black.
Good ole Jersey.
It all started so innocently, too, my immersion in, what seems to me, nostalgia for the days when black people weren't considered people. In New Jersey.
When we saw this undoubted future Daisy Duke early into our South Jersey vacation, the bf and I had no idea what we were in for.
We started catching on the next day, when we saw this:
Because, like most things, the way to show pride of your "heritage" is to immortalize it on foam that you're gonna end up rubbing your tits and/or genitals all over as you careen through God's brown ocean.
"Where do you even buy something like that?" the bf asked me. I didn't know.
But I would learn!
We visited Wildwood the next day. Wildwood is a body louse clinging to a sweaty shaft of hair in the Armpit of America that is New Jersey. This is, of course, its charm. Wildwood, like many costal resort towns in South Jersey, is home to a tourist-bating boardwalk. But Wildwood's boardwalk is unlike many of its neighboring counterparts. It's a massive, 38-block stretch that sports no fewer than five amusement parks and hundreds of crooked, carnival-type games (knock bottles over, get the ball in the basket, fill the clown's mouth with water to pop the balloon, etc.) complete with managing foreigners who harass anyone who walks by (and, no doubt, annoy everyone with those damn accents). Food is everywhere -- literally. It's being sold everywhere you look, it's on the boardwalk attracting seagulls, it's stuffed in the patrons' mouths. Perhaps the only source of commerce that's more present is that of the junky, "sundry"-cum-T-shirt shop. As a rough estimate, we'll say that there are an average of three of such places per block. If there are around 100 places to buy T-shirts (or 75, or 50 or whatever), I'd say that at least half of them have prominent displays like this:
We'll get to the actual content of the shirts in a bit (but really, "You wear your X...?" How fucking 15 years ago!). The point here is that this shit is everywhere.
Incredibly, though I've visited Wildwood many times throughout my life, I'd never really noticed it before. I guess I was just walking around blindfolded, perhaps with one of these over my eyes:
Oh but there's more rebel-flag merchandise to be had in Wildwood. Things like...
and, my personal favorite...
...hermit crab shells. I mean, why should hermit crabs be denied the chance to express their Confederate pride? That would just be cruel. I'm glad that someone's thinking about the crustaceans.
Besides, it looks great in its natural habitat, right?
I know that my pearl clutching may come off as overly politically correct. You know how I know this? A T-shirt told me.
I mean, what the fuck does that even mean? Historically accurate when? While playing dress up? While spouting off antiquated ideas? Historically accurate where? In the ass that you're talking out of? Isn't one of the main goals of studying history to learn about the mistakes of the past so that we don't repeat them?
I know those who are the type to wear T-shirts like the one above or those who put rebel-flag mudflaps on their 4X4s will defend the flag as not a symbol of slavery, but of heritage. But even if the Civil War was more about commerce than slavery, doesn't the effect of the South's intended outcome provoke the slightest bit of embarrassment in people? Big ideas of struggle aside, isn't the practical implication of such heritage to deny rights to blacks?
And really, to anyone who does fly the rebel flag with pride, I ask: do you willfully associate with black people and if so, what do they think of your expression or heritage? Do you care about black culture? How many albums by black people do you own? How many movies by black directors have you seen? How many books by black authors have you read? And, for that matter, how many books have you read, period?
Regardless of how the case for rebel-flag waving can be cooked to seem benign and neutral, many of these T-shirts aren't so fiddle-dee-dee about the old days. No, they're out to offend.
Is anyone surprised that "its" is missing an apostrophe?
You can check the displays above to revisit the whole "You wear your X, I'll wear my X," thing, the unabashed racialism of "Smart Ass White Boy" and the implied white supremacist statement of "If You Ain't Redneck, You Ain't Sheeit." Oh, and then there's this one, which I don't even think I have the capacity to fully understand:
It's just plain bizarro.
But what could the kid learn from his parents that a hermit crab couldn't teach him?
I should note that besides the two girls up top with the towel and boogie board, I didn't see anyone actually rocking any of this stuff. The fact that it's so available for purchase makes me assume that there's some sort of demand for it. But then again, maybe not. Any manager of a store who'd say, "Hmmmm, you know what residents and visitors of the once-UNION state of NEW JERSEY need? Rebel flag gear!" probably can't be counted on to understand something as complex as the law of supply and demand.
As potentially offensive as this stuff is in both nonchalant ("Oooh, look at how nice the red looks as the light goes through the suncatcher! Like blood!") and overt forms, the ubiquity of it is, in a way, hilarious to me. Certainly, if you view this material in the most offensive light -- as an endorsement of the dehumanization of black people -- it comes from a place of such ignorance and stupidity and ultimate powerlessness that it's hard to take seriously. There's very, very little weight behind it all. In this desperate, pitiful nostalgia, this willful ignorance, there's just a larger-than-life caricature of real human emotion. It is, then, kitsch.
But maybe I'm mistaken. Maybe I'm the ignorant one.
OK, fine. Give me one. Explain to me how this doesn't turn its back on humanity and progress. I'm all ears. Really.