Virginia is not the only place that clings, barnacle-like, to symbols and rituals of an oppressive, terroristic and slaveholding past.
Some of New York’s county fairs do it, too. Our own Washington County Fair allowed until 2016 the sale of Confederate flags and other mementos of the effort to split the country in two so that half of it could continue to own people.
After complaints, the fair board finally decided to ban Confederate merchandise — not specifically, but by prohibiting the sale or display of “articles of a disruptive nature,” which it applies to Confederate flags, belt buckles and other items bathed in nostalgia for a time when white people could assault black people without consequence. (Whether we have come as far from that time as many of us would like to think is a good question.)
A group of offended citizens in Delaware County, where the fair board refuses to back away from the Confederacy, has formed an organization — Fair for All — that is advocating for Confederate merchandise to be banned at all county fairs in the state.
They’ve picked up some powerful allies in this effort in Richard Ball, state commissioner of ag & markets, and Letitia James, the new state attorney general. Also, the president of Cornell University, Martha Pollack, has weighed in, calling “symbols of intolerance” like the Confederate flag “detestable.”
Her opinion matters because of the involvement in the county fairs of Cornell Cooperative Extension, specifically with 4-H.
The mind boggles at the phenomenon of fair leaders in New York agreeing to the celebration and sale of the symbols of an alliance that engaged in treason against their own ancestors and killed many of them.
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What is it that northerners see to celebrate in the Confederacy? It’s like an adolescent wearing an offensive T-shirt — that’s the only thing I can come up with. It’s not that he likes the shirt, but he enjoys upsetting the adults.
“You’re not the boss of me!” — It does feel good to shout it.
But it does matter why you’re shouting it. Asserting your right to make your own choices by defending hate is not a good look.
Regardless of the motives of the customers for Confederate gewgaws, fair boards have to be the adults.
Last summer, I contacted officials at the Essex County Fair about their vendor policy and got hung up on. The policy on their website makes no mention of offensive merchandise — same with the Franklin County Fair site. The Saratoga County vendor handbook refers to “offensive writing/pictures/graphics” in a list of prohibited products.
Letitia James said, “Confederate flags are a tribute to a dark, hateful and painful past and have no place in our society beyond the history books. State-funded fairs and events should not be peddlers and profiters of this, or any other hateful paraphernalia.”
I’d love to see the fairs adopt a clear statement of principle like that, or like this: “Racist products are banned at the fair.” That wasn’t hard. Why are some people making it hard?