In the wake of the murders of nine black churchgoers by a white supremacist with Confederate sympathies, multiple national retailers announced plans this week to stop selling Confederate flags and Confederate flag-branded apparel and paraphernalia. Walmart was the first to eliminate Confederate merchandise, with eBay, Amazon and even Etsy following suit. As of today, there’s scarcely a trace of the famous “rebel flag” on Walmart.com or Amazon.com. But bargain-hunting chattel slavery enthusiasts need not abandon their laptops for flea markets just yet: You can still buy Confederate flags at both of those sites—just not the one most people think of as “the Confederate Flag.”
The Confederate States of America, and its armed forces, flew multiple flags during the Civil War. The popularly recognized “Confederate Flag,” or the “Southern Cross,” was (as most know) the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia. That flag was later incorporated into the second and third Confederate national flags (it was placed on a field of blinding white, designed to symbolize exactly what you think), but the first national flag of the CSA bore no resemblance to the one emblazoned on the General Lee. That first flag featured a circle of white stars in a blue field, representing the states of the CSA, and three thick stripes, alternating red and white. This flag, and not the more famous one, is “the Stars and Bars.”
Numerous other flags were flown by Confederates during the Civil War. Among the most popular “unofficial” flags of the CSA was The Bonnie Blue Flag, which was first flown by the independent Republic of West Florida following its 1810 split from the Spanish province of West Florida. That flag, a simple white star on a blue field, was flown by the Confederate forces that fired on Fort Sumter. It inspired a popular song, as well as the name chosen by a main character for his daughter in a piece of 20th Century white supremacist literature that was adapted into a popular white supremacist film.
(Both of the Walmart listings note the Confederate association in the product descriptions, making it a bit odd that the items haven’t been pulled yet.)
This is where corporate sensitivity runs up against the realities of modern commerce. The driving ethos of these companies is to sell everything Americans might wish to purchase. Trying to eliminate all racist merchandise from barely-moderated open marketplaces like Amazon or eBay would be, as we’ve seen, nigh impossible.
Political realities even stymie the complete elimination of products featuring the Southern Cross: The Mississippi state flag, a crude amalgam of the Stars and Bars and the Southern Cross, is still available on Amazon and Walmart’s sites, and presumably it will remain so as long as it remains Mississippi’s flag. Enforcement of a no-Confederate-flags policy also gets dicey once once considers pieces of media prominently featuring the flag—will Amazon stop selling Alabama records?
Still, no matter how empty the gesture, if you’re going to promise to remove “the Confederate Flag” from your store, you should probably make sure to actually stop selling literal Confederate flags.