How The Confederate Flag Has Become “Cool” Beyond America’s South

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A photo posted by COOK, John L. Cook (@cookoficial) on

Argentine teens are wearing the Confederate flag as the latest fashion trend, reports Al Jazeera America. It’s not tongue-in-cheek, but that doesn’t make it more palatable. John L. Cook is an Abercrombie-esque chain with kinda-awkward English phrases like “Let’s make out” emblazoned on its wares. The flag became the brand’s symbol after Ramiro Fita, its founder, ran across it while in Baltimore during a stint in the merchant navy decades ago. He and his wife decided to create a clothing line in 1975 — and use the flag as its logo. “It was jolting to see people wearing [John L. Cook]; it's a brand that you need to have a little money to buy and it's a brand that is considered cool, more among a younger set,” says Karina Martinez-Carter, an expat journalist who lived in Buenos Aires for nearly five years. But Argentina isn’t the the only country with a strange affinity for the controversial symbol. According to The Guardian, Brazil’s connection to the Confederate flag comes courtesy of the many Southerners that fled America after the Civil War thanks to the South American country's land grants (and because slavery was still legal in Brazil at the time). The flag doesn’t have negative connotations for Brazilians; those with some Southern heritage even see it as a point of cultural pride. Southern Italians have appropriated the flag as well, empathizing with what it represents about strife between different parts of one country.
In Dalarna, Sweden, there’s a subculture, raggare, that’s all about kitschy midcentury Americana — old-timey cars, cowboy hats, and Confederate flags abound in the central Swedish town, reports The Washington Post. The contentious flag has cropped up in Canada as well: A high school in Ontario banned Confederate symbols from being worn on items like belt buckles and bandanas after it became “cool.” There have been some progressive moves in the U.S. towards removing the flag from the South Carolina state capital in light of this spring’s shooting of nine African-American individuals at Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston by white teenager Dylann Roof, who was reportedly involved with white supremacist groups. The flag was also removed from shelves at retailers like Target, Walmart, and Sears, as well as online retailers such as Amazon and eBay. But it’s a long, tumultuous process to completely scrub away the flag and what it symbolizes. Does it make it any less unsettling to see the very loaded symbol cropping up on “hip” teens’ T-shirts and tote bags on another continent? Not really. Like anything else that pushes the wrong buttons, there’s something seriously awkward about a symbol of white supremacy being worn in South America. Stateside, people have been guilty of inappropriately wearing other countries’ flags without knowing the possible implications — like, say, Japan’s Rising Sun flag being sold on T-shirts and cropping up in music videos. Ignorantly wearing a possibly offensive symbol is better than wearing it ironically, if there's any silver lining — but it’s no less cringe-inducing.

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