The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recently handed down a decision in a 2014 case in which a black government worker claimed that a white co-worker’s wearing of a hat with the Gadsden Flag on it constituted racial harassment.The EEOC found that the symbol could, under certain circumstances, be construed as racial harassment. The commission claims that “it is clear that the Gadsden Flag originated in the Revolutionary War in a non-racial context” and in the more recent past has been “used to express non-racial sentiments.”However, the commission also found evidence that the flag had been used by white supremacists, particularly in the killing of two Las Vegas police officers in 2014, who draped the Gadsden Flag over their victims.
The complaint has been allowed go forward, due to the commission’s desire to determine the actual context of the flag’s display.The Gadsden Flag originated in the Revolutionary War as a distinctly non-racial illustration. Benjamin Franklin wrote anonymously to the Pennsylvania Journal about the qualities of a rattlesnake and why it might be used as a symbol of the American Colonies.He commented on the snake’s preference never to start a fight, but always to finish it, and that the rattles on its end made up thirteen separate pieces—and was the only part of the snake to increase in size. This was an allegory for the thirteen colonies, and how Benjamin knew that more would join later on.The yellow flag with the snake coiled on it and the words “Don’t Tread On Me’ is attributed to a Colonel Christopher Gadsden. He was a member of the Sons of Liberty and one of the three members of the Marine Committee who decided to outfit Marines with the flag in 1775.The flag is now used by many pro-gun groups, and was adopted by the Tea Party in 2008 as well.It is unclear whether or not the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission will rule the Gadsden Flag as universally racist, but it is clear that its origins are not racial, but patriotic.The plaintiff in the suit made the claim that because Christopher Gadsden at one point owned slaves, the flag he created must be a symbol of racism.This logic would dictate that any person in history, no matter how much they contributed to the United States, if they were born into a time of slavery and practiced it at the time, in context, they should be punished now by having all memory of their good deeds erased.This is absurd, and with any luck, the argument against the Gadsden Flag will not hold up.