Let me begin by saying I'm an immigrant. I have no axe to grind in this fight; I'm an interested observer.
I've been surprised, in reading comments left by readers of my first two articles about the Confederate battle flag controversy, to find that many of those defending it as a cultural symbol have denied, in so many words, that its racist connotations either matter, or are valid at all. Even as an immigrant, studying the history of the symbol at a distance, so to speak, I know that's not correct.
I think the best summary of the problem is given by The Week in this article. Here's a brief excerpt.
In 1948, Strom Thurmond's States' Rights Party adopted the Battle Flag of Northern Virginia as a symbol of defiance against the federal government. What precisely required such defiance? The president's powers to enforce civil rights laws in the South, as represented by the Democratic Party's somewhat progressive platform on civil rights.
Georgia adopted its version of the flag design in 1956 to protest the Supreme Court's ruling against segregated schools, in Brown v. Board of Education.
The flag first flew over the state capitol in South Carolina in 1962, a year after George Wallace raised it over the grounds of the legislature in Alabama, quite specifically to link more aggressive efforts to integrate the South with the trigger of secession 100 years before — namely, the storming of occupied Fort Sumter by federal troops. Fort Sumter, you might recall, is located at the mouth of Charleston Harbor.
Opposition to civil rights legislation, to integration, to miscegenation, to social equality for black people — these are the major plot points that make up the flag's recent history. Not Vietnam. Not opposition to Northern culture or values. Not tourism. Not ObamaCare. Not anything else.
There's more at the link. I highly recommend reading the article in full. It seems reasonably balanced to me.
I think it's undeniable that there is a racist connotation to the Confederate battle flag in modern times, despite the fact that there was no such connotation when it was designed and originally used. Therefore, much as I sympathize with those who see opposition to it as symbolizing opposition to their cultural values or their personal freedoms, I can also see the other side's arguments. I think there are valid reasons to at least restrict the display of the battle flag. However, I agree that those reasons don't amount to sufficient justification to ban its display entirely.
Remember, I'm talking as an outsider looking in, trying to see beyond the passions to the reality of the situation. Is there any hope that such realities might prevail? Not, I submit, as long as both sides refuse to acknowledge that the other does have at least some justification for its position.