The Corner


EEOC Treads on ‘Don’t Tread on Me’

It was only a matter of time, really. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has ruled that displaying the Gadsden Flag in the workplace — the yellow flag with the words Don’t Tread on Me below a coiled rattlesnake — may be punishable racial harassment.

Eugene Volokh at the Washington Post has the story, and the EEOC’s report, which gives the requisite background:

On January 8, 2014, Complainant filed a formal complaint in which he alleged that the Agency subjected him to discrimination on the basis of race (African American) and in reprisal for prior EEO activity when, starting in the fall of 2013, a coworker (C1) repeatedly wore a cap to work with an insignia of the Gadsden Flag.

In case you’re wondering: That’s it. That’s the extent of the offense. There were no racist statements. No slurs. No threatening looks. A dude wore a cap. “Repeatedly.” But:

Complainant stated that he found the cap to be racially offensive to African Americans because the flag was designed by Christopher Gadsden, a “slave trader & owner of slaves.”

Other American slave owners include Benjamin Franklin. Is it racial harassment to wear bifocals? It is by the complainant’s logic.

But it goes further. Yes, it’s likely that Christopher Gadsden had racial opinions that would be noxious, to put it mildly, in 2016. But it’s ridiculous to judge a man born to the 18th century by the prevailing morality of our own. Some context is advisable. Additional context that might be helpful in this particular case: Gadsden was delegate to the Stamp Act Congress; delegate to the First and Second Continental Congresses; commander of the 1st South Carolina Regiment of the Continental Army; and called “the Sam Adams of the South.” In other words, he was a man of his age in certain ways; he was also an American patriot. It was with the latter in mind that he designed his namesake flag. As the EEOC concluded: “It is clear that the Gadsden Flag originated in the Revolutionary War in a non-racial context.”

Ah, but:

Complainant maintains that the Gadsden Flag is a “historical indicator of white resentment against blacks stemming largely from the Tea Party.”

As Hillary Clinton would say: Sigh. There is no evidence that the Tea Party as a movement was motivated by racial animus (even some of the “racist” episodes that critics cited never happened). But there is a strong vein of leftwing historical revisionism that says it was so, presumably because that is easier to accept than the possibility that right-leaning voters circa 2009 had legitimate, defensible discontents. And here’s yet another example. So it turns out the complainant’s logic is just the typical, indefensible sort:

The Tea Party is racist.

The Tea Party uses the Gadsden Flag as a symbol.

Therefore, the Gadsden Flag is racist

And, naturally, the EEOC bought it.

Volokh addresses the serious dangers the result of this case poses to political speech. For example, if the Gadsden Flag can be enough to require employers to investigate, why not “All Lives Matter”? “Trump 2016”? &c. Count on it.

The problem is not just political correctness. It’s the way it’s being codified and institutionalized, primed to be wielded by the government at will.


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