I won't make excuses for the Confederate Flag. If it shows up at any point now or in the future, or even in the recent past, I condemn it as a symbol of racism and hate.
But I would submit that for this discussion thread, context matters. When it has appeared over the past 50 years in rockabilly, punk, Southern rock, country, or popular culture, it deserves to be condemned. But I think further examination may be required. It is possible to point out that it was always wrong, and condemn the ignorance behind it even if proof of overt hate or racism cannot be established. Especially when it came to the rockabilly revival and punk scene in the UK in the 1970s, the use of the Confederate Flag was, I believe, without even the most remedial knowledge or understanding of US history. The world was infinitely more insular then, and I know I've seen numerous discussions over the years of how it was the "rebel" flag, without a deeper examination of what was behind that "rebellion." Even those in the US would often hide behind the "rebel" or worse yet, "heritage" argument (without properly examining that heritage!) These aren't to be mistaken for "excuses." Since a lot of these bands don't exist any more, there may be little recourse to reconcile intent, at which point, the listener can decide for themselves if they can continue to enjoy their music.
I've even known punks who wore the most inexcusable of symbols, the swastika, who are now ashamed of doing so, saying they were looking to offend the establishment in the most shocking and offensive way possible. People can grow and change, and I am still horrified that it happened, but I'm not condemning those same people today who are nothing like the 1978 version of themselves. I'll see if I have time to get into Setzer's documented 1981 wearing of a swastika pin on another thread later.
But it's 2021, 12 years after this thread started, and the world is more wide open than ever. And I believe that room for growth ought to be allowed. If you or a band you liked used Confederate iconography, with some degree of ignorance or without intent of hate, it's OK to say, "that was wrong, and I certainly wouldn't be OK with that now." I am reminded of Tom Petty once rejecting a flag someone threw up onstage at one of his shows. He acknowledged that he had used the flag in the past and that while he had never intended to display it as anything other than a symbol of where he was from, and a representation of the character in the song, "Rebels," there are others who continue to use it as a symbol of hatred and that he never wanted to see it at his shows ever again. I wouldn't mind seeing that discussed more often amongst others who used to feature it somewhat prominently, including Setzer. But I fear that with the division in the world everyone has gone into "attack mode" and it would come out with something like "I wouldn't dare use the flag again. The 'woke left' would crucify me!" Rather than a more thoughtful response like Tom Petty's. Tom Petty discusses Confederate Flag
3 years ago, I was offered a chance to take over a local radio program. It was called That Rockabilly Show. I was not willing to continue with the name, in part, because of some of the racist iconography used by rockabilly bands I would not deem racist, and the roots of rockabilly evolving primarily from the often racist Southern US in the 1950s. (I decided to call it "Rockin' Bones.") Not only that, I wanted to play Little Richard (some people say he's rockabilly) or Chuck Berry (some people say he's rockabilly) Fats Domino, rhythm and blues, jump blues, and rock and roll, and I had to recognize immediately how "White" rockabilly has historically been. I still bristle a bit when people tell me they like my "rockabilly" show. And yet, I can't quite bring myself to paint with a broad brush that rockabilly as a subgenre is inherently racist. I prefer to squeeze it into the overall rock and roll umbrella, and deal with individual cases on their own. I do worry that rockabilly artists may start calling themselves "rock and roll" or "modern vintage" artists - distancing themselves from rockabilly and letting the racists appropriate that label for themselves. I'm not up to date on the "scene" these days. Perhaps it's already happening.
12 years ago when this thread started, the world did not have a mirror held up to it in the way it has over the past 5-6 years. I applaud the efforts of those seeking to improve themselves and the world around them. I would encourage people who choose to unilaterally condemn symbolism of hatred to continue their fight against it, even if we can't all quite agree on how to do it.