You can go back in history and find it's origin and that it's a symbol of "rebellion" but the normal person does not know or care about that. What the average person links it to is the south. The south is famous for one thing to the average man, slavery. The civil war was, or towards the end, a moral war. This entire thing is comparable to the german swastika, everyone considers it a symbol of oppression and genocide but damn it's background. So in conclusion yes it is a symbol of racism or bigotry.
The flag that we generally refer to as the Confederate flag is actually the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia (Robert E Lee) and contrary to popular belief the South did not fight over slavery. It may have been one issue in a much larger conflict, but it was not the primary cause. The cause was the continual infringement on States Rights by the Northern industrial part of the country. Most of the soldiers who served under it were not slave owners and many didn't even approve of slavery. They fought because up until the Civil War, people in this country thought of themselves as Virginians, Pennsylvanians, or Texans, not as "Americans" or citizens of the United States. You may as well contend that the British flag or the Dutch flag are racist because those countries held slaves at some point in history....
Definitely has racial connotations. It is inappropriate to be used outside of a historical context. It is okay to stuff the flag in a museum somewhere. Lest we forget that it was a dark period in American history, and should be forgotten news. The fact of the matter is that the confederate economy was based heavily on agrarian exports, and there were minorities that suffered greatly at the hands of the empire. The Union's actions regarding scorched earth policy were sort of turd like, but that is a different conversation to be had. The bottom line is the confederate flag is a baritone singer of undertones if you will, of racial animosity and should not be flyin in no wind .
Slavery was definitely one of the primary practices which the Confederacy fought to preserve, having largely been considered to be an integral part of southern life by the Confederacy. Despite revisionist claims, the debate over slavery in the 1850-60's was a huge factor that led up to the Civil War. The debate over slavery had already led to violent conflict in Kansas prior to the War; an attempt was made to turn Kansas into a slave state through voter fraud and abolitionist John Brown attempted to incite a violent slave revolt. Slavery was also cited as a primary cause for southern secession by the Confederacy itself, as Alexander Stephens, Vice-President of the Confederacy, said, "The new Constitution has put at rest forever all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institutions—African slavery as it exists among us—the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution".
Today the confederate flag is linked directly to the south during the civil war, however, it was originally used by the confederate army as a symbol of rebellion and anarchy, not as a sign of slavery. So it depends on if you tend to agree with current views of it (which are used by those who don't understand the confederacy or their flag), or if you choose to accept that the flag was used as a symbol or rebellion and not slavery
I admit the KKK used the Confederate flag as a symbol associated with their twisted group and, in a sense, have tainted it. However, the Confederate flag is actually a symbol of the south or a symbol of defiance. The Southern Cross has been adopted by US military units. Does this mean they are racists? No, it means they are showing southern pride being comprised of mostly southern soldiers. The confederate flag was flown on the USS Columbia during WWII in honor of the ship's namesake: the capital city of South Carolina (absolutely nothing to do with racism). Also, the Dixie flag never represented the Confederacy as a nation and never represented slavery AT ALL during the civil war. Thank you for your time!
Conferderate Motivations were ultimately economic, using racism as moral justification:
At the time of the Civil War (and before), America was the only known place to acquire cotton. Cotton was a highly valuable material (especially for clothing) and was exported to many (at the time) established nations. The seven states (particularly the businessmen) that grew it had booming economies fueled by free slave and free/cheap indentured labor. The seven states had a large pull in national politics solely for this reason.
After a while, urbanization and industrial economies started popping up. The seven states were losing their grip on national politics. After calling the shots for so long and having a fall from grace, they decided to pull out.
The primary motivator of the Confederate (businessmen) was to call the shots in national politics and reduce internal strife. To this end, they sold a religious, moral and ethnocentric agenda called racism to slaves and indentured servants (British, German, Dutch underclass who came here with promises of land and were told each few years they had to pay their upkeep) by quoting Bible scripture, teaching slaves they serve their earthly master loyally and in doing so serve their spiritual master in the next life.
By taking this spin on it, they ensured the Africans wouldn't revolt due to indoctrination (along with other things like minimizing education and intelligence).
However, what about citizens? They were taught to exemplify family, earnestness, work ethic, honesty, integrity, stoicism and to be devout. They were taught to be proud of their state of affairs in the seven states.
The Union's primary motivation was to prevent the fragmentation of America and not establish a beachhead for foreign nations (insomuch as having a partner that may overtake our fledgling country, as the British market was the primary consumer of cotton).
So the Union abolished slavery, used freed and even current slaves as HUMINT sources. Is it ok to do the right thing for the wrong reasons? (*hint* YES).
At the end of the day, however, the Confederates and Union citizens themselves were victims of wealthy businessmen and politicians looking to maintain and increase profits. These businessmen and politicians were willing to screw over anyone to get rich, the majority of the people they screwed were the poor and the Africans, especially those who fought in the Civil War on BOTH sides.
Kinda sounds like the Wall Street bailouts, or modern banking (predatory loans, imaginary/risky investment vehicles, etc. etc.).
In sum, the Confederate Flag was a symbol of upholding traditional values during ailing economic times.
I am not sure who says the Confederate flag is not racist. Having been through the south a few times and also living there for a few years, I can say I have seen my fair share of Confederate flags. I personally do not believe they should be used, but I do not believe there are inherently racist just on there own.
While Tennessee was the state that the Klan was founded, it almost went Union. The only part of the state that went for Dixie was actually a part of the state that went against the Klan. Giles, TN, the county in which the KKK was born went heavily for the Union, much like the East.
My perception of the Confederate flag is that it represents the states who seceded from the Union. Keep in mind, slavery might have been a hot topic but it wasn't the reason for secession. Likewise, it wasn't Lincoln's primary motivation either. The Washington Post printed an excellent article on this subject, "Five myths about why the South seceded". It can be found online and its very informative.
Free and enslaves Blacks fought for the Confederacy. On History.Com, an article addresses the service of Blacks in the Civil War and points out that neither side started out enlisting them. Yet, by war's end, both sides were doing so. The article is entitled, "African-American Soldiers in the Civil War". Another interesting article is "Black Confederates in the Civil War". It is provided by USGenNet. There are numerous other research sites where this can be validated. Granted, there were nearly a quarter of a million Black Union troops. The Blacks, serving in the Confederacy, were not that great in number. Still, they served. So, we must ask ourselves: Would a free Black man support a racist cause? If so, why? Obviously, a slave didn't have that choice. Still, both were serving under the Confederate flag.