Why this New Plymouth District Councillor won't stop flying the Confederate flag

A New Plymouth District Councillor has defended blackface used in a Hawera parade last week and his own flying of the Confederate flag.

Murray Chong was invited onto NZME's Hokonui station on Thursday, where he admitted flying the Confederate flag during New Plymouth's Americarna festival.

He held one up in the studio, showing host Bryan Vickery - and viewers watching the video feed - exactly what one looked like. 

"They're called window flags," he explained. "I fly this on one side, and I fly the American - you know, the modern American flag on the other side."

Calling it the "Independence flag", Mr Chong said he only displays it during Americarna, an annual festival celebrating classic American cars.  

"I'm basing the flag on the Americana muscle car theme, rather than the history of the whole flag. There's a lot of guys my age that were inspired by American cars because of what was on the roof of the General Lee."

Murray Chong and his small Confederate flag.
Murray Chong and his small Confederate flag. Photo credit: NZME

The General Lee was the car driven by the heroes of 1980s action-comedy show The Dukes of Hazzard. Its roof bore the Confederate flag flown by the pro-slavery states in the US Civil War. 

"Sure, it has got a history - but do we actually fully look back, turn around and go the other way? Or do we glance back and look at the history, and make sure we don't make the mistake again?" asked Mr Chong.

"But why hide the history? Let's just have it out there. I've never really had anyone complain because it's Americana. If I flew this any other time, yeah." 

Mr Chong is no stranger to racial controversy. In 2015 he was criticised by the Mayor for making fun of Asian accents, and in 2017 he criticised National and Labour as "Natori" and "Labori" and he decried the amount of money being spent on te reo Māori. 

In recent years the Confederate flag has fallen out of favour, even in some of the southern states where it has been proudly flown for 150 years. Several states have ordered the flag removed from government grounds and emblems, and California has banned it altogether. A number of retailers no longer stock anything bearing the distinctive stars-and-cross design. Even NASCAR, a staple of many southern men's entertainment diet, doesn't allow the flag. 

Mr Chong said young people are offended because they "didn't grow up as a kid to be inspired by the flag on the roof of a car". 

Asked if he would rethink his stance if an African-American went along to Americarna and told him it was offensive, he said no.

"That's fine. That's how he sees it or she sees it. That's not what I'm flying it for - that's what people need to realise."

Then he went on, unprompted, to defend Hawera's blackface controversy. A Lions club float full of people wearing blackface won second place - and $300 prize money - at the town's A&P parade last week.

"The same with the black faces - they were doing that to try and bring people together. Other people saw it another way. This is why it's blown all out of proportion," said Mr Chong, who being offended was now an "Olympic sport"

"Some people just need to be not so offended and worry about their own lives, rather than the history of everything else and reading what they read on the internet."

He then admitted having a "big" Confederate flag in his collection, which he planned to fly half-mast when one of the stars of the original Hazzard TV show die, "out of respect". 

Newshub has contacted Mr Chong for a response.

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