Ah, here we are again. Another mass shooting by an angry young white male. What will it be this time? What will we blame for this senseless violence? Gun control? Racial hatred? Mental illness? Violent video games? Sexual promiscuity? The Chinese? Lesula monkeys?1 Those weird looking motherfuckers. On and on the merry-go-round we go. Aren’t you tired of it? I know I am. So let’s do what white people do so often and dismiss the Charleston Shooting as nothing more than an isolated incident. All the while convincing ourselves that the ubiquitously pervasive negative attitude many Americans possess towards people of color is nothing more than a liberal-conceived tactic used to deflect blame away from black people’s own cultural shortcomings. There, don’t you feel better now?
*If you don’t know what I’m talking about. I am referring to the Dylann Roof shooting in which a young, white supremacist went into the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC and opened fire, killing 9 black worshipers. According to a survivor of the shooting, Roof was quoted as saying “I have to do it. You rape our women and you’re taking over our country. And you have to go.”*
This time around, we’ve decided to focus on the Confederate flag. The Confederate flag is an antiquated relic of a time in America’s history when a divided nation of white men fought and killed each other to decide if black men should be kept in chains as property or be considered human beings. For Northerners, taking down the flag and removing it from public grounds is a no-brainer. However, it isn’t so simple for many people living in the South. For many white Southerners, the Confederate flag isn’t so much about racial discrimination as it is an iconic piece of history that represents Southern heritage and pride. The South rebelled against the North because the North was trying to impose their own values on them and so the flag is viewed as a symbol of independence and rebellion against an overreaching federal government. This idea is central to Southern identity. It is why so many Southerners are gun-owners, why they are in favor of state right’s, and why so many want a “smaller government”. Even the forced removal of the Confederate flag feeds into the notion of the North constantly imposing its will on the South.
That all said, the idea that the Confederate flag or any Confederate memorabilia have nothing to do with race is just ridiculous. Anyone who doubts the racially-charged historical connotation attached to the Confederacy and its flag is just woefully and/or willfully ignorant. The original purpose of the flag may have been to commemorate those who died during the war and serve as a reminder of our country’s history. Nevertheless, this was the same flag flown by Southern slave owners in 1860, it was the same flag flown by the KKK in 1920’s and it was the same flag flown by opponents of the Civil Rights movement in the 1940’s, 50’s and the 60’s. It is the same flag used by people to doltishly propagate their racist beliefs. This isn’t just a case of “a few bad apples ruining something for everybody”. The Confederate flag is unequivocally representative of racial hatred and discrimination. It is emblematic of slavery and segregation. It represents racial inequality, injustice, and ignorance. Of course, it should be removed from the State Capitol. But will removing the flag from the South Carolina Capitol building or from Walmart stores2 have any real effect on racial relations in the United States? No.
This current controversy over the Confederate flag/memorabilia is just an example of how racial discussion in America is often relegated to sporadic, non-sequitur issues that have minuscule effect in tackling the real problem. Whether it’s gun control, or torture, or immigration reform, or the NSA spy-program (which was recently ruled illegal by the Supreme Court), we dismiss these topics because they are difficult to talk about. Instead, we choose an easier topic to tackle, something that we can all clearly pinpoint and address with minimal effort. That’s not to say that the Confederate flag isn’t a controversial subject that doesn’t need to be debated, it’s just that it deflects from the real problem of race. Forcibly removing Confederate memorabilia from the marketplace is similar to how we punished Donald Sterling. Nothing was actually done to change why/how he felt about minorities, we simply punished him for feeling that way without teaching him why he was wrong. It is a perverted form of social justice. Silencing/bullying those with opposing viewpoints is a terrible way to enact cultural change.3 Instead of dealing with ancillary issues that only mask the deep-seated problems or bullying those who disagree into silent dereliction, let’s stay focused on what’s important. America will never solve it’s race problem unless we all gain the courage to talk about it honestly and openly. Real change comes from authentic action.
PS: In my opinion, individuals should have the right to show the Confederate flag as is their right via the First Amendment. Just as it is our right to ostracize them for being ignorant bigots.
PPS: South Carolina has a dark history with racism. Strom Thurmond was a South Carolina Senator who was a proud segregationist and opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1957. He even conducted the longest filibuster ever by a lone senator, at 24 hours and 18 minutes in length, nonstop, to try and stop it (NPR). What’s even crazier is that he proudly served his state from 1956 to 2003. TWO THOUSAND AND THREE! South Carolinian’s proudly re-elected a racist over and over and over and over.
2. Ebay, Amazon, Walmart, and other companies have banned Confederate memorabilia from their stores. It’s always interesting to see how business and politics interact. I actually think this will hurt Walmart the most, because of the socio-economic makeup of their consumer base.