In the wake of the horrible shooting in Charleston, South Carolina on Wednesday evening there is a growing chorus calling for the removal of the Confederate from the statehouse grounds in Columbia. A petition is now circulating, which includes 215,000 signatures calling for the flag’s removal and State Representative, Norman Brannon, a Republican announced that he will introduce a bill to make it a reality.
Beyond South Carolina, Mitt Romney called for its removal. In an interview Governor Charlie Baker of Massachusetts offered the tired response that this is a local issue that the citizens of South Carolina need to decide. True enough, but that does not give anyone – least of all a sitting governor – the right to push the issue aside. This is the time for good people to be counted. We are past the point of trying to assuage constituencies for political reasons with vague platitudes.
Consider Lindsey Graham’s response.
But this is part of who we are. The flag represents, to some people, a civil war and that was the symbol of one side. To others, it’s a racist symbol and it’s been used by people in a racist way.
Notice the way in which the flag is understood by Graham. It’s purely a symbol that has been used in ways that we would consider racist. It implies that these ‘ways’ are the exception to the rule. They are aberrations. We are free to decide to pick and choose which side we want to identify with: heritage or hate
We run the risk of reducing Dylan Roof’s close identification with the Confederate flag as just another example of its connection to racial violence. Even after nine people were brutally murdered in a church by an individual who went out of his way to articulate a deeply disturbing racial manifesto that justified the killings, many believe that it is still possible to flip the gestalt switch on the meaning of the Confederate flag.
Roof’s fondness for the Confederate flag is no accident. He follows a long line of Americans stretching back into the 1950s who utilized the flag as a symbol, not just of hate, but as a form of active resistance against full black citizenship. Though we may prefer to think about these heinous murders as extreme they follow from the same ideology and hate for African Americans. Roof’s identification with the flag sits comfortably among photographs of ordinary white Americans who resisted every step of the civil rights movement from the admission of blacks into the University of Mississippi to the march from Selma to Montgomery and beyond.
It’s meaning is well understood for anyone who chooses to look and face history.
The fact that individuals may have different interpretations of the Confederate flag is irrelevant in this situation. We are talking about a Confederate flag on the grounds of a state capital – a state that chose to fly a Confederate flag atop its dome beginning in the early 1960s in defiance of integration and that now flies it on a 30ft pole next to a Confederate memorial.
Now more than ever it must be removed if the elected leaders of the state of South Carolina have any pretension of being rightfully seen as representing all of its citizens. In the name of justice and democracy: TEAR IT DOWN NOW!
Note: Yesterday I shared some of my understanding of the Confederate flag on NPR’s “On the Point.”