Last week, an avowed white supremacist walked into the Mother Emanuel Church of Charleston, S.C., spent an hour in prayer with members of the congregation, then pulled out a gun and started shooting, explicitly stating, “I’m here to kill black people.”
This terrorist — there’s really no other word for him — later told police he wanted to start a “race war.” It’s gratifying to see that people don’t seem inclined to oblige him. Even relatives of the victims told the admitted shooter, a wormy-looking little gobshite named Dylann Roof, that they forgave him, thus showing that they’re better people than me.
That’s admittedly not a high bar. But still, it’s pretty impressive. In the wake of this terrible tragedy, there are a number of discussions we could be having. Discussions about race, of course. Discussions about the easy availability of guns to people who have so many obvious screws loose that you’re surprised they don’t rattle as they walk down the street.
Curiously, however, the issue that people seem to have fixated on is the Confederate battle flag, and whether it’s appropriate for a state government to display it. I get that it’s relevant, because Roof, like many racists, seems to have a particular affinity for the battle flag. Still, I can’t help but wonder if maybe we’re missing a chance to make a larger point.
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley reversed her previous stance on her state government’s display of the flag, which was basically, “Eh, no one really cares.” Now, she’s all for moving the flag off the state Capitol grounds and putting it in a museum with other relics of the past.
She’s not alone. Even South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, who last week was insisting that the battle flag is “part of who we are,” suddenly realized he was going to need black votes in the South Carolina presidential primary and thus was standing beside Gov. Haley as she called for its removal.
Mississippi is reported to be considering a similar move. [note, after this column was turned in they decided to keep the flag]. I hear that our own Gov. Pat McCrory has even suggested that the battle flag be removed from North Carolina’s special commemorative license plates, and Virginia may be about to follow suit.
Corporate America, it seems, is getting on the bandwagon. Amazon.com announced it was pulling all Confederate battle flag merchandise, as did Sears, eBay and even the mighty Walmart.
All of which is fine, because like it or not, people do care. The battle flag is a symbol to an awful lot of people of a legacy of slavery and brutal oppression. You may say it’s about “heritage, not hate,” but for African-Americans, particularly in the South, that’s actually the problem. Hate and violence directed against them are inseparable parts of that heritage.
By the way, if you’d like to use this topic as a springboard for expounding about how the Civil War wasn’t “really about slavery,” please don’t even try do so until you’ve looked up the Declarations of Causes of the various Southern states, in which those states, explicitly and at great length, tell everyone that they’re leaving the Union because of slavery.
Seriously, look them up. They changed my mind on this issue, and if they don’t change yours, there’s no hope for you.
Then there’s the whole treason thing. Sorry, but there’s really no way around this: The U.S. Constitution defines “treason” as, among other things, “levying war against the United States.” The Confederate battle flag is a one under which people “levied war” against the U.S. It’s a bit strange to loudly declare your love for your country and your adherence to the Constitution and still fly the flag of the people who committed treason against it as defined in that very document.
So, if the battle flag does get taken down from every state house, license plate and Walmart and is relegated to Klan rallies and performances by third-rate Lynyrd Skynyrd tribute bands, I won’t mourn. But it’s not enough.
I’m not trying to be Benny Buzzkill here, but I’m wondering if the battle flag is being used as a sacrifice, something no politician really cared about deep down and that they’re now willing to throw under the bus to make it look as if something’s being done about racism.
When the last battle flag comes down. racism will still be here, will still be a cancer on our society — but, I fear, will still be unaddressed by the people in power, who’ll be going, “What the heck do those people want!? We stopped flying that flag like they wanted!”The battle flag needs, at last, to come down. But if that’s where the dialogue ends, then the memories of the nine who died at Mother Emanuel Church will not be well-served.