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“We Must Examine Our Own Prejudices”: Removing The Confederate Flag Is Easy; Fixing Racism Is Hard

Protesters hold a sign during a rally to take down the Confederate flag at the South Carolina Statehouse, Tuesday, June 23, 2015, in Columbia, South Carolina.

When the Republican National Committee chose Tampa as the site for the party’s 2012 national convention, it seemed quite fitting—Florida being a red state and all, and one in which evangelical fervor mixed freely with the brand of Tea Party vindictiveness epitomized by Governor Rick Scott.

As I traveled to the city limits, destined for a motel reserved for any C-list, left-wing journalists covering the confab, the taxi I occupied exited the highway on a ramp dominated by perhaps the largest thing of its kind I had ever seen. Hoisted on a 139-foot pole, this Confederate battle flag measures 30 feet high and 60 feet long. That’s a lot of cloth, and the day I viewed it, it whipped violently against the winds stirred up by Hurricane Isaac, who mercifully defied predictions by remaining offshore.

I nearly jumped out of my skin at the sight of the immense flag; whoever had placed it there clearly meant to make a statement, and not one of peace, love, or understanding. When I recaptured my ability to speak, I stammered to the cab driver, who was black, “What on earth is that?”

He shrugged his shoulders. “They put it up a few years ago,” he said. He drove past it pretty much every day, he said.

It was 2008 when the flag first ascended the pole at the junction of I-75 and Interstate 4 on June 3, the birthday of Jefferson Davis, the only president of the short-lived Confederate States of America, a day observed in many Florida localities as a holiday. In what may or may not have been a coincidence, Barack Obama was closing in on the Democratic presidential nomination. (Hillary Clinton would suspend her campaign four days later.)

The land on which the flag stands was owned at the time by Marion Lambert, a proud member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, and who since donated the parcel to the group. According to a June 21 report in the Tampa Bay Times, Lambert called the flag “a catalyst for a mental movement.”

“The reason we put that flag up is to start people thinking,” he told the Times.

He said this as white people across America began debating whether the white murderer Dylann Roof, who gunned down nine black people in a church rooted in the rebellion of enslaved people, is a simple racist or a mentally ill one. In Lambert’s “mental movement,” Roof is, at the very least, an army of one.

Roof’s actions, combined with photographs of him bearing the treasonous battle standard, have touched off a furious cry to rid the land of the symbol of one of America’s original sins (the other being the genocide of the land’s indigenous people). While it would be lovely to never gaze upon such a disgraceful emblem again, the rush to do so is fast becoming a diversion useful to those who seek to continue the nation’s long denial of its own bloody history of race-based oppression, which will do nothing to forestall the growth of racism in its lesser-seen forms.

Yes, it is a big deal when even Republican governors and luminaries—including the party’s last presidential nominee—call for the removal of the flag from state capitols and public buildings, a phenomenon unthinkable a decade ago. But party leaders also know it’s what needs to happen in order for the party to survive, since millennials are not terribly keen on displays of racial hatred.

But allowing the removal of the flag to stand as the sole answer to the Charleston massacre would let the North entirely off the hook for its own brand of racism, often every bit as brutal, if occasionally more subtle, as that displayed by the Sons of Confederate Veterans—or an almost entirely white Republican Party entertaining speech after speech at its Tampa national convention peppered with the Jacksonian language of “makers” and “takers,” and throwing the old welfare-queen card in the face of a black president.

But the white people of the North have plenty to account for, too, in the construction and maintenance of a racist society. I grew up in a New Jersey town that no black person dared to drive through. It was a nearly all-white town; we had one Chinese family, and two or three Latino families. No real estate agent who valued his or her job would show an African American buyer a house there. The cops in the Township of Clark were notorious for pulling over African American drivers seeking to enter the Garden State Parkway from the on-ramp that put our town on the map. And Clark was hardly an outlier among the burgs of the Northeast; it was just crassly obvious in its redlined bigotry.

You can take down all the Confederate flags in the country, and you won’t change a thing in Clark, or the thousands of towns just like it above the Mason-Dixon Line.

Nor should the progressive movement be let off the hook, despite its vociferous and righteous cry against the racist evil channeled by Dylann Roof the day he went on his murderous spree. In organizations not specifically focused on matters of race, it’s rare to see a black person in leadership, just as it’s rare to see women lead progressive organizations that are not specifically feminist. Until that changes, the underpinnings of a racist society remain intact. Until that changes, the false and evil narrative that claims those of African descent to be a lesser race lives on in the recesses of our minds, shaping the nation to its confines.

So, yes, remove the Confederate flag—that standard of dehumanization, treason, and murder—from our sight. But proof of our intention demands great change in the way in which we lead, the way in which we live, the way in which we think; we must be willing to truly open the riches of progressive society and culture to all. To do that, we must—each and every one of us—examine our own prejudice, and be determined to transcend it. Then the real work of a just society can begin.

 

By: Adele M. Stan, The American Prospect, June 24, 2015

June 25, 2015 - Posted by | Confederate Flag, Prejudice, Racism | , , , , , , ,

3 Comments »

  1. How true. Let’s get busy with the hard part.

    Like

    Comment by John Kanelis | June 25, 2015 | Reply

  2. Reblogged this on Bell Book Candle.

    Like

    Comment by walthe310 | June 25, 2015 | Reply


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