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“Why The Confederate Flag Fell So Suddenly”: A Fully Engaged, Energized Activated Group Of Voters

Within just a few days of Dylann Roof’s racially motivated murder of 9 African-American worshippers and clergy in Charleston’s historic Emanuel A.M.E. Church, a sea change appeared to be under way with regards to the Confederate flag — this after decades of tense and slow-moving debate about whether the symbol deserves any kind of place in modern public life.

In short order, the governors of South Carolina and Alabama asked for the flag to be taken down from their respective Capitol grounds, other southern states showed a sudden willingness to reduce the visibility of the flag, and Amazon and Walmart stopped selling it. All this occurred against the backdrop of a loud chorus of online activists arguing that it was time to take the flag down once and for all — a few days after the shooting, the #takeitdown hashtag was tweeted 12,000 times in one day. Why all the sudden movement on an issue that had been a sore culture-war sticking point for decades? Yes, Roof’s massacre was horrific, but it obviously wasn’t the first racist violence to have occurred in a state where the Confederate flag flies.

“The pace of this change has been quite staggering,” said Dr. Jonathan Knuckley, a political scientist at the University of Central Florida who studies southern politics. The why ties into some basic, vital aspects of how Americans’ political opinions are formed and expressed. Foremost among them is the idea that most Americans simply aren’t all that informed about most policy issues, and when they do form opinions, they look around for highly visible cues to guide them toward the “right” opinion. (The notion that most Americans simply aren’t savvy when it comes to politics and policy may whiff of elitism, but it’s also one of the more durable findings in political science — in 2011, for example, about a third of Americans couldn’t name the vice-president.)

Dr. Timothy Ryan, a political scientist at the University of North Carolina, explained that until recently, this was true of the Confederate flag as well. “The typical citizen, if you asked them what they thought about the Confederate-flag issue in South Carolina two or three weeks ago, they would be making up their opinion on the fly in that moment,” he said. “Whereas now people have had some time to think about it, have had a push to think about it.”

As a result of this push, these voters will use whatever available cues come to mind to generate an opinion — a news segment they saw, a recent conversation with a friend. And those who sit somewhere in the middle and who are giving serious thought to the Confederate-flag issue for the first time are awash in anti-flag sentiments, whether delivered via Twitter, on news reports of anti-flag protests, or on radio spots covering Walmart and Amazon’s decision. These days there are tons of cues to draw upon, and very few of them would nudge one to support the Confederate flag.

Perhaps the most potent of such cues is the now-infamous photograph of Roof posing in front of the Confederate flag. “It doesn’t take much to process,” said Knuckley. “It’s kind of one of those gut, visceral, I-don’t-even-have-to-think-about-this-issue [images].” This cue, and others like it, affects voters on both sides of the issue. “The other side of that coin — it becomes a lot more difficult to be for [the flag],” said Knuckey. “Just a month or so ago, someone could have made a perfectly, in their mind, rational argument. It’s the kind of issue now that’s difficult to be in favor of.”

That doesn’t mean that support for the flag is now going to drop to zero, Knuckey emphasized. Ryan agreed. “I bet you haven’t changed so many minds among the people who are really strong, meaningful supporters,” he said. But that’s not the point — the point is those folks on the middle, say, third of the Confederate-flag-opinion spectrum. Those who supported the flag, but just barely, are now seeing all sorts of highly visible cues indicating that the country is turning against them,while those who were just barely against it will have their preference intensified.

The end result? A shift in polling, perhaps (there haven’t yet been any surveys released that allow for apples-to-apples comparisons on the flag issue from before and after the church attack), but, just as important, a group of “antis” who are much more engaged and vocal than they were before the shooting — in part because they’re feeding off the sense that, nationwide, people are moving against the flag. Political scientists call this “preference intensity,” and it’s incredibly important: A minority of citizens who are stridently opposed to a new bill can, in the right setting, “beat” a majority of voters who are slightly for it but don’t care all that much.

To Knuckey, all this negative attention will likely affect not just voters being surveyed, but southern legislators themselves. Those legislators have always been aware that they represent a loud contingent of pro-flag folks, but now, in the wake of the A.M.E. shooting, they have to factor in the existence of a fully engaged, energized activated group of voters on the other side of the issue as well. So all the negative attention the flag has gotten “makes a vote to take it down easier now than it would have been a month ago,” he said.

In the long run, of course, the AME shooting will fade from the news. And David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center, which just released a poll showing the nation to be about evenly divided on the question of whether the flag is racist — it was the first time Suffolk had polled on this issue, and results therefore can’t give any sense of the trajectory of opinion on this issue — said that there’s a chance that opinion will bounce back in favor of the flag. That is, fewer cues could mean a reversion to old, less strongly held opinions.

In the meantime, though, what we’re witnessing isn’t just a shift in opinion, but policy change — albeit minor ones, in some cases — on the part of multiple state houses and huge retailers. Even if public opinion reverts back to where it was before the shooting, a new status quo is in place and it’ll be difficult, in those places that have responded to this sudden surge in anti-Confederate-flag sentiment, for the flag to once again be raised — or sold.

 

By: Jesse Singal, New York Magazine, July 1, 2015

July 2, 2015 Posted by | Businesses, Confederate Flag, Emanuel AME Church | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Why Is It So Hard To Call Racism Racism?”: Let There Be No (Pretend) Confusion About Church Shooter’s Motivation

This is for Elisabeth Hasselbeck of Fox & Friends, who described last Thursday’s act of white extremist terrorism at Emanuel AME church in Charleston as an “attack on faith.”

It’s for Rick Perry, who said maybe the shooting happened because of prescription drugs. It’s for Jeb Bush, who said, “I don’t know what was on the mind” of the killer. It’s for South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who said, “We’ll never understand what motivates” a crime like this. It’s for Glenn Beck, who said, “I don’t know why this shooter shot people. He might shoot people because he’s a racist. He might have shot people because he’s an anarchist. He might have shot people because he hates Christians.”

This is also for the reader who called the tragedy a “hoax” perpetrated by the White House to promote racial hatred and gun control, and for the one who said, “Charleston was not a hate crime.” Finally, it’s for any and everyone who responded to the massacre by chanting, tweeting, or saying, “All lives matter.”

For all of you, a simple question: What the hell is wrong with you people? Why is it so hard for you to call racism racism?

It is not news that some people go to extraordinary lengths to avoid conceding that America remains a nation stained by racial discrimination. Bring them a hundred testimonies illustrating it and they are unmoved. Bring them a thousand studies quantifying it and they say that numbers lie. They deny self-evident truth because otherwise, they must concede racism did not, in fact, end 50 years ago, and they are heavily invested in that fiction.

Still, it is breathtaking and heartbreaking to learn that this recalcitrance holds firm even in the face of so blatant a crime. Nine people dead following an attack upon a storied African-American church. The alleged killer: Dylann Roof, a 21-year old dropout with a Moe Howard haircut whose racist motivations were pretty clear to authorities from the beginning and have only become clearer since.

He said he wanted to shoot black people. You don’t get plainer than that.

Yet, even in the face of this utter lack of mystery, some of us professed confusion about the killer’s motives.

An “attack on faith”? Only the “War on Christmas” delusions and anti-gay fixations of Fox could make this about that.

“All lives matter”? Of course they do. But what is it about the specificity of declaring “Black Lives Matter” that some people object to? What is it they find problematic about acknowledging that black lives in particular are under siege in this country? It certainly wasn’t “all lives” Roof sought to snuff out when he entered that church.

And Glenn Beck’s professed confusion about the shooter’s motive? It is simply bizarre that a man who once famously dubbed President Obama “a racist” based on no evidence beyond the voices in his own head has such difficulty being that definitive about a white man who drove 100 miles to shoot up a black church.

A few days ago, a Toronto Star reporter tweeted video of a mostly white crowd that marched through Charleston chanting “Black Lives Matter.” God, but that was a welcome sight — ice-cold lemonade on the hottest day in August. It was a stirring, needed reminder that compassion has no color.

All this obfuscation and pretend confusion, on the other hand, is a less welcome reminder that, for all the undeniable progress we have made in matters of race, there remain among us not simply moral cowards, but far too many moral cripples hobbling about on stumps of decency and crutches of denialism.

Last week, nine people were slaughtered in a house of God for no other reason than that they were there, and they were black. It is a sad and simple truth that some of us, for some reason, have not the guts to say.

For that, they should be profoundly ashamed.

 

By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist, The Miami Herald; The National Memo, June 24, 2015

June 24, 2015 Posted by | African Americans, Emanuel AME Church, Racism, White Supremacy | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Safe, Sheltered And Protected”: In America, There Is No Sanctuary

The main hall of a church is called a sanctuary.

It is where you go to worship, to seek fellowship and solace, and commune with your maker. The dictionary definition of the word adds an additional layer of resonance. A sanctuary is where you are sheltered and protected. A sanctuary is where you are safe.

Wednesday night, Emanuel AME church in Charleston, South Carolina, was a church without a sanctuary. Wednesday night, Emanuel AME was a killing ground.

Authorities say a 21-year-old white man named Dylann Storm Roof entered the African-American church Wednesday during Bible study, sat with the black congregants for an hour, and then started shooting. Nine people died in the attack, including the church’s pastor, Clementa C. Pinckney, who was also a state senator.

“I have to do it,” Roof is quoted as saying. “You rape our women and you’re taking over our country. And you have to go.”

If there is reason to believe Rev. Pinckney or any of his congregants guilty of raping anyone or plotting to overthrow the government, it has not yet come to light.

But of course, when Roof said “you,” he did not mean “you,” singular. Rather he meant, “you,” plural. “You” people. “You” all. Individuality is, after all, the first casualty of racism. And indeed, an image circulated after the shooting shows Roof scowling at a camera while wearing a jacket with patches depicting the flags of two famously racist regimes: Rhodesia (now called Zimbabwe) and apartheid-era South Africa. Roof was apprehended the following day not far from Charlotte, North Carolina.

It was to seek sanctuary from people like him and beliefs like his that the church Roof shot up was founded in the first place. Emanuel AME, affectionately called “Mother AME,” was one of the earliest churches of the African Methodist Episcopal denomination, which was started in the late 18th century by black worshipers fed up with the discrimination they faced in the white church. In 1821, one of its members, Denmark Vesey, organized a slave revolt that failed when an informant leaked word of the plot. Nevertheless, the people traders of the South were galvanized by the audacity of the plan. The church was burned as a result.

It was rebuilt. In 1834, black churches were outlawed in South Carolina. Emanuel went underground until the law was changed. An earthquake destroyed the building in 1886. The church was rebuilt yet again.

Now, there is this.

Roof’s alleged attack is being called many things. It is being called appalling and tragic, and it is. It is being called a hate crime and it is. It is being called an act of white extremist terrorism and it is that, too. But one thing, let no one dare to call it, and that is, “surprising.” This attack can be regarded as surprising only by the very innocent, the very ignorant, and those who have not been paying attention.

In the first place, a nation whose gun love amounts to nothing less than fetishism has no right — ever — to describe a mass shooting as a surprise. Indeed, at this point, one is more surprised when the country passes a day without one.

But if the means of the attack is unsurprising, the motive is, too.

There is a myth in this country, a fable some people cherish because it makes them feel good and demands no moral or intellectual heavy lifting. That myth holds that we are done with race and have been for a very long time; that we overcame, learned our lesson, reached the Promised Land, and built luxury condos there.

Bill O’Reilly believes that myth. Sean Hannity believes it. Rush Limbaugh swears by it. Indeed, for most of the people who are pleased to call themselves “conservative,” that myth is nothing less than an article of faith.

Let them go to Charleston. Let them visit a church with no sanctuary

For that matter, let them go to Baltimore, let them go to Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas, Atlanta, St. Louis, Miami. Let them go to any of a hundred cities and talk to black people who are sick of hearing how America overcame, learned its lesson, reached the Promised Land, yet somehow, sister can’t get a loan, dad can’t find a job, brother has to factor stop-and-frisk encounters into his travel time to and from school and Walter Scott gets shot in the back while running away. All for rapes they never committed and government takeovers they never planned.

If what happened in Charleston was extraordinary, and it was, this is the ordinary, the everyday of existing while black that grinds your faith down to a nub and works your very last nerve. Especially when the background music is provided by a bunch of people who don’t know, don’t know that they don’t know, and don’t care that they don’t know, singing operatic praise to a faded myth.

Solange Knowles, sister of Beyoncé, put it as follows Thursday in a tweet: “Was already weary. Was already heavy hearted. Was already tired. Where can we be safe? Where can we be free? Where can we be black?”

Where, in other words, can we find just a moment to breathe free of this constant onus? Where can we find sanctuary?

What happened Wednesday night at a storied church in Charleston is a painful reminder that in America, no such place exists.

 

By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist for The Miami Herald; The National Memo, June 21, 2015

June 22, 2015 Posted by | Black Churches, Emanuel AME Church, Mass Shootings | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“We Have Been Teaching Fiction Instead Of American History”: Unraveling The Threads Of Hatred, Sewn Into A Confederate Icon

This blighted boy with red hate in his eyes but otherwise colorless curdled milk skin — this boy is a failure. It takes more than a weak stick like him to start a race war.

Personally, I pray that the lives of nine Charleston, S.C., martyrs serve this purpose: Instead of hammering and whispering on racism, we finally reach a tone of agreement based in simple self-truth. Surely we all can shake on the idea that the murder of preachers, teachers and librarians in the name of color demands that we examine how such an old, infectious poison got into the veins of a newborn American boy. And that requires admitting that we have been teaching fiction instead of American history. We have romanticized the roots of hate with crinoline and celluloid.

If you went to Germany and saw a war memorial with a Nazi flag flying over it, what would you think of those people? You might think they were unrepentant. You might think they were in a lingering state of denial about their national atrocities. The Confederate battle flag is an American swastika, the relic of traitors and totalitarians, symbol of a brutal regime, not a republic. The Confederacy was treason in defense of a still deeper crime against humanity: slavery. If weaklings find racial hatred to be a romantic expression of American strength and purity, make no mistake that it begins by unwinding a red thread from that flag.

Yet it is easier for the governor of South Carolina to call for the execution of this milkweed boy than it is for her to call for the lowering of that banner. Why?

This lack of political will and failure of self-recognition is not hers alone. It has repeated itself, on a large scale and small, generation by generation for 150 years, a self-lying sentimental tide. “It seems inconceivable,” Stanley Turkel wrote in “Heroes of the American Reconstruction,” “that the losers of the bloodiest war in history were allowed to wrap their traitorous acts in the description of their so-called noble cause.” Yet in 1957, John F. Kennedy won the Pulitzer Prize for “Profiles in Courage,” in which he distorted and maligned the character of Union Medal of Honor winner Adelbert Ames, chased from the Mississippi governor’s office during Reconstruction by White Line terrorists, while instead lauding L.Q.C. Lamar as the more heroic figure. Lamar drafted Mississippi’s ordinance of secession and raised the 19th Mississippi Infantry Regiment.

Maybe it wouldn’t have done any good for Charleston shooting suspect Dylann Roof, who we’re told repeated the ninth grade, but he and his classmates should have been required to read “The Bloody Shirt” by Stephen Budiansky, which describes in vivid detail how between 1867 and 1877 the defeated South was permitted to overthrow new state governments representing black citizens, killing more than 3,000 of them with terrorism. Roof should have been required to read “Redemption” by Nicholas Lemann, who documents how President Ulysses S. Grant effectively gave back everything he had won in the war when he lacked the will to enforce the 14th and 15th amendments with troops, instead abandoning Ames to the White Line terrorists.

All wars are romanticized by those who have never felt bullets fly through their coats. But there is something deeply pernicious in the continued attempts to soft-focus the causes of the Confederacy, its aftermath and its lingering effects. South Carolina’s part of the Declaration of Causes of Seceding States, also signed by Mississippi, Georgia, Virginia and Texas, stated that secession was the direct result of “an increasing hostility on the part of the non-slaveholding states to the institution of slavery.”

We will have truthfully reckoned with our racial history when high school and college students quit going to Heritage Balls wearing butternut military tunics and sashes and understand that Jeff Davis and Bobby Lee should have spent the rest of their natural lives in work camps, breaking rocks with shovels, instead of on their verandas — and the fact that they didn’t was a profound miscarriage. And when they understand that the South was in fact deeply divided along class as well as racial lines. Enforced conscription and edicts such as the Twenty Negro Law allowed the wealthiest slaveowners to sit out the fight. Something else Roof should have been required to read is Mark A. Weitz’s book “More Damning than Slaughter,” which shows that dissension from within and the desertion of well over 103,000 disillusioned Confederate soldiers defeated the South as much as any battles.

In 1872, another much-maligned patriot, Sen. Charles Sumner of Massachusetts, introduced a resolution that would have forbidden placing the names of Civil War battles on regimental colors of the U.S. Army. Sumner felt that conflicts in which Americans killed Americans should not be romanticized or celebrated. He was shouted down and censured.

Maybe Dylann Roof’s alleged acts have killed the impulse to romanticize atrocity anymore. Maybe instead of provoking a race war, he has provoked the wish to clean out this brutal wound once and for all with the astringent of truth. We are all unutterably weary of bloody internal estrangements. Can we not agree to run up the same flagpole? And to lower those crossed and starred banners, the bloody shirts with their inverse reds and blues? Personally, I would like to burn them and bury the ashes in an unmarked grave, keeping just a few for the museums.

 

By: Sally Jenkins, Sports Columnist for The Post and Co-author with John Stauffer of “The State of Jones”; The Washington Post, June 20, 2015

June 21, 2015 Posted by | Charleston SC Shootings, Emanuel AME Church, Race War | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“After Charleston Massacre, Uneasiness For Black Churchgoers”: This Sunday, I’ll Be Keeping An Eye On The Front Door

The Black Church is one of the most welcoming places on Earth. The Black Church will take you in when others turn their backs, doors are locked in your face, and no one else seems to want you around.

So when a white person enters a Black house of worship and quietly takes a seat, that person is immediately accepted as someone seeking God or, at least, as a person curious about what’s going on inside that particular church.

Either way, African-American worshipers are expected to make room, and provide a seat in the pews, or at the table, or wherever the gathering is taking place.

That’s the way it is and it has always been.

What’s more, and it’s not said aloud, we are glad when a white person decides to join us in fellowship to worship the same God since, on so many other occasions they find reasons to keep us at a distance.

But as a result of the slaughter at Mother Emanuel A.M.E Church in Charleston, at this coming Sunday’s worship services, things may be a little different.

Oh, the choir will give voice in song, and the preacher will teach and preach from the Gospel. The ushers will pass the plates, and the doors of the church will be opened to all who have not entered and joined as members before.

But this weekend, something else will enter the minds of even the most loving, forgiving, all-embracing congregants.

That white face that we have never seen before, that man who nods but doesn’t seem to warm up to the people around him? This question will enter the mind: Could that individual be a Charleston copy cat? Could he be a visitor with the same white-hot, anti-black fury burning within him as that within Dylann Roof, who, with his gun, ended the God-given life of nine souls?

I am a member of a predominately African American church-St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Foggy Bottom here in Washington. It’s one of the oldest black churches in our nation’s capital.

This weekend, I will join my rector and fellow congregants in prayer for the nation, for the people of Charleston, and my family and fellow worshipers.

But this Sunday, as God is my witness, I’ll be keeping an eye on the front door.

 

By: Colbert I. King, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, June 19, 2015

June 21, 2015 Posted by | African Americans, Black Churches, Emanuel AME Church | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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