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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

“License Plates Are Not Bumper Stickers”: When License Plates Take On An Obvious Political Tinge, Sparks Fly

A group called the Sons of Confederate Veterans has asked Texas to issue a license plate featuring the Confederate battle flag, which many consider an emblem of slavery. Texas said no, and the Sons are suing because the state accepts other messages for specialty plates.

The Sons have a point.

North Carolina issues a license reading, “Choose Life.” When lawmakers there refused to allow a competing abortion-rights message, the American Civil Liberties Union sued.

The ACLU has a point, as well.

States have jumped on the slippery slope of letting various business and social interests promote themselves on the specialty license plates. Now they have slid into the U.S. Supreme Court, which has taken the Sons of Confederate Veterans case.

The justices have examined license plates before. In the 1977 Wooley v. Maynard case, Jehovah’s Witnesses held that the New Hampshire state motto stamped on all license plates, “Live Free or Die,” offended their religious convictions. The court ruled that New Hampshire residents had a right to cover up those words on their plates.

How about no messages on state-issued license plates? Or perhaps limiting them to such neutral bragging as Wild, Wonderful (West Virginia), Evergreen State (Washington), Sweet Home (Alabama) or Garden State (New Jersey)?

I’ll admit to a soft spot for environmental messages — such as calls on Florida plates to protect whales, dolphins, sea turtles, manatees and largemouth bass — but not for blatant advertising. Sports teams are big businesses, and they have specialty plates.

Rhode Island offers a plate featuring Mr. Potato Head, marketed by the local toymaker, Hasbro. The fees car owners pay for such plates may go to a good cause (in Mr. Potato Head’s case, a food bank), and states take their cut. Still, it’s an ad.

But when license plates take on an obvious political tinge, sparks fly. And that’s why a blanket “no” to specialty plates is the right way to go.

Corey Brettschneider, professor of political science at Brown University, doesn’t agree. He sees license plate messages as “mixed speech.” Because the United States allows a freedom of expression unmatched by any other country, the state has an obligation to defend its values, he writes in his book When the State Speaks, What Should It Say?: How Democracies Can Protect Expression and Promote Equality.

Brettschneider believes that Texas was correct in turning down the plates displaying the Confederate Stars and Bars but that North Carolina was wrong in rejecting the abortion rights plates.

I asked him, What about the argument that many see the Confederate flag more as a historical artifact than as an endorsement of slavery? Brettschneider responded that the flag’s history, including its use in opposing civil rights legislation, suggests otherwise. And even if the intent of some of its backers is pure, the considerations are bigger than the views of a private person.

Texas would be tied to the symbol, he said. “Texas has a deep duty to avoid an association between the state’s message and a racist message.”

But who speaks for the state? What happens when one set of officials is replaced by another with entirely different interpretations?

“The Constitution requires deference to the democratic process,” Brettschneider answered, “but it also sometimes requires limits on that process.”

We do agree that bumper stickers are a great invention. They are a frugal way to advertise one’s religion, preferred candidate, dog’s breed, football team or sense of humor. State approval not required.

As for specialized messages on license plates, I persist in opposing them all. Professor Brettschneider’s approach is well constructed and certainly more nuanced, but managing its tensions would be a hard job.

 

By: Froma Harrop, The National Memo, January 13, 2015

January 14, 2015 Posted by | Confederacy, States Rights, Texas | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Alert The Media: Newt Gingrich Will Never Be President

It’s beginning to look like when Haley Barbour shuffled off into the Mississippi sunset, saying he just couldn’t commit to a 10-year presidential crusade, he left his draft campaign playbook sitting on a garbage can, and Newt Gingrich picked it up. Barbour, you’ll recall, was trying out a new approach to race in the Obama era: Jim Crow wasn’t “that bad,” the white-supremacist White Citizens Councils kept down the KKK, and nobody could make him denounce an effort by the Sons of Confederate Veterans to dedicate a license plate to KKK founder Nathan Bedford Forrest, either. “I don’t go around denouncing people,” declared the man who denounced Democrat Ronnie Musgrove for efforts to remove the Confederate flag from Mississippi’s state flag. I said at the time that Barbour was trying out the notion that post-Obama, people — particularly white people leaning Republican — are ready for an approach that says let’s quit all this whining about racism, it wasn’t that bad, it’s time to get back to the business of cutting taxes for the rich and programs for the poor.

Well, Newt Gingrich seems to have wandered by the garbage can to pick up Barbour’s draft playbook, and it’s all unfolding as planned. He’s getting hit for calling President Obama “the food stamp president”; even David Gregory heard the racial imagery in the term, given the way Republicans have long loved to associate welfare programs with black people. Ronald Reagan famously railed against Cadillac-driving “welfare queens” and “strapping young bucks” buying “T-bone steaks” with food stamps; Barbour actually praised Head Start, because some of the kids in it “would be better off sitting up on a piano bench at a whorehouse than where they are now.” I called Gingrich’s remarks “coded racism” yesterday, and today right-wingers were up in arms, pointing out that most food stamp recipients are white. This is absolutely true of most welfare programs, which is why the GOP association of welfare with black people has always seemed, well, racist.

But let me be clear: I might not have paid attention to Gingrich’s “food stamp president” jibe had it not come along with a panorama of images designed to make clear Barack Obama is blackity black black. Praising right-wing Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Gingrich said he’ll make the U.S. more like Texas, while Obama only “knows how to get the whole country to resemble Detroit.” In the speech to Georgia Republicans where he tried out the “food stamp president” slur, Gingrich also told the bastion of the old Confederacy that 2012 would be the biggest election since 1860 — you know, when Abraham Lincoln got elected and the South began to secede over slavery, commencing the Civil War. He also suggested the U.S. might need to bring back some kind of voting test, banned under the Voting Rights Act. Last year, of course, Gingrich denounced Obama’s “Kenyan anti-colonialist behavior,” which made him “outside our comprehension” as Americans, spreading the lie that Obama inherited angry African anti-colonialism from his absent African father, though he was raised by his white mother and grandparents. Oh, and he headed the drive to label Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor “racist” when she was nominated in 2009.

So let’s review: Welfare slur? Check. Tie to a troubled, mainly black city? Check. Specious association with African anti-colonialism? Check. Dire reference to Lincoln and the start of the Civil War, while campaigning deep in the heart of Dixie? Check. Suggestion we need a voter test? Check. Oh, and for good measure, calling liberals concerned about racial injustice “racist”? Check. Awesome: They’ve hit pretty much every way the GOP has used to divide Americans by race in the last 200 years!

Great job, Newt. You’ve developed the perfect platform to run a spirited GOP campaign that attracts a cadre of aggrieved white people. You’ll never be president of the United States, but you’ll be the champion of the declining share of the country that still thrills to what we used to call dog-whistle politics: coded varieties of racism only understood by their intended audience. And all the efforts by Gingrich defenders to claim I’m the racist are just funny. One of Andrew Breitbart’s minions is leading the charge, and he lamented Monday morning on Twitter: “Would prefer to hammer Newt today over throwing Ryan under the bus, but @joanwalsh, @davidgregory, & @ebertchicago had to go & do this.” (Roger Ebert was kind enough to Tweet my Sunday Gingrich story.)

I’d advise the Breitbart gang to get back to hammering Gingrich over Paul Ryan’s politically suicidal budget plan; they should focus on the shard of people who want to debate whether Gingrich or Ryan is the leader who can lead their party off a cliff. Anyway, they’ve mistaken me for someone who cares what they have to say. Gingrich is doubling down on racial politics, and I’m going to continue to call it out when I see it.

Oh, and this is one in an occasional series of pieces on folks who will never be president, which began when Sarah Palin unraveled over the Gabrielle Giffords shooting. I didn’t get to Barbour or Mike Huckabee; they realized they would never be president all on their own. It seems silly to write the same piece on Donald Trump; it’s like saying “pigs will never fly.” But I’m sure there will be a few more to come.

By: Joan Walsh, Editor at Large, Salon, May 16, 2011

May 16, 2011 Posted by | Bigotry, Birthers, Conservatives, Democracy, GOP, Ideologues, Ideology, Newt Gingrich, Politics, Racism, Republicans, Right Wing, Taxes, Wealthy | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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