23 June 2015
Is this the end of the Confederate battle flag?
Given the instant backlash the moment someone suggested that the Charleston massacre should spur us to do something about guns, it's not surprising that politicians have turned to an easier target: the Confederate battle flag that still flies over the South Carolina state capital and other provocative locations. It was symbolically infuriating to learn that the flag at the capitol could not even be lowered to half-mast following the massacre, while the state and federal flags were lowered. Now Republicans are among the political leaders in South Carolina trying to get the offending banner removed. Yet even in New York State I still hear people defend that flag against "political correctness." Such people, I suspect, are more interested in denying the Other a win than anything else, but where it counts it looks like the tide is turning. But if anyone wavers, try this cynical analogy: letting the Confederate flag fly over South Carolina is like building a mosque at Ground Zero in New York City. The analogy is unfair to Muslims, of course, but sometimes it's just pragmatic to defer to mass outrage, especially -- from the perspective of the right -- if the left claims victory over the flag and goes home instead of probing deeper into enduring bigotry against blacks. Victory will be symbolic and hollow if taking down the flag distracts us from making every reactionary answer for molding the mindset behind the massacre. We know that Americans abhor forbidding thoughts -- they couldn't even ban communism at the height of the Cold War -- but if anything in this country ought to be banned, at least from the public square, it should be the symbolism of the Confederacy. Can we agree now, in 2015, that it stands for nothing but the subjugation of black people? That secession was all about slavery? If you think not, recall that the South had a chance to fight a civil war over the dreaded tariff that neo-Confederates today make so much of when Andrew Jackson signed the Force Bill against South Carolina's nullification of the tariff, and South Carolina backed down. Nobody but a handful of fire-eaters was going to secede, much less risk their lives, over the tariff. Many more were ready to secede, fight and die rather than see the western territories closed to slavery. Nothing else could have motivated them, just as nothing but Negrophobia could pull the trigger in the Charleston killer's momentarily uncertain mind at the prayer meeting. Across the country, the Confederate flag remains a rallying point for all those who feel that black people demand too much, or get away with too much, or are simply too many for comfort. If I've suggested that the flag may be too easy a target now, I should add that this is still a fight worth waging simply because it'll further expose many of the haters among us, North as well as South, whose disclaimers about "heritage" and "history" won't conceal that hate for which that flag stands.