Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The Confederate Flag & Easy Activism

News has spread like so much wildfire throughout the 24-hour infotainment cycle and social media outlets everywhere: The Confederate Battle Flag (might) soon be removed from the grounds of the South Carolina state capitol. This is due to the emotional and political aftermath following the Mother Emanuel massacre last week. It's not happened yet, as the flag is permanently affixed to its respective flagpole and further padlocked literally and figuratively. It requires an overwhelming majority vote from the state congress in order to remove the flag completely.

Similar actions are being taken in Mississippi - whose state flag includes the "stars and bars" of the confederacy - where lawmakers are considering changing the state flag completely.


"We must always remember our past, but that does not mean we must let it define us," Gunn said Monday night in a Facebook post. "As a Christian, I believe our state's flag has become a point of offense that needs to be removed. We need to begin having conversations about changing Mississippi's flag."

 Alabama has already taken down the Confederate Battle Flag from its capitol grounds, also due to the public outcry following the South Carolina church shooting. Though, when Governor Robert Bentley was questioned about why he made the decision, he had this to say:

This is the right thing to do. We are facing some major issues in this state regarding the budget and other matters that we need to deal with. This had the potential to become a major distraction as we go forward. I have taxes to raise, we have work to do. And it was my decision that the flag needed to come down.

You see, after the Mother Emanuel shooting, it came as no surprise to anyone that the more the killer, Dylann Roof, was examined, the more disgusting, white supremacist rhetoric was found. Pictures depicting Roof holding the Confederate Battle Flag added to an already boiling conversation about race and racism in this country. His image stands alongside other killers that looked to the flag for inspiration and motivation, but that's not all. When news coverage began in the state, people were quick to point out that the state capitol building had the Confederate Battle Flag flying in front of it, and when the United States flag and the state flag were lowered to half mast out of respect for the victims...

the Confederate Battle Flag remained flying high. Unchanged. Aloft. A symbol beloved by the killer, flying higher on its pole than our nation's flag. This conversation quickly spiraled - and rightly so, I think - into public outrage.

Originally, South Carolina put the confederate battle flag on the dome of its capitol building in 1962 - amid the burgeoning civil rights battle in this country in what some are saying was a deliberate attempt by lawmakers of the time to show where their heart lay. In 2000 the South Carolina Heritage Act was passed that moved the flag from the dome to its own monument a few feet from the capitol building, because it held a presidential primary and there was controversy over the confederate battle flag flying overhead.

Fast forward to 2015, and after 9 people died in the Mother Emanuel church shooting, suddenly state governments and businesses alike cannot move fast enough to distance themselves from the confederate battle flag. Why?

Because it's the easiest possible thing they can do.

Don't get me wrong. I'm very glad that companies like Amazon, Walmart, and more are disallowing the sale of the flag. I'm glad that lawmakers are bending over backwards to take down the flag. I'm glad we're recognizing that - despite whatever it may have meant in the past - it is most definitely a symbol associated with racism, bigotry, and minority oppression. We are saying that if it's something that hate groups and killers want to use, we aren't going to tacitly support that behavior by flying or selling the same flag. 

But...my god...this is quite literally the very least these people could do. 

In the immediate aftermath of the shooting, every major Republican presidential candidate gave vague non-answers regarding what should be done about the confederate flag. Cruz, Huckabee, Santorum, Perry, and...really all of them said everything from 'it's a matter for the state to decide' to calling it a "sensitive issue". Marco Rubio actually cosponsored legislation to ensure the confederate battle flag has a place to fly on the state grounds of Florida! Republican candidates knew for a fact that this was going to be a problem, but they had no idea whether they could come out against the flag without angering their base...and this is an election cycle after all. So, they remained vague, and they waited. 

Enter South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, who was the first to outright say the flag should come down. Well...lo and behold! Suddenly Republican candidates had no problem voicing their opposition to the flag. Candidates flipped on the issue in less time than it takes me to hit the snooze button on my alarm clock. And flags are coming down around the country. 

But why am I calling this "easy activism"? Because this is a way for businesses, political figures, and other talking heads to win quick points with the American people. In South Carolina a November 2014 poll showed that 61% of residents support flying the flag (73% of whites support, and 61% of blacks oppose). In 2013 56% of Republicans nationwide said they didn't think the confederate battle flag had anything to do with racism, but was more about southern pride. So coming out against the flag can seem like they're bucking public opinion in order to do what's right, or, at least, that's what I'm betting they're thinking.

But, now, in 2015, we have an overwhelming public outcry and a state capitol flying the symbol of a racist, hate-fueled killer higher than the American flag...and instead of touching the deeper subject of race, of gun control, of mental health, of disparity in the criminal justice system, of police behavior...of...well...anything that might actually cause a real change in this country, you took down a flag. 

And that's great! Good for you. It's a shitty symbol of oppression that shouldn't be anywhere but in a museum as a cautionary tale of warning for the ground we never hope to tread again. You go, candidates vying for attention and brownie points. But it isn't enough. It isn't substantive. It's symbolic, much like the flag you're all so proud of removing. 

You're hoping that if you band together and promise to remove the flag that it will shut down the conversation. That maybe the next time a police officer beats a teenage girl at a public pool or chokes a man to death or shoots an unarmed man in the back...or a gunman systematically massacres 9 people in a church...maybe the next time it happens, because there will be a next time, you'll get on TV and flash your Republican smile, and tell us that we don't have a race problem because you took down a flag. 

It's not enough. And it isn't going to stop the conversation. 

But we are taking notice. We are realizing who is ready to take this country into the next 4 years, and it's going to have to be a candidate who will actually deal with the race issue in this country. Head on. Not with symbolic gestures and brownie points.

I have to say... I don't think there's a Republican candidate in the race that I'd vote for - because I very much like being gay married - but if even one of them had outright said to take the flag down before Gov. Haley said it first... They might have actually won some points with me. 

Love and Lyte,

Fire Lyte

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