Hate Symbols Are Barriers to Progress

06/25/2015 12:42 pm ET | Updated Jun 25, 2016

The Confederate flag is a physical, social and psychological barrier to justice. We should applaud retailers who are no longer selling Confederate flags, and encourage efforts to remove it from public displays, particularly those maintained by local, state or federal government officials.

The race-motivated hate crime that took place in the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, is a powerful reminder that bigotry continues to manifest itself through discrimination and targeted violence. Hate speech and displays of hate -- including symbols such as swastikas and Confederate flags -- should not be tolerated or accommodated.

While the Confederate flag may be a source of historical pride for some people, for many of us it is widely understood to be a symbol of white supremacy. The flag is often used to intimidate people of color, particularly in the South. The flag is intentionally and deliberately used to make certain people -- especially racial, ethnic, linguistic and religious minorities -- feel uncomfortable and unwelcome. The social and psychological harm is real and concrete: the Confederate flag creates a chilling effect because it signals to minorities that they are not appreciated, and that their histories, experiences, perspectives and voices are not respected. The flag robs people of their dignity.

The sale and display of Confederate flags create a dangerous message: showcasing and elevating bigotry sends the signal that white supremacy trumps the trauma and lived experience of historically marginalized and oppressed groups. Far too often, the First Amendment is used to protect inflammatory speech even though the law allows for punishment of speech that is intended to incite imminent lawless action such as the Charleston massacre.

Preserving a symbol of slavery and black subjugation sends a threatening and terrifying message that black lives -- and the lives of other oppressed individuals -- do not matter. Far too often, the criminal justice system and law enforcement officials charged with prosecuting the terror visited on marginalized groups, treat these vulnerable populations as inherently suspicious, dangerous and threatening. As a society, we continue the over-criminalization and mass incarceration of people who already face multiple forms of discrimination and oppression, at a substantial cost to individuals, families, communities and the country as a whole. Abandoning symbols of oppression is an important step in our journey towards justice, but more work needs to be done to end discrimination and violence.

Let's create more safe spaces for those struggling to live free of hate, and make room for diversity by removing the Confederate flag from store shelves and public displays.