THE BLOG

Symbol or Solution?

06/25/2015 10:20 am ET | Updated Jun 23, 2016
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The best time to remove the Confederate flag from the SC capitol grounds is the same time as when to plant a tree, and that (according to an old Chinese proverb) is twenty years ago.

If we'd lived the past two decades (or more) without such a divisive symbol on display, perhaps we'd find ourselves a more unified society today. Some Americans might be less inclined to hate other Americans so much they'd commit mass murder.

The flag will come down when the politicians decide to take it down, and that will be when they perceive enough public opinion in favor of its removal. Even those officials who once defended the display of the Confederate flag will change their minds when they realize actual votes are in play and they are on the wrong side of the ballot box.

Until then, the flag debate is seriously getting in the way of more pressing issues. As long as our debate focuses on the stars and bars, we are not talking about the nine Americans (yes, they were African Americans but they were also Americans) who were shot to death in their own church by another American (in this case a white supremacist vowing to start a race war by way of his efforts).

We are not talking about the divided society we live in and the effects our lack of unity has on so many lives affected by poverty, injustice, and the lack of equal opportunities in housing, employment, and education.

We are not talking about why guns so easily find their way into the hands of so many and why these guns are used to commit such violent acts against others.

We are not talking about the support, encouragement, and the ready role models that can be had by a young person susceptible to racist propaganda.

It's unfortunate that the debate over the flag has shifted our focus away from the Charleston church massacre, an event that revealed a truth we are less inclined to discuss, and that is the fact that we are not one society, but many. We align ourselves with certain groups and spend time distancing ourselves from others. Whether by race, gender, sexual orientation, or some other attribute, we identify our group as "us" and the others as "them." The more we distance ourselves from "them," the less we understand them, and the less we know about another group, the less we trust its members, and the more we work to protect ourselves from the perceived evils, threats and dangers posed by the "others."

I lived in Columbia, SC, for eight years, and drove by the state house grounds nearly every day, and felt a twinge of shame each time I saw the flag, but as anyone visiting or living in the South can attest, that particular flag is one of thousands, millions displayed everywhere - on t-shirts, license plates, unfurled in businesses and especially on private property. Taking this one flag down will not change the culture that endorses white supremacy and promotes a deep racial divide in the disguised name of "Southern heritage."

And no matter how many Walmarts or Amazons stop selling the flag, there will always be other vendors to pick up the slack, pleased to make more money than ever selling what others have banned.

If we were actually one America, we'd be less inclined to promote the divisiveness represented by the flag. We wouldn't have had it flying on the state house grounds for the past half century or more, and we wouldn't be spending so much time right now debating a symbol rather than looking for a solution to what the symbol stands for.

The issue of the Confederate flag is taking up way too much space. If the flag on the state house grounds comes down, room will be made in a history museum, where it can be seen and honored by those who choose to do so, and we will find more room in our public discourse to consider what to do about issues like racial hatred and gun violence.

Let's stop talking about the flag. Let's just get this one thing done so we can move on.