If the massacre in Charleston -- or any number of similar events in recent U.S. history -- had been committed by a foreign invader, we would go to war. How many billions will we spend fighting the terrorist organization known as institutionalized racism? How many American lives are we willing to risk to protect America?
I hear you out there saying, "But it's not an institution. There are no leaders. There's no one to attack."
Yes there is. You want to flush them out? Here's how to do it: Take down the confederate flag. Take it down on national television. Take it down for an hour. A day, if you can stand it. A week would be nice. I don't want to talk about whether it's right or wrong. It's the least we could do, a gesture that would mean more than words.
Then watch the organization reveal itself. The leaders would be obvious immediately. They would in fact be invited to speak on the nightly news. You might be surprised to find out that they already sit behind the news desk. They are in some of our nation's highest offices. They are on the school board. They will not have enough humility to sit on their hands, not even for ten minutes. Their supporters may even show up in the comments on this status, threatened enough by the mere idea of a humble gesture to their sworn enemy. I hope they do.
Every day and night, my news feed is full of vicious attacks on conservatives and liberals, socialists and capitalists. Where are the vicious attacks on the racists? Conservatives, liberals, socialists and capitalists all have useful ideas and contribute to our society. Racists have no good ideas. Where is the relentless campaign against them? Who will threaten to move out of the country if the racists are elected? Who will run on an anti-racist platform?
No one. That is the extent to which the terrorists have infiltrated America. They founded it. We live in a terrorist state.
I say that because I can't feel it. I say that because when I get pulled over by the police, it doesn't even cross my mind that they might kill me if I argue with them. I say that because I own a house in an entirely white neighborhood and I play loud music and I have a dead car in my driveway and my kid runs around naked and I never worry about what my neighbors think about me. I say that because I'm always surprised when I look out into my audience from the stage and see a black face, but I don't even notice the absence when I look out on a sea of white faces. I say it because when I see the Confederate flag, all I think is, "I'm home." The flag doesn't bother me at all, not in my gut, not in my deeper psyche. Sometimes when I'm far from home and I see the rebel flag, it's actually... and this is so terrible I need to take a breath before I type it... comforting. What can I say? It's hard to see a problem when it signs your paycheck.
So I say it to remind myself: We live in a terrorist state that doesn't threaten me. It threatens the descendants of the people who built Charleston and made it the richest city in the South, one of the most tolerant cities in the colonies, a society that prided itself on its religious and ethnic diversity -- which was indeed notable for its day -- all the while keeping the healthiest slave market in the world and firing the first shots of the Civil War because, as outlined in the South Carolina Declaration of Secession, "they have denounced as sinful the institution of slavery; they have permitted open establishment among them of societies, whose avowed object is to disturb the peace and to eloign the property of the citizens of other States. They have encouraged and assisted thousands of our slaves to leave their homes; and those who remain, have been incited by emissaries, books and pictures to servile insurrection."
It's time to disturb the peace again. Here's a more recent declaration:
"Take down the flag. Take it down now.
Put it in a museum. Inscribe beneath it the years 1861-2015. Move forward. Abandon this charlatanism. Drive out this cult of death and chains. Save your lovely souls. Move forward. Do it now." - Ta-Nahisi Coates
It doesn't threaten your heritage. You take off your hat for a lady. You clean the shit off your boots before you walk into a church. It's just a matter of respect. Admit that your perspective might feel right and be wrong. Take it down, South Carolina. Just for today. A few days if you can stand it. Then put it back up if you must. I know how it is. I feel the pressure not to say anything, not to get involved. Who am I? I'm just a singer with no Grammys or gold records. I should be happy with what I have and not roil the waters.
I may reach ten thousand people with this post. Maybe thirty thousand. And there just may be one of my fans who is outraged, one guy who can't humble himself enough to hear anyone else's truth without getting red in the face and typing his opinion against me. One guy who will never come to another Jonathan Byrd show. Or maybe there are five. Or ten.
But you know what? Fuck that guy. Fuck all those guys. Let them hang their rebel flags from their prefab sheds where they hide their liquor and their porn from their wives. We don't owe them anything. We don't owe the past anything. We owe the future everything. Take it down.
I know you won't. But I hope I'm wrong just like I didn't think we'd ever elect a black president. Step into the future. Take it down.