The execution of nine black women and men in Charleston has incited, once again, a disjointed national "conversation" on race.
I watch with disgust as this post-massacre debate swirls. Rick Perry "misspoke" and called the murders an "accident" and berated President Obama for daring to mention gun control, as though doing so soiled the solemn occasion. Rick Santorum saw Roof's murderous rage as just another attack on religion, somehow missing Roof's own church affiliation, his adoration of two racist Christian regimes and documentation of his explicit statements of hatred for blacks.
Despite this pitiful parade of pandering, most earnest Americans see that a vein of vicious bigotry and hatred continues to pump bile through much of the South and many places throughout America. Dylann Roof is the scum that occasionally rises to the top when this bile pools around disenfranchised, unsuccessful, bitter young white men. It has happened before and it will happen again.
The "big" news at this writing is that South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley has called for removal of the Confederate flag from the grounds of the Capitol. This has been widely praised as a necessary response to "move beyond" historical divisions and "heal."
I think South Carolina should leave the Confederate flag right where it is, at proud full staff.
I haven't taken leave of my progressive senses. The Confederate flag is offensive and a blatant affront to any decent human. The claim that it represents Southern heritage or pride in one's ancestors is historically inaccurate and utterly disingenuous. The Confederate flag means just one thing: "Fuck you," to black folks and their white allies.
I've seen small enclaves in Coastal Carolina where every ramshackle house had at least one Confederate flag. The denizens of these dark corners of the South are not scholars of history, celebrating the rich culture of the region. They are virulent bigots, sending a warning signal to any person of color who might stray off the state highway. Notice that I don't call Dylann Roof or the other flag-wavers "racist." They are violent, regressive bigots. They represent an immediate, local danger, but no national threat. They have no significant political or economic power. Racism is more complicated than their slack-jawed stupidity.
The response to this horrific tragedy creates an illusion of justice. Who wouldn't abhor Dylann Roof's actions? Suddenly, the Council of Conservative Citizens is seen as a reprehensible organization, when only a week ago it was an appropriate source of campaign donations. Now, suddenly, the Confederate flag is a problem, despite its angry, haughty, menacing presence for more than half a century?
Racism is not Confederate flags in poor pockets of the rural South. Racism is not the demented ravings of white supremacist groups. Racism is not the delusional rage of one white kid.
Racism is the power to oppress. Racism is policies and practices that result in social and economic injustice. Racism is white men citing mythological "voter fraud" as a way to sustain political power. Racism is wink and nod housing practices that exploit poor people of color. Racism is profiling, stopping and frisking and disparate drug sentencing. Racism is re-segregation and unequal funding of public schools. Racism is what's left over when white privilege has extracted the spoils of slavery and has never compensated for the theft.
For the families in Charleston and all the other places where race-hate explodes in a bloodbath, the pain will never go away. But will the rest of us remember? Fleeting sympathy for the victims and their families, disdain for white supremacy and removing one small flag will do nothing to remediate the deep and ongoing injustice of institutional racism. It's just too easy.
Perhaps the Confederate flag should continue to hang like an avatar of shame over South Carolina -- over America -- as a reminder of the real work we haven't even started.
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