WASHINGTON – The outrage caused by the Charleston church massacre in which Dylann Roof, a deranged young racist, gunned down 9 Black worshipers provided the political cover for Southern leaders –led by South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley– to hastily do what they should have done long ago: take actions to remove the Confederate flag from public buildings in the states of the defeated Confederacy. (About time! The extremely bloody American Civil War ended 150 years ago!).
The South and its old flag
It is indeed odd (and for many suspicious) that the supposedly modern Southerners continued to cherish the symbol of a losing war fought mostly over the indefensible issue of slavery. It is even more strange that nobody thought much of this Civil War nostalgia until now.
Until now, the official (but clearly unacceptable) excuse for revering what is in essence the symbol first of slavery and then of segregation and Jim Crow laws has been that “this is the way in which people in the South honor their heritage”.
In other words, according to this disingenuous explanation, keeping the Confederate flag on public buildings, (and many other places), has nothing to do with any explicit or implicit approval of the “cause” for which the South fought so hard against the North: i.e slavery. Likewise, it has nothing to with lingering racist feelings. This is all about innocent Southern folklore. “Trust me, we mean nothing with this. There is no political, let alone racist message. We just like our old flag”.
Well, for some it may be so. For some people the Confederate flag may be just a piece of the Old South. But for millions of African Americans and indeed tens of millions of others it is offensive.
Remove the flag
South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, (the daughter of Indian immigrants), smartly used the church massacre perpetrated in her state by an openly racist White person (who used the Confederate flag in his Facebook page) to launch her proposal to remove the Confederate flag from public sites.
And, interestingly enough, her unexpected but welcome move gave cover to all the other Governors of the South. It created an avalanche. Now practically all Southern states, many of them controlled by Republicans, have taken action to remove the Confederate flag from official sites.
And it goes further, major national retailers like Amazon, Sears and Walmart understood the new righteous atmosphere and proudly joined in, announcing that they will stop selling the flag. Giant on line auction house eBay will stop dealing with it. And others are likely to follow soon, for fear of being fingered as the last die hard racists.
What does all this mean?
Anyway, what does all this (politically savvy) anti Confederate flag activism amount to? In practical terms not that much. These are gestures. Pure symbolism. That said, symbols do matter in all societies.
The fact that Southern political leaders all of a sudden now are afraid of looking racist because they fly the Confederate flag is important. By removing the flag from public buildings they want to convey the message that this is a “New South”. The Civil War ended long ago. Slavery is gone. Segregation is gone. Racism is gone. Blacks and Whites live peacefully together.
Removing the flag will not eliminate lingering racism
Needless to say, many people in the South, (and elsewhere, for that matter), even after the flag is removed from public sites, may and will continue to harbor racist feelings. You can be sure that many will keep their cherished Confederate flag at home. (No law will be passed that will prevent them from doing so).
And certainly this politically correct “flag removal” gesture will do absolutely nothing to improve the conditions in so many Black communities plagued by illiteracy, violent crime and unemployment.
We are better off without this symbol
Still, all in all, the fact that America is finally removing from public buildings the banner that symbolizes the morally indefensible era of slavery and segregation is a good thing.