Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Rebel flag not blowing away soon

 

     Dylann Roof did not kill nine people with a flag.
     He used a .45-caliber Glock pistol.
     But nobody is talking about keeping weapons out of the hands of murderous madmen.  

     That’s impossible. We can’t even try. We can’t even talk about trying.
     We can, however, go after the Confederate flag.
     Maybe that’s the best we can do.
     Only we can’t do that either.
     “Winds shifting on rebel flag” the Tribune headlined Tuesday.
     Pretty to think so. They’re reacting to news that South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley called for the flag to be removed from its prominent place across from the State House in Columbia. Apparently the photos of Roof preening by Confederate flags prior to his alleged crime was too much in the wake of the slaughter at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston.
     But anyone who thinks the matter is settled hasn’t been paying attention.
     Winds of change? Winds certainly. Southern windbags have been blowing hot over this topic for decades.
     But change?
     Change is slow everywhere.
     But particularly slow down there.
     It’s a tradition. Another Southern tradition.
     Does the governor getting involved mean anything? Happened before. In 1996, when the flag was still flying from the state capitol dome, then-Gov. David Beasley called the rebel flag “a racist tool” and pushed a bill removing it. He asked South Carolinians if they wanted their children to be debating this issue in 10 years.
     The answer was “yes.” Beasley’s bill found no sponsors, and he was booted from office.
     Only after the NAACP boycotted the state in 2000 — it set up checkpoints along roads leading into the state and urged motorists not to spend money there — did officials take the flag off its capitol dome and plant it in an even more prominent spot where it is today.
     “Off the dome and in your face!” flag supporters chanted.
     Notice that dynamic. Banished here, reappearing there. You almost have to admire the resourcefulness. Bigots lie, even to themselves. They don’t say, “We hate black people, and the Confederate flag is the embodiment of that hate.” No they invoke history, tradition.
     But what is that history? The flag began representing disunity and treason, the war to dismantle the United States of America in 1861 by 11 Southern states who couldn’t see their way clear to participating in a democracy where blacks were not held in perpetual chattel slavery.
     After the war — which I should point out, the Confederacy lost, another fact that seems to elude them — the flags were furled, only to be brought out as symbols of the Ku Klux Klan, waving the Confederate flag for 100 years. Then a raised middle finger to the federal government. The flying of the Confederate flag at government buildings is a fine old Southern tradition that goes back to … 1956, in Georgia, when the faint echoes of Brown v. the Board of Education started to be heard. The Alabama official who ordered it raised in 1963, to coincide with a visit of attorney general Robert Kennedy, called it “an act of defiance.”
     All this is laid out in a riveting 2005 volume, The Confederate Battle Flagby John M. Coski. To give you an idea of how the flag’s post-Appomattox life dwarfs its wartime duty, in Coski’s book, the Civil War is over by page 44. The next 330 pages riffle with the gusty debate we’re having now.
     Who wants to bet we won’t still be breezing about this in 2030?
     Sure, the rebel flag has been put to innocent uses, splashed across the General Lee, waved by unthinking, proud-of-my-grandpappy Southerners who can’t or won’t wrap their heads around what the flag represents. And when I was 7, I made myself a Nazi armband with crayons because I thought the uniforms were cool. But my parents educated me. That a hateful symbol can be wielded by the disingenuous and the naive does not negate its hate.

     The Germans put away their swastika. The Japanese never learned that lesson, preferring to deny their history, and we see the rising militarism there. Racism fought for its life in the Civil War under the Confederate flag. Defeated, it did not die, and that flag remains a symbol for bigotry.
     Sure, the rebel flag might flutter from its spot across from the State House in Columbia, South Carolina. But keep an eye peeled. It’ll be found flapping somewhere else. Because the bigotry it symbolizes is still at gale force.


33 comments:

  1. Excellent on all points. Guns indeed and amazing how little is known of what the Japanese did throughout their history.

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  2. I suppose NRA backed politicians, like Nikki Haley, are relieved the focus is on the flag, not the gun, displayed in Roof's pictures. The lesser of two evils?

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  3. Well, while it's probably true that the Confederate flag will still be seen around the South for decades, the law is a teacher and I think the more symbols are marginalized, the better. And change can happen pretty fast, especially when pressure is continuously applied - gay rights as an obvious example, and what became "socially unacceptable language" played a part in that. Has the same kind of continuous pressure been brought on Southern racism? When the NAACP launched that boycott in 2000, it got no support from whites: conservative or progressive. I know all too well that "don't inconvenience me for this PC BS" look from people whose idea of social justice activism begins and ends with voting straight Democrat at the ballot box, maybe with a small check written now and then in response to an appeal that comes in the mail. I saw that look with the South Carolina boycott (and it really wasn't asking that much of a sacrifice - do you know how many chains doing business in Chicago are based in South Carolina? I could only find three at the time!) just like I got it when I boycotted Cracker Barrel in the 90s for having an explicit ban on hiring gays, boycotted Shell for their support of the Nigerian government, urged friends to call their Congressperson on giving China MFN status, etc. It takes time, but but somebody has to start somewhere.

    Re: Japan - I'm all for Japan becoming more militaristic. Their recent drills in the South China Sea are to be encouraged, not discouraged, unless we're just ceding everything to China now or insist on being the only "policeman" out there. I thought we've been encouraging them to put aside concerns about their history and view themselves as a regional power? Also, we (or at least the only one of us who mattered at the time) made a strategic decision not to "bury" the empire but to leave it as a symbol of the nation.

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  4. Now that "concealed carry" is ubiquitous, I see the day coming when 3 or 4 "innocent" men, sparked by some innocuous noise or another, start shooting at each other in a crowd with completely predictable results. I shudder at the thought, but I would welcome the event if I had the tiniest bit of confidence that it would sway the gun zealots one iota.

    John

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    1. you welcome it as long as you are not in the crowd where it happens, I presume

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    2. No, I would welcome it even though the thought makes me shudder, but don't welcome it because it wouldn't change one person's mind.

      john

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    3. That would only make them press body armor upon us as well as guns. Remember, the NRA is carrying water for gun manufacturing. They're for any solution that involves selling stuff.

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    4. Right. And once we've all got body armor, comes the time to start promoting armor piercing bullets.

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    5. That reminds me of Mike Royko's old line: If it could somehow magically be arranged so that the gun nuts could shoot only each other, I'd sell them guns at cigar stores.

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  5. Agree, ana, at this point in history Japan needs more than just a defensive military. And it's no wonder that China is against that, but now for the wrong reasons.

    To say nothing of all the hacking that the Chinese do.

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  6. Displays of the flag by government edict will probably fade, but private use will persist for a long time. Young southern belles intent on asserting their rebel heritage, with all the strange fruit that entails, can order Confederate Flag bikinis on the internet. Very fetching.

    Tom Evans

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  7. Neil, with all respect, I think you're underestimating the significance of what just happened. Look how fast Haley and most of the GOP presidential candidates backtracked and came around on this issue after years (decades, in some cases) of waffling and mealymouthed pandering to the bigots in their party. Huckabee, AFAIK, is the only one who's still sticking by the Stars and Bars, and even he is taking the "let's talk about something else" tack.

    Sure, that thing will always be around as long as there are racists with bumpers to adorn. But getting the Southern states to stop giving it official imprimatur is a big step.

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    1. I hope you're right. But they didn't stop giving it official imprimatur. They agreed to talk about it. No need to argue; we can see what they decide. Remember, it got where it is now after a similar catharsis 15 years ago. We'll see.

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    2. What the mealymouthed politicians do is one thing, though I agree with Scribe that this has been a more significant breeze than NS gives it credit for. But when big American corporations (Amazon, Sears, EBay, WALMART, for crying out loud) calculate that it's in their interest to piss off the Rebels by pulling their Stars and Bars merchandize, that seems to me like a whole 'nother level of change. Who knows how it will play out, but most of us commenting here who've reached our 50s remember that the n-word used to be used in its original form pretty casually but that that went away, to a large extent. It wasn't the end of racism, by any means, but it was a step in the right direction. So is this.

      If one doesn't have time to read "The Confederate Battle Flag", this piece by Ta-Nehisi Coates at least gives an excellent background on what the folks who first used the flag thought it was meant to represent. http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/06/what-this-cruel-war-was-over/396482/

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    3. Bitter Scribe:
      Someone else to add to your list is Rick Santorum. Rick appeared on This Week, Sunday morning. Although he was not mealy mouthed when he refused to give his opinion. He was calmly adamant that the decision to fly the confederate flag on state property, should be made by the people of South Carolina. I interpreted this to mean, he did not want to offend his white supremacist base. A pointless effort because they would never vote for a Catholic. If I was Martha Raddatz, I would have asked Rick, does that mean if a majority of voters in a state approve of same-sex marriage, you would agree with them?

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  8. They brought the CWar upon themselves, with their ridiculous states rights pride and need for free labor. Nor did they diversify and that hurt them in the end. King Cotton indeed. Imagine taking over a Federal Fort, like Sumter and thinking it's now in a fake country that they made up.

    As I said, I love Gen. Sherman and wish we had more like him.

    They try to justify things as well.

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  9. Eric Foner has some good books on Reconstruction. Genovese on Slavery.

    All southerners should be forced to watch the quite realistic Miss. Burning film.

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    1. UIC had and probably still has some fine courses on the period, graduate level too.

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    2. I have to take extreme exception to your characterizing "Mississippi Burning" as "quite realistic." It casts the FBI as the good guys in the civil rights struggle. In reality, the FBI was very lackadaisical in protecting civil rights--how many decades did it take them to catch the Birmingham church bombers? The only thing the FBI did with vigor was spy on and harass Martin Luther King.

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  10. The N word should never be used by whites, in this day and age. That's not a matter of being PC but of being humane.

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    1. Why? Have you established that doing so will damage someone in some unique way? If I say my favorite song is John Lennon's "Woman is the Nigger of the World" will several black people fall over dead from shock? I don't think so. This issue is a diversion, and infantalizes the people it claims to be protecting.

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    2. If somebody uses a defamatory word for "Jewish people", are Jews physically harmed by just the word being used? No. Does it allow outmoded, discriminatory attitudes to flourish in an open way that might end up causing trouble for them in some manner? Probably. Should the references to the N-word in "Huckleberry Finn" be expunged? No. Does this mean that when a bigot in a cafe in Indiana complains that "It ain't fair that the President can say n----- and I can't" (which I read about recently), he's got a point? No. Has the consensus that white people shouldn't use the N-word in the way that they used to made everything wonderful for African-Americans in this country? No. Has it made it marginally better that white people can't be as patently and offensively dismissive of them by the use of that word, and that the attitude expressed by using it is no longer acceptable to a large portion of the citizenry? I think so. With all due respect, if there's a diversion involved here, it seems to me that using "Woman is the Nigger of the World" as your example is it.

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  11. I doubt Mary Mitchell or J. Jackson, etc would agree with you. Then go say that word to some afr. amer. but tell them it's okay, since you don't want to coddle them.

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  12. What Jakash said.

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  13. Jak, You've been on Ns more than usual lately. Are you trying to imitate, ANA?

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    1. No. I'm saying what I think. I thought that was kinda the point of commenting here. I certainly wasn't "on" him about his exemplary piece yesterday.

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  14. I just saw that they are taking the flag off of the General Lee car. Nothing said about the horn that plays "Dixie", but it shouldn't take too long to redirect anger to that as well. I thought that car only promoted ramping needlessly and somehow driving over dead leaves all the time. Silly me

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    1. Maybe they should rename it the General Sherman and have the horn play Marching Through Georgia.

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    2. I wonder, how far can we go in relating and outlawing objects, music and behavior connected to what we might label as unforgivable racism?

      It just seems ridiculous to pick on popular labels from the past that didn't intend harm. Do we start a new attack on the Dixie Chicks, who suffered from an unreasonable response to their Iraq War protest? Just sayin'...

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    3. It would take some serious Orwell Ministry of Info type action to get rid of all of what could be implied as racist.

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  15. Sounds like a plan.

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  16. Advocate of the Anti-ChristJune 25, 2015 at 12:28 PM

    Don't blame guns. Guns are good. Repeal all gun laws now.

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Thanks for commenting. As soon as I vet your remarks, they'll be posted, assuming they aren't, you know, mean and crazy.