Confederate flag ‘debate’ is necessary, but black America still longs for real change
In its most basic and purest form, the Confederate flag is a representation of black enslavement and subjugation.
It’s a symbol of black bones being twisted in metal shackles and black skin being ripped apart by the end of a slave masters whip. It’s an icon for Jim Crow politics and blacks being only 3/5 human. Its mere presence is disgusting and distasteful. It’s proponents may say that I should take account of what the flag means to them, but I’m no more willing to do that than I am to question what level of nuanced pride Germans in the mid-twentieth century may have received from the swastika.
After the gun smoke had cleared throughout the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, on the morning of June 18th, the collective mood of the nation was frantic and intense.
Black folks were collectively shocked, confused and angered that a tragedy like this, which read like a civil rights era massacre, could actually happen in our day and age. Mourning, frustration and sadness poured out of the mouths of politicians like Bernie Sanders and President Barack Obama, and everyone began to scramble to see what they could do to honor the nine innocent black lives that were ended so abruptly and so violently by domestic terrorist Dylann Roof.
In Columbia, the capital of South Carolina, the U.S. flag and South Carolina’s palmetto flag flew at half-staff — while the Confederate flag flew high, dancing beneath continual gusts of wind over the South Carolina State House.
In this seminal moment in the states’ long and sordid battle against prejudice and violent racism, black people especially were not going to let this stand. Almost immediately, calls for the flag to be displayed at half-mast came in. Activists took to social media to expound on the indignity and carelessness that the Confederate flag’s presence was inciting by remaining at full-staff, which actually really confused the hell out of me.
The idea that the official logo of black southern enslavement, terror and lynching should be lowered in respect to the loss of Black lives at the hands of a racist killer is arguably one of the stupidest things I’ve ever heard of in my entire life. To lower that flag, which was paraded around the burnt, lifeless bodies of Black men and women hanging from trees, as a way to respect dead Black bodies is simply bizarre, when that flag is an inherent celebration of all things anti-Black.
That controversy has now touched off a national discussion on whether or not the Confederate flag should even be displayed anywhere throughout South Carolina at any time. Monday, after Gov. Nikki Haley stated the flag should be moved to a museum, the House overwhelmingly voted to DEBATE on whether or not the flag should come down.
Let me repeat that: They approved a measure just to have a DISCUSSION on whether or not this symbol of white supremacy should be able to fly freely. Also, Don Lemon added to this bizarre situation by parading a Confederate flag and a black sign saying NIGGER in white text on CNN.
And as I watch this debate evolve, I am filled with terror from one possible outcome: That we begin focusing so much on this Confederate flag issue that its removal becomes the context with which we gauge the lives lost in Emanuel AME church, while ignoring the far more pressing issues that are destroying the collective African-American community.
Removing the Confederate flag is not only far from a win for black people, but it’s not even racial progress. The idea that Republicans and Democrats in the House in South Carolina gave themselves a round of applause for approving the flag-debate measure 103-10 is a sign of how far we are from engaging in a thoughtful, honest and progressive conversation on race that leads to actual change. Even if the final vote on the flag results in its removal, does that mean that the school-to-prison pipeline will be ended?
Does that mean that the prison industrial complex will stop targeting minorities? Does that mean that the ongoing summary executions of black men, women and children at the hands of police in the street will cease?
I think we all know they won’t, because that would require a full realization of how wounded the black community has been by systemic white supremacy, and we’re nowhere near that point.
“If you stick a knife nine inches into my back and pull it out three inches, that is not progress. Even if you pull it all the way out, that is not progress. Progress is healing the wound, and America hasn’t even begun to pull out the knife.”
–El Hajj Malik El Shabazz (Malcolm X)
When I think of the nine innocent black folks who died in that church, and even of the little 5-year-old girl who had to play dead while people were executed around her just so she wouldn’t befall the same fate, I try to dream about what good, if any, could come from this situation. I dream of the disbanding and disarming of white militia groups all over the United States. I dream of the dismantling of the police state that unfairly targets people of color. I dream of black lives beginning to truly matter to a country that has deprived us of safety and equal footing since its inception.
In my dream, the Charleston 9 weren’t brutally massacred so we could decide on the fate of an emblem of hate, while the actual hate goes unchecked. Until we decide it’s important enough to confront the very real, systemic social ramifications of white supremacy, this debate will remain nothing more than a distraction with a false prize, meant to placate black rage while giving us the impression that we enacted change, when all we did was FINALLY agree to remove the white domestic terrorists’ loser-logo.