The Confederate Flag and the Fight to End Racism
A version of this blog was posted previously at The Huffington Post.
In the wake of the devastating terrorist attack on June 17, 2015 at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina it has become apparent that this nation needs to deal with the pervasive issues of malicious racism and white privilege.
Emmanuel AME, affectionately referred to as Mother Emmanuel, is one of the oldest and most historic African American churches. Numerous significant events in the struggle for black freedom and civil rights took place there.
Dylann Roof entered this church where the people welcomed him. He took part in the Bible Study for one hour and was not suspected of anything. If the roles were reversed and a black man entered a white church would the black man be welcomed into the church or be treated with suspicion? This is white privilege.
The battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia, an army of the Confederacy that flies at the South Carolina State House provides a reminder of an ugly, recent past. The flag first appeared at the State House in the early 1960s in response to efforts to desegregate the schools. It originally flew over the Capitol dome. In 2000, it was moved to a location, still on the State House grounds, next to the Confederate Soldier‘s Monument.
The original use of the flag at the South Carolina State House was not to “honor heritage” as some say but to make a racist statement and support segregation. It is a symbol of white privilege and white supremacy. This symbol has caused pain, and hurt; it appears to have inspired hatred, hatred that has led to death. It is now time to take it down.
The misappropriation of Native American symbols and imagery for mascots of sports teams carries similar dynamics. They provide reminders of the genocide of innocent people, the devastation of a community, and the hatred that built this nation. Mascotism gives false images, and reinforces and internalizes racism.
It is also time to remove Native American symbols and imagery as mascots in our sports teams.
Racism is manifested by undesirable views against a different race, such as African Americans, Hispanics, Asian Americans or even a different religion like Islam, that affirm and institutionalize the position and privilege of the dominant group.
When racism was a more explicitly obvious problem in this country, the “privileged class” was the WASPS (White Anglo-Saxon Protestants). But since racism now takes place in a systematic structural ways, Catholics have ‘joined the club’, and WASP has lost its sting. In the past, in this country, racism led to the slavery and wholesale lynching of African Americans and the displacement of the indigenous Native Americans. Since racism is carried on sub rosa, Dylann Roof did not get the memo that “we don’t do violence any more. We let the police take care of suppressing African Americans.”
Now, we bury the 9 innocent people; Depayne Middleton Doctor, Cynthia Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lance, The Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Tywanza Sanders, The Rev. Dr. Daniel Simmons Sr., Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Myra Thompson, who died inside the historic AME church. Their death will not be in vain. The blood of innocent people reminds us of the violent past and shows us the deeply rooted problems that still exist in today.
Many Christians are concerned about personal piety. We show off our personal piety by bragging to others how often we go to church and how we are so devoted to God through prayer. However, God is not only concerned about personal piety or the conditions of our inner selves, but also the conditions that surround us over which we have some control. God cares about social conditions that create the world we live in, shape how we live, and prevent our full humanity. We see this in the Exodus story. God cared about the enslaved Hebrew people and took them out of slavery.
Jesus preached about the conditions within which he lived. When Jesus saw the poor and the sick, he healed them and fed them. His words and actions challenged the powerful establishments of his time. He told us to do likewise. Piety is a tool to guide us in following his way.
The flag flown in South Carolina and elsewhere symbolizes a hateful past. The flag represents succession, states rights over federal rights, racism, male supremacy, anti-black, anti-semitism because of religious supremacy, and anti-gender equality. The use of Native American symbols in sports teams symbolizes the devastating past of colonialism, genocide and invasion. Both are reminders of the hatred, the mass killing and the eradication of a history, culture, and ideals of a people. We should no longer display the Confederate symbols as a totem for our governments nor Native American images and symbols by our sports teams.
We need to acknowledge the courage and boldness of Bree Newsome who climbed the flagpole on June 27, 2015 on the statehouse steps in Columbia to take down the flag. Her boldness ignites in us the desire for change and the need for action.
Removing symbols alone will not lead to the dismantling of systemic, structural racism. That task will also require us to change our perspectives, change our attitudes, and change our laws. All are needed. We need to faithfully take steps to end racism and to end stereotyping, prejudice and hatred so that no more innocent lives will be taken.
Removing the flag as a symbol of current governments and policies will make it easier for people of good-will to combat racism and white supremacy, as racists will no longer be able to point at the flag. Ending the misuse of Native American symbols and images will affirm the humanity of indigenous peoples and challenge the dominant society to see indigenous peoples as sisters and brothers, not as mascots. Both are important steps towards racial, religious, cultural and gender equality, which will allow us to construct a transformational and just world.