Former GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney says take it down. Present GOP presidential candidate Jeb Bush says take it down. South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley will say a qualified take it down. The “it” is the Confederate Flag. They now want the flag removed from the South Carolina State House.
A year ago Romney, Bush, and Haley would not have dared say the flag must go. In fact, Haley vigorously defended the flag waving proudly at the state house during her reelection bid in 2014 and flatly stated before that the flag should stay. The hideous Charleston church massacre and the loud clamor again by civil rights activists and a wide swath of the public to dump the flag explains their sharp reversal.
The flag, of course, should go and should have gone a long time ago when the NAACP did everything from calling for a boycott of the state to mass protests to get the flag scrapped. But it still stands and there’s little reason this time around to think much will change.
The reason is not hard to find. The defenders, and there are countless numbers of them South and North, will not budge from their stock argument that the Confederate flag is merely a symbol of Southern history, pride, and heritage, and has absolutely no political or social connotations, let alone intended as a symbol of slavery and a prop for racism. This is a bold faced distortion of you want to be charitable. Or, if you don’t, it’s a flat out lie. It is a blatant display of bigotry and racist defiance that symbolizes slavery and black oppression and is a direct slap in the face of blacks a century and a half after the South was vanquished on the battlefield.
Yet, the brutal reality is that for decades, the Confederate flag, or some variation of it, has either flown or been displayed or embedded in state flags in Mississippi, Georgia, North Carolina, and Alabama and in decades past in other Southern states. Thousands of motor vehicle owners have requested personalized license plates with the Sons of Confederate Veterans logo which embeds the Confederate flag in it for their cars and trucks in Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee.
And thousands of white motorists tool down the state and city highways in parts of the South with the Confederate flag decal on their windows and bumpers. Does that tag them as a racist? Some are, and they embrace the flag to puff up their unabashed racism. But for many other Southern whites, the flag and its association with Southern history is a genuine source of pride and identification. For many young whites that emblazon the flag on their attire, wave it at rock concerts, or football games, and other sporting events, it’s just a hip, in-crowd, stitch of cloth that’s little more than a chic fun and games display.
They know little and could care less about what the flag meant, and the racial oppression that the flag has symbolized. They know nothing about the defiance of Southern legislatures and governors that dredged the flag up in the 1950s and adopted variations of it in their state flags as a blatant, open rebellion against court ordered integration in schools and public facilities.
But no matter what the motive of the flag defenders, whether it be pride, ignorance, racism, or just youthful style, the NAACP and civil rights leaders that have fought ferocious battles against the display of the flag on public property, at taxpayer expense, and that includes thousands of African-American state taxpayers. They stress that the flag undeniably was the symbol of a region that drenched the nation in blood for four years to defend values, a way of life, an economy, and a political system that had slavery as its bedrock. And for decades after it was a symbol of the South’s rigid domination and brute force control of African-Americans.
The two wildly clashing views of the flag’s meaning are again on full display in the aftermath of the Charleston massacre. Unlike in times past when the debate over the flag has flared, no South Carolina state legislator has so far publicly come out with a full-throated defense of the flag. However, it’s not necessary. The majority of them believe that the flag stands for what the South was and still is all about. That belief runs far too deep for even a shocking massacre to unhinge. The flag will be ridiculed, assailed, and burned. But it will likely stay and not just at a state house but in the minds and hearts of far too many.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on American Urban Radio Network. He is the author of How Obama Governed: The Year of Crisis and Challenge. He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is host of the weeklyHutchinson Report Newsmaker Hour heard weekly on the nationally network broadcast Hutchinson Newsmaker Network. Follow Earl Ofari Hutchinson on Twitter.