By Doug Porter
The not-the-flag of the Confederate States of America has become an issue, following the murders of nine people during Bible study at a historic black church in Charleston.
Americans, we’re told, are reassessing the modern-day value and meaning of Confederate symbols. Retailers are discontinuing the sale of items with the rebel flag and legislatures are debating its display. Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez is calling for San Diego Unified’s Robert E. Lee elementary school to be renamed.
Sadly, displaying (or not) this flag and/or the symbols of the Confederacy fails to address much larger problems, including issues related to the act of a terrorist motivated by white supremacist ideology. Today we’ll look around at coverage of this phenomenon.
The Rebel Flag Isn’t What You Think It Is
The design displayed throughout the south was never the official flag of the secessionist states. There were other flags: the first looked too much like the United States flag on the battlefield and the second looked too much like a white flag of surrender.
The Stars and Bars, as it’s often called, was the battle flag used by several CSA military units, including Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.
This particular flag gained national prominence as a symbol used by supporters of segregation in the post World War Two era. So when you hear somebody saying the Stars and Bars is associated with southern heritage only two possible reasons exist: either they’re talking about a specific military unit (and why aren’t the many other CSA battle flags important?) or the history they’re honoring is the segregationist movement.
After the Civil War ended, the battle flag turned up here and there only occasionally — at events to commemorate fallen soldiers.
So, when did the flag explode into prominence? It was during the struggle for civil rights for black Americans, in the middle of the 20th century.
The first burst may have been in 1948. South Carolina politician Strom Thurmond ran for president under the newly founded States Rights Democratic Party, also known as the Dixiecrats. The party’s purpose was clear: “We stand for the segregation of the races,” said Article 4 of its platform.
The Stars and Bars, according to East Anglia University professor Sarah Churchwell,
“… was not always flown in South Carolina at the capitol building. It was actually first raised in 1962 as a defiant response to civil rights.”
Taking Down Dixie’s Flag May Be a Good Thing…
It’s a good thing that this flag is being recognized for what it really symbolizes.
From The Washington Post:
Russell D. Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, wrote on his blog Friday: “The symbol was used to enslave the little brothers and sisters of Jesus, to bomb little girls in church buildings, to terrorize preachers of the gospel and their families with burning crosses on front lawns by night. . . . The cross and the Confederate flag cannot co-exist without one setting the other on fire.”
Moore, head of the public policy arm of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination, is a Mississippian whose ancestors fought for the Confederacy.
His sensitivity to the issue was raised more than a decade ago, he recalled in an interview, when he invited an African American friend to his home for dinner and realized that his guest might be offended by the Mississippi flag he displayed there. Moore took down the flag, which had been retrieved from the wreckage of Hurricane Katrina, and it fell apart in his hands.
And it’s not just individuals who are recognizing the wrongness of continuing to claim these symbols as part of the culture, from The Christian Science Monitor:
…economists and political scientists see parallels to the current groundswell of opinion surrounding the flag and the public and corporate backlash against Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act in March. (After critics accused politicians of trying to codify discrimination against gay couples, the state ended up modifying the law to include protections for LGBT Hoosiers.) In fact, many of the same CEOs, including the heads of Apple and Salesforce, have spoken out in favor of taking down the flag.
In both cases, businesses have shown an increasing willingness to wade into hot-button social issues – in a contrast with the staid, controversy-averse corporate image of the past. This is not a case of liberal ideals trumping the bottom line, economists say. Rather it’s a recognition of the importance of attracting both the talent and economic drawing power of Millennials, who marketers say seek out companies that reflect their social values. It appears that – at least in certain instances – social activism is good business.
Of course, the Charleston shooter was a millennial….
…But the War Continues for Hearts and Minds
It’s almost as if people think removing symbols of the Confederacy will strike a blow against racism. This is a battle against historical revisionism relevant only in that it begins to unravel the lies used to justify racism. Too many Americans have bought into the mythology that the Civil War was fought over state’s rights. Undoing that misunderstanding (or brainwashing, depending on how you want to view it) is just part of a larger war.
Historian Tony Horowitz wrote about this at Talking Points Memo:
It would take a book to explain the history behind this belief, and some excellent ones have been written (to name one, David Blight’s Race and Reunion). The very short version is that white Southerners lost the war but won its aftermath and the battle for how the conflict would be remembered. Violent Southern intransigence and Northern war-weariness killed Reconstruction; the nation chose regional reconciliation over racial justice; and ex-Confederates constructed a potent ideology—the Lost Cause—that romanticized plantation life and cast the war as a noble, doomed defense of Southern freedom and an agrarian way of life.
In the 20th century, mass culture and commerce spread the Lost Cause nationwide, most notably in movies like Birth of a Nation and Gone With the Wind. The moonlight-and-magnolia virus grew so strong that the U.S. Senate approved the construction of a Mammy monument in Washington in the 1920s, and after World War II the rebel flag became a faddish adornment on vehicles, beach towels and other products, a generalized emblem of independence, Southernness or good ol’ boyism.
And, while we’re feeling all warm and fuzzy over southern politicians agreeing to discuss the use of symbols, the reality is that the overall strategy being used by modern day racists is winning. They took the “n” word out of their agenda back in the day of Nixon’s Southern strategy. The enthusiasts for segregationist symbolism were just useful idiots.
South Carolinian Lee Atwater, who become a key party strategist during the Reagan-Bush era, in 1981 famously explained the GOP’s “Southern strategy,” launched by Nixon and continued by Reagan: “You start out in 1954 by saying, ‘Nigger, nigger, nigger.’ By 1968 you can’t say ‘nigger’ – that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights and all that stuff.”
Take, for instance, the data cited by Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in her speech before the US Conference of Mayors:
Race remains a deep fault line in America. Millions of people of color still experience racism in their everyday lives.
Here are some facts.
- In America today, Blacks are nearly three times as likely as whites to be denied a mortgage.
- In 2013, the median wealth of Black families was around $11,000. For white families, it was more than $134,000.
- Nearly half of all Black families have lived in poor neighborhoods for at least two generations, compared to just 7 percent of white families.
- African American men are far more likely to be stopped and searched by police, charged with crimes, and sentenced to longer prison terms than white men, 10 percent longer for the same crimes in the federal system.
- In America today, our schools are more segregated than they were in the 1960s.
Didn’t We Get Past That Voting Thing Already?
At The Nation, Ari Berman, wrote about The Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2015, introduced in the Congress yesterday. Congressional Democrats tried to introduce a more toned down version (with bi-partisan support) of this bill in the last session following promises from the Republican leadership that they help it get to the floor for a vote. Those promises weren’t kept.
So this time around Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, and leaders of the Black Caucus, Hispanic Caucus, and Asian Pacific American Caucus in the House along with civil-rights icon Rep. John Lewis will be pushing a Voting Rights Act with some teeth.
Why do we need a new bill? In Shelby County v. Holder, the Supreme Court invalidated the centerpiece of the Voting Rights Act.
The 2016 election will be the first in 50 years where voters will not have the full protections of the VRA, which adds urgency to the congressional effort. Since the Shelby decision, onerous new laws have been passed or implemented in states like North Carolina and Texas, which have disenfranchised thousands of voters, disproportionately those of color. In the past five years, 395 new voting restrictions have been introduced in 49 states, with half the states in the country adopting measures making it harder to vote.
“If anybody thinks there’s not racial discrimination in voting today, they’re not really paying attention,” Senator Leahy said.
Passing this bill would do as much or more than taking down some old battle flags. I’ll be surprised if it even gets coverage in the mass media, much less a debate in the Congress.
The Shooting in Charleston Was Terrorism
The segregationist movement of the post war era gave birth to the right wing extremist groups operating in the US today.
The ideology of racism has grown beyond the backrooms of southern meeting halls. As is true with ISIS, these groups are using the internet to spread their message. A young man in South Carolina became a true believer and tragedy resulted.
He committed acts of violence with the intention of creating fear in groups beyond those actually injured, just as the brothers who bombed the Boston Marathon did. Nobody had to order those acts; they flowed logically from the reality they were taught to believe.
This kind of terrorism is more prevalent in the US than the jihadist variety, as the New York Times pointed out today. Since 2001 nearly twice as many Americans have been killed by our home grown haters than by jihadists.
While terrorism of the right wing persuasion is a hot topic, it’s also important to look past the extremists and recognize that racism exists as part of everybody’s heritage.
Researcher Chip Berlet, who knows about as much as anybody about right wing nut jobs, put it into perspective in Home-Grown Hate: Gender and Organized Racism.
Right-wing hate groups do not cause prejudice in the United States–they exploit it. What we clearly see as objectionable bigotry surfacing in Extreme Right movements, is actually the magnified form of oppressions that swim silently in the familiar yet obscured eddies of “mainstream” society. Racism, sexism, heterosexism, and antisemitism are the major forms of supremacy that create oppression and defend and expand inequitable power and privilege; but there are others based on class, age, ability, language, ethnicity, immigrant status, size, religion, and more. These oppressions exist independent of the Extreme Right in U.S. society.
There are a couple of other items worth mentioning today….
Change The Name, Already
Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez is calling upon the San Diego Unified School District to change the name of the Robert E Lee Elementary School, located in her district.
Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, sent a letter to Superintendent Cindy Marten that referred to the shooting deaths of the pastor and eight parishioners of a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina…
…”The flag in particular, and anyone associated with this army, in general, have been associated with intolerance, racism and hate, none of which have a place in our schools,” Gonzalez wrote. “It is also important to note that the area in which the elementary school is located is truly representative of South San Diego — a vibrant, multiethnic community with a strong African-American presence that deserves a school named after someone we can all admire,” her letter says. “Robert E. Lee is not that person.”
‘Kill the Gays’ Ballot Measure Dead
From the Sacramento Bee:
California Attorney General Kamala Harris does not need to advance a widely reviled ballot initiative authorizing the murder of homosexuals, a Sacramento Superior Court has ruled.
The Sodomite Suppression Act has been condemned across the political spectrum. It has prompted both legislation seeking to raise the initiative filing fee and a debate about whether the attorney general can halt clearly unconstitutional ideas contained in citizen initiatives.
Saying she did not want to be “in the position of giving any legitimacy” to the initiative, Harris asked to be relieved of her official duty of preparing the measure’s title and summary, a necessary step before proponents can collect signatures. Judge Raymond M. Cadei granted that request in a Monday decision that became public on Tuesday, effectively halting the initiative’s progress.
Sarah Palin’s out of a job. From Politico:
Fox News will not renew its contract with Sarah Palin, whose bombastic appearances have been a cable staple since the former Alaska governor’s failed run on John McCain’s ticket in the 2008 presidential election cycle. When asked for comment, a Fox News spokesperson confirmed the network had amicably parted ways with the governor on June 1.
On This Day: 1896 – Booker T. Washington became the first African American to receive an honorary MA degree from Howard University. 1964 – The Federal Trade Commission announced that starting in 1965, cigarette manufactures would be required to include warnings on their packaging about the harmful effects of smoking. 2002 – The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that juries, not judges, must make the decision to give a convicted killer the death penalty.
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