Saturday, July 4, 2015

The Confederate flag has to come down but no one calling for it now is a hero.

After the tragedy in Charleston and pictures of the psychopath who committed the mass murder surfaced showing him posing with a confederate flag, there was and still is a chorus of calls from politicians both conservative and liberal and civil rights activists for the confederate flag to come down from official state government sites and monuments. The legislature in South Carolina has already voted to remove the flag as expected. 
The flag needs to be removed from all official state and local government property.  But no one calling for it now  or demonstrating for its removal in the wake of the mass murders in Charleston is a hero or should be looked upon as courageously standing up for civil rights. It isn't a moment to be proud of but a time to ask what took so long? 

Everything that is offensive about the Confederate flag and what it stood for was offensive before the murders. It was offensive a year ago, 5 years ago, 25 years ago, 50 years ago and 150 years ago. 

Many in the south say the flag doesn't represent racism it represents heritage. The south has an awful lot of things to be proud of. But that flag and the heritage that inspired it isn't one of them. 

It doesn't just represent racism. It represents atrocities sanctioned by Southern state governments committed against a large segment of the American population. And the Confederate battle flag represented the fight to have the right to continue to commit those atrocities and that the  federal government had no right to stop them. 
That it took 9 African Americans getting murdered in a Charleston church by a psychopath who posed with the Confederate flag for people, black as well as white, to finally say that flag has no place in a government office or building or to be flying at state houses or be part of a state flag, and to call for its removal 150 years after the Emancipation Proclamation and 50 years after the Civil Rights Act doesn't make any one a moral hero. Or courageous. 
Though the flag has few supporters now, some who do support it's display say it's not about slavery but States rights. What they don't say is that the states rights they are talking about was the right of those states to commit those atrocities as part of their way of life. That is the principle they were fighting for.  Yet those flags continued to fly at southern state houses or were integrated into the flags of the states that were once part of the confederacy. And does anyone really believe the presence of the Confederate flag at statehouses and as part of official business didn't fuel and justify racism in the old South? 
So no one calling for the removal of those flags now including Obama  is demonstrating any act of courage even though Obama claimed himself "fearless" the week of the eulogies . If anything it's an admission the flag should've come down a long time ago from state capitols and schools and universities in the south as something that was part of official business. 
About 25 years ago on a Saturday afternoon I settled down in front of my TV to watch a college football game. Ole Miss was playing at home. 
Before the game, a black male cheerleader came running out of the tunnel onto the field carrying and waving  a Confederate flag about the size of 10 bed sheets leading the Ole Miss football team running behind him as the crowd roared. I thought it was one of the most bizarre things I had seen in a long time. I thought to myself, " what's wrong with that guy? How could he do that"?  After a minute I didn't give  it another thought since whatever that black cheerleader wanted to do was his own business, nor was it my place to criticize him or something the university and its supporters sanctioned. And the announcers said nothing about it either even if I did think it was ridiculous. 
Why  black lawmakers, like that black cheerleader, went to work at southern state legislatures every day where those flags were flying and never objected, only they know.  Why there wasn't some public debate sooner about whether it was appropriate to still be flying the Confederate flag connected to any official  government or public function can only be because no one seemed to care. Or at least care enough. Until it took 9 murders to make them care. 
There are some who try to defend the flag by bringing up the courage of the southern boys who fought under that flag. No one ever questioned their courage or bravery in battle so it's not about that and never was. It's a fact that,  like it or not, in reading contemporaneous accounts of civil war battles, especially Gettysburg, those southern boys showed unparalleled courage and bravery in battle , equal to any ever displayed by American  soldiers anywhere even if the cause they fought for was morally reprehensible . 

Its always mentioned that hardly any of those soldiers owned slaves and that the rank and file soldier wasn't fighting for slavery. And that was true though slavery is what the politicians and rich plantation owners were having them fight for. So many of them fought bravely but duped into believing they were fighting for some other cause. 
At Gettysburg during Pickets Charge General Lewis Armistead put his hat on the tip of his sword and egged his soldiers on shouting, " for your mothers, for your wives,your sisters and your sweethearts".  Well, not exactly. Those boys may have believed that but it was for the rich plantation owners whose wealth depended on slavery and all the atrocities that went with it that they were fighting for.  One thing is certain however. Any one man on either side of that battle had more courage than all the politicians and activists calling for the flag to come down now in the wake of the Charleston murders. 
Bree Newsome who some were incredulously calling a hero for climbing a flag pole and taking down the confederate flag at the state capitol in South Carolina is no hero. Which naturally didn't stop CNN and their usual pandering from trying to treat her like one. 
If Bree Newsome had taken that flag down a week before the Charleston murders, or 6 months before, or a year ago or 5 years ago and sparked the debate, caused the debate, forced the debate instead of trying to cash in on the debate, she might have been courageous.  Doing it after every politician in the country including southern conservative Republicans,  the Republican governor of South Carolina, the conservative Republican senator from South Carolina, governors of Mississippi, Georgia and Alabama, and every major retailer in the country from Amazon to Walmart who announced they are removing items with the flag from their shelves and inventories, when even the head of NASCAR said they are going to remove the confederate flag from NASCAR related events and asked fans not to bring it or display it, removing the flag took no courage. Everyone knew it was coming down anyway. 
It wasn't even a political statement, those having already been made.  It didn't rise much beyond the level of a prank under the guise of a political statement about civil rights since Newsome knew political,  public and news media opinion was on her side. Not exactly Freedom Summer. 
The people who do deserve some credit are the retailers and NASCAR. At least they put their money where their mouth is and are doing it even though they risk angering a large segment of their customer base. In other words they are putting principle ahead of profits and self interest,  something no politician from the president to state and local politicians were ever willing to do until the tragedy in Charleston.
It's true that one can argue better late than never. But people calling for the flag to come down now who think they are heroes or deserve some credit hopefully will not dislocate their elbows patting themselves on the back.
There is an old disparaging comment about those who in the field of battle find their courage in a bottle. For many politicians and those in the news media who are now, after all this time, standing up and calling for the removal of the Confederate flag from all official government property, they could all be looked on as those having found their courage at Walmart.  

 There are enough reasons for the Confederate flag to have been officially removed from government buildings  a long time ago. So no one, black or white, calling for it now should consider themselves heroes or feel any pride. But they could all learn some lessons. 

According to the AP, the confederate flag was first hoisted at the South Carolina state Capitol in 1961 as -- get this -- a defiant protest and symbol of resistance against the growing civil right movement.  Instead of feeling a sense of pride in its removal, society might do better to ask why it took 9 murders in 2015 to bring it down. 

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