White supremacist groups and their political sympathizers keep insisting that the confederate flag is just a symbol of "southern heritage" and "southern pride'. We get that. They fly it in their homes. They plaster it on the sides and rear windows of their automobiles. They raise it above highways. They agitate to have it installed and flown above public buildings. Because they fervently insist on celebrating that "heritage' and that "pride", in the course of any intelligent conversation we must insist that they explain what that heritage is that they are so proud about.
The confederate flag was the flag flown by several confederate Army units, including General Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. Let us remind ourselves that the Civil War was fought essentially to preserve the national institutions of slavery and white supremacy. The South lost that war, but the battle to preserve the "heritage" of enslavement and racism persists to this day. After fading from view the flag made a prominent resurgence during the Civil Rights era of the 1950's and 1960's.
The essence of white supremacist sentiment is captured in a now infamous statement that Abraham Lincoln made in the context of a political debate in Charleston, Illinois on September 18, 1858. While there has been considerable discussion as to whether or not Lincoln harboured racism as a fact of his own cultural and ideological disposition, this statement in and of itself captures the gist of white supremacist thinking on issues critical to the lives of black folk. Lincoln's words, in this circumstance, demonstrate the awkward position that politicians put themselves in when they speak out of both sides of their mouths on a critical issue such as this. On this occasion he bites his own tongue when he responds to the prodding of a political opponent about his involvement in the abolishionist movement by stating:
"I will say that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races, ...that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And in as much as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race."
The confederate flag, wherever it is raised, is a symbol of the most reprehensible fact of our American reality. It represents the hatred and oppression inherent in the holocaust that was perpetuated through the enslavement and subsequent oppression of Africans and their descendants in this society. The "heritage" that those who hoist this flag want to continue to celebrate is outlined as follows by Keith Harmon Snow:
"...the acquisition and sale of people of color as possession, white on black rape and sexual slavery, destruction of families, forced labor, chain gangs and penal servitude, beatings, tortures, executions and lynchings of black and brown people - but it was further enshrined as such by its resurgence during the Civil Rights movement, with the FBI's domestic terror program (COINTELPRO), with the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, and with the national struggle for desegregation, and all these things happening at a time when people of color all over the world were fighting for independence from colonialism / imperialism."
This is the heritage around which white racist pride jumps up and down. The hoisters of this flag seek our collective indulgence as they continue to give the finger to the just aspirations of people of color everywhere. Through their continued actions they are endorsing the expressed sentiments of Lincoln in that speech in Illinois. To give prominence to this flag is to foster and promulgate what must be recognized as hate speech. We cant help but ask the politicians who want to pussy-foot around this issue whether or not they would support flying the flag of the Nazis in similar circumstances. We should ask those running for office how it would sit with their Jewish constituents if they were perceived to be acquiescing to the anti semitic sentiments of any of their supporters.
The cancer of hate that thrives in our gut as a nation needs to be diagnosed as such. It needs to be subjected to the necessary radical treatment that we reserve for any malady that threaten our lives. Make no mistake about it - people are dying from this sickness in our midst. It is not good enough that we engage in occasional outpouring of emotions when those infected with the disease of white racism spew their nasty venom at will, snuffing out vulnerable lives like those in that church in South Carolina. It is past time that this nation becomes proactive about its collective well-being. It is time to focus on preventive actions that nip that cancer in the bud wherever it is discovered. This must become a national priority... And we must proceed with ALL urgency.