Tuesday, June 23, 2015

What's at Stake?

Every story needs something at stake to be compelling. I debated whether to write about this, since so much has been said and I doubt I'll add anything new to the discussion. 

But that's never stopped me before, so here goes.

The Charleston terrorism attack/massacre has prompted a national "debate" over what's at stake in flying the confederate flag over the state capitol in South Carolina, the first state to secede from the union during the Civil War. 

According to the omniscient Wikipedia and my favorite source of all quasi-accurate info on the interwebs, Southern historian Gordon Rhea wrote this in 2011:
It is no accident that Confederate symbols have been the mainstay of white supremacist organizations, from the Ku Klux Klan to the skinheads. They did not appropriate the Confederate battle flag simply because it was pretty. They picked it because it was the flag of a nation dedicated to their ideals: 'that the negro is not equal to the white man'. The Confederate flag, we are told, represents heritage, not hate. But why should we celebrate a heritage grounded in hate, a heritage whose self-avowed reason for existence was the exploitation and debasement of a sizeable segment of its population?
That's an excellent question. 

As a Jewish woman, I definitely view the confederate flag as analogous to the swastika in World War II: A symbol of (now technically) defeated genocide and enslavement. That's exactly why white supremacists love the swastika, almost as much as they love the confederate flag. And it's why you'll often see the two together, sometimes tattooed on the very same skin.

In a region of the country that routinely and jingoistically screams at the rest of the nation to BE MORE PATRIOTIC, is it not at least a little bit ironic that a state law there mandates waving the flag of the defeated first secessionist in America's only civil war? Isn't that at best unpatriotic, and at worst seditious and treasonous?

Yeah yeah. I know I'm a northeast Yankee and waaaaahhhhh waaaahhh waaahhh I don't UNDERSTAAAAAAAAAAAAAAND how IMPORRRRRTANT this piece of our HISTORY is to the Land of Dixie and Southern Pride and HERITAGE and some more waaaaaaaaaaaaaaah.

Come on. 

Everyone knows what the confederate flag is really all about, or has at least come to stand for: White people owning black people. White people lynching black people. White people hating and exterminating Jews. Homophobia. White men raping black women that they owned. In short: colonialism, rape culture, slave culture, murder, genocide, and white supremacy.

To me, a black person living in South Carolina having to look at the confederate flag every day would feel like me and my kids being forced to look at a Nazi flag every day. I can't see a sliver of daylight between the swastika and the confederate flag as those symbols are known and reasonably perceived to the modern eye.

So yeah, it's just a flag. And maybe this issue gets the big "who cares." Maybe "oversensitive" people like me who don't appreciate the rich, nuanced history of the south just don't get it. 

Sure, maybe.

But what's at stake in taking it down? Maybe the public (albeit merely symbolic) disavowal of state-sanctioned bigotry. 

That's a pretty compelling set of stakes in 2015 America, don't you think?


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