By Hirak Mukhopadhyay
Given the recent tragedy in South Carolina, I hate to take away from the actual tragedy and talk politics. No one or their families, no matter who they are, what they believe, and what ethnicity they belong to should suffer such violence and senseless killing. But it brings to light the issue of Confederate nostalgia, the same Confederacy who fought the United States in the Civil War because slavery was so important to them that they wanted their own country to preserve it. Despite the Confederate flag being a sign of racist hatred, it still shines along the Capitol building of South Carolina, the state where this terrible act of terrorism just took place in the AME Church in Charleston. It is a great contradiction that as a state mourns for its loss, it hangs a flag representative of a group of people who had killed and tortured and raped the same culture of people it is now mourning for now. Therefore, if one good thing can come out of the AME terrorist attacks, it should be ending the display of the Confederate flag by all levels of government, whether it be local, state, and federal.
Let’s get the hard part out of the way first. In a spell of twisted and brutal irony, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the case of Walker vs. Sons of Confederate Veterans (2015) that the State of Texas is constitutionally allowed to reject the Sons of Confederate Veterans’ request to process and use Texas license plates with the Confederate flag on them, just hours after the shooting at the AME Church took place, and hours before the arrest of the suspect1, 2, 3. It is tragically ironic because we now know the suspected shooter of the victims in the AME Church was a racist, and that was further verified when he was seen in a picture holding the Confederate flag, a flag that has racial undertones4 (I’ll get to that in a second). The last and most excruciating circumstance of irony is that the South Carolina Capitol building has the same exact Confederate Flag flying on a pole, the same flag that belonged to the shooter, and the same flag the Veterans of Confederate Sons wanted on their car plates. The ruling arrives on divine timing. As the country scoffs at the suspect’s possession of the Confederate flag, complemented by the contradiction of the racist Confederate Flag at the South Carolina Capitol with the state’s residents in mourning of a racist attack, the Walker verdict actually indirectly removes constitutional protections for the flag and if a Confederate lover tries to sue in court for removing the flag due to free speech, it will lose thanks to Walker. The Walker decision, penned by Justice Breyer and joined by Justices Ginsburg, Kagan, Sotomayor, and Thomas argues that government speech does not fall under free speech, and free speech is reserved for private individuals or entities. And since license plates are issued by the government, it falls under government (public) speech, so Texas as a state government does not have to respect free speech and does not have to print Confederate flags onto their license plates. This is also done to squeeze out of a sticky situation for Texas, putting a flag that promotes racism, slavery, and white supremacy on a license plate. The Government Speech Doctrine here, is sufficient, and decides that there is no free speech reasoning for having the Confederate flag on state government property5. So if State Representative Doug Brannon (who has already announced he will introduce legislation to remove the flag)6 or Governor Nikki Haley decide to remove the flag on government premises, it is constitutional and not a violation of the 1st Amendment. Free speech cannot hoist the Confederate Flag on a pole on land belonging to the Capitol (pun intended).
Even its face however, it also does not make much sense as to why the Confederate Flag should be hung in government grounds or buildings. The flag clearly represents a group of people who supported slavery, and the Confederacy placed tremendous burden on our 16th President, Abraham Lincoln. Here was a President who literally saw America break into two pieces, and he had to glue it back together through a civil war, the bloodiest war in American history with more deaths than all other American wars’ casualties combined7, and here you are supporting the very institution that dared to break America by waving that flag. It is almost like an attempt to discredit or devalue Lincoln’s great contributions to this nation, and is really a slap in the face to Honest Abe, who not only signed the Emancipation Proclamation, but guided the Union to victory, defeated the Confederacy forever, and is clearly one of America’s greatest presidents, if not the greatest by some standards. But besides Lincoln, it is also a slap in the face to the soldiers who were fighting for the Union in order to keep America whole and to free slaves, with many dying in the process. And lastly it is a slap in the face to the slaves who were tortured, raped, overworked, starved, and sometimes even killed in the hands of slavery. Slavery is a tale of the black struggle and constant fight against the white man, and to wave the Confederate flag shows no regard for the hardship endured upon Black men, women, and children. And if the Confederate flag supports those things, it is also a slap in the face to reconstruction and free yet segregated, civil rights in the late 1800’s to early 1900’s, during both World Wars, the main crux of the Civil Rights movement from the 1940’s through the mid 1970’s, and modern day Black civil rights starting from the early 80’s with the discovery of HIV/AIDS through the present times. Since the Confederate flag believes in undermining the black man or woman, the flag is a vicious opposition to the entire package of black equality itself, starting from slavery all the way through the struggles of the African American community today. That “package” includes Dred Scott, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Plessy v. Ferguson, lynching, Emmitt Till, Jesse Owens, Ralph Abernathy, Dr. King, Elijah Muhammed, Malcolm X, Muhammed Ali, Jackie Robinson, Little Rock Integration, Civil Rights Act, Voting Rights Act, Thurgood Marshall, Barbara Jordan, Edward Brooke, Warren Moon, Jesse Jackson, the War on Drugs, Oprah Winfrey, The Jeffersons, Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Magic Johnson, Cornel West, Barack Obama, and of course the recent deaths of Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and now the 9 members of the AME Church. So given all of those facts of our history, evolving politics, and the civil rights struggles that still remain, then how on Earth can any level of American government continue to fly this flag when it stomps on so much? Lincoln did not lose his life to see the day where the Confederacy is still revered by a free America.
Not to mention the fact that the American Governments should feel the political incorrectness of slavery mementos such as the Confederate flag due to recent successful films such as Lincoln, Twelve Years a Slave, and Django Unchained. The big screen should have illustrated just how terrible slavery and the Civil War were, yet even after the release of those films, South Carolina continued to fly the Confederate flag.
I want to point out that although I am now a U.S. Citizen and only that, I was born in India, a republic. For most of its modern history however, it was a colony of the United Kingdom, then an independent country with the British Monarchy ruling over, and then finally it gained full independence. British rule in India was harsh and abusive but nowhere near as severe as the slavery-utilizing American South, yet if you go to India’s government buildings today, you would not find the British flag, the British India flag, or the Royal India Flag on any of their flag poles. Those days are over, and India has moved on so why does America not do that same? Likewise, you will not find the Apartheid flag in government facilities of South Africa, the British flag at government buildings of Egypt, the British Flag in Washington D.C., the French Flag in government facilities of Algeria, or the Nazi Swastika in public buildings of Germany. Flying old flags during times of hardship is a slap in the face to Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Abdel Nasser, George Washington, Ferhat Abbas, and victims of the Holocaust. Countries around the world do not respect antiquated and irrelevant flags, and America should not deviate from this practice. In terms of government usage, the Confederate flag in public sphere should be a thing of the past.
Now there are free speech rights to privately own and collect flags that are no longer in use. This is understandable if someone wanted to honor their heritage from colonial times, and I myself have posted pictures on Facebook nostalgic of the British era in India, as Britain has positively influenced India both politically and culturally. But I do not see the point in having Confederate flag novelty items when the Confederacy has no positive influence on modern day America, but is a symbol of extreme racism and segregation and the need for war in order to keep slaves and continue to beat, whip, rape, and work those very slaves to distress and sometimes death. So why do it? I do not see the basis as for why people buy Confederate flags, bumper stickers, phone cases, clothing, or bikinis. The flag is racist. And if someone is caught with Confederate-plastered items, you are probably a racist yourself, whether you admit or not. And perhaps you are not, and you are just very loyal to your state and the people who died defending it during the Civil War with absolute loyalty. But you certainly look like a racist if you are caught with Confederate themed items or the flag itself, and many have used the Charleston suspect’s possession of the Confederate flag as evidence to his racist mentality.
If you want further proof beyond my own rhetoric that old, abolished flags can prove racism, then consider the comments made by CNN and various other news and media sources at the sight of the shooter’s Apartheid South Africa and white supremacist Rhodesia-infused jacket. When trying to tell the audience about who the shooter is and how this attack is racially-motivated, you saw CNN anchor Don Lemon say these are racist flags, and if a person wears these flags they are endorsing this racism which makes them a racist and white supremacist8. If an American can see flags from a land far very far away and be able to draw conclusions they are racist, then the racist flag principle is real and powerful.
While we are on the subject of the “Racist Flag Principle”, let’s flip the script. Let’s say a South African or Zimbabwean terrorist opened fire at an African church in South Africa or Zimbabwe and made the same “you are raping our women” kind of statement. Then if the police were to go through this terrorist’s Facebook profile and see him wearing a jacket with not the Rhodesian or Apartheid flags pinned on, but the American Confederate flag instead, then what? Would the media say, “This person is a racist, look at his jacket”? I believe the African media would make the same assumptions similar to CNN’s and would reckon that this terrorist is a racially motivated white supremacist based off his endorsement of the Confederate flag. This racist flag behavior goes both ways. Why? Just like the Rhodesian and Apartheid flags, the American Confederate flag represents the oppression of blacks and goes even further than the antiquated African flags by wanting those blacks enslaved. Which is exactly why the AME shooter had the two African flags and the Confederate flag. The flags go hand in hand, or in the palms of both hands (pun intended).
On a side note and on a more hypothetical context, it was already preposterous and insignificant to have the Confederate flag privately or publically even before this terrible tragedy, given that there is no slavery and minorities are all enjoying the same freedom as whites (at least by law). After these events, the flag’s presence is even more ludicrous. But let’s pretend that instead of having the shooter pledge allegiance to the Confederate flag, he pledged allegiance to the ISIS flag like Amedy Coulibaly, the killed terrorist in France. Contemplate about the outrage for just a moment. If ISIS flags, bumper stickers, bikinis, and tank tops were for sale in South Carolina, they would immediately be burned, stores would be robbed, burned to the ground, and victims would sue the manufacturers of ISIS material, claiming them as racist accomplices to terrorism and blame them for this attack. Now I’m not encouraging all of this at Confederate retailers per se, but given that the Confederacy and ISIS are unrecognized and genocidal, I see no difference between the Confederacy and ISIS. If ISIS material makers would be held responsible in that type of a situation, then why not Confederate material producers? Therefore, the Confederate flag should be considered a terrorist flag just like how an ISIS flag would be construed as such.
There are a lot of people (like the Sons of Confederate Veterans) who want to celebrate ancestors who were confederate soldiers. But I see it as an excuse to pay tribute to someone who may not have been a bigot and may have been forced to fight by circumstance or state loyalty, but more often than not was a bigot and supported the movement to break the United States and continue slavery and rejecting Abraham Lincoln’s ideals of freedom. Today, having someone trying to secede from America while trying to start their own country would be seen as not only racist, but also extremist, anarchist, and Anti-American, the same thing southerners accuse liberals of doing. Yet Southerners who pay tribute to the Confederacy do not realize they are glorifying these things themselves. I understand some of these Confederate troops are part of your lineage and family, but Confederate troops have few honorable actions in their name. Many of the ideals of the Confederacy are the same ideals possessed by John Wilkes Booth, who of course used those ideals as motive to assassinate President Lincoln.
Now if someone wants to honor the heritage of the South, then fly the state flag, or how about the American flag? The American flag represents the winner of the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, and two World Wars, and a nation that is a political and economic superpower (though in decline in recent years, it is part of the club.) It is for this reason that America has played the role of deal-maker, chess player, and advisor in essentially all matters of international relations and politics. The Confederate flag displays a message of brooding racism and a refusal to allow blacks any more freedom then they already have, while the American flag represents a one size fits all cloak of idealism regarding freedom and human rights. They two flags are opposites of one another and if one would have to choose between the two, common sense gives the American flag the victory every single time.
Whether we live in the north, the south, the east, west, or the heartland, we are all Americans. We all are governed by the same laws. And those same laws prohibit racism and discrimination. Therefore, in order to be following the ideals of our country, we need to move on from the attitude of racism. This flag needs to be abolished even in public and private sphere to have a society where people of all colors, genders, orientations, and ethnicities are treated equal.
If we do not, we may not go into another civil war. But we begin a “white vs. everything else” culture, and live in an un-unified, hate-filled, me vs you kind of nation, one that is ignorant to the concept of diversity, but an aficionado of self-segregation and prejudice, with economic opportunity reserved to the truly few and those who usually have lighter skin tone. This has already started with the vast income inequality, violent and peaceful protests in Ferguson and Baltimore and its imbecile opponents*, #BlackLivesMatter and its opponents, the racism towards President Obama, how the average white person’s friend circle is 0.01% black9, the overall black discrimination by civilians and police, and the disgust that many whites have for blacks and black culture itself because it is not like them, and African Americans turning around doing the same thing to whites. This is not war, but it certainly is not peace.
Racism cannot be abolished completely, but I still believe in America and it is still the shining light of hope for the rest of the world. Even through the racism and hatred, there is a soft but widespread layer of love, respect, and virtues of respecting your neighbor and one another. Which is why I know America will overcome this battle. Look at who this country elected, twice. The racists and the hatred did not win. Our president has proven that anything is possible for the black community, and although he has brought out the racists, he also reminded the public that the black community is alive. Black lives do matter. If they did not matter, a black, slave-descendant Supreme Court Justice would not abandon his ideology in order to avoid seeing Confederate flags on the license plates of vehicles5. We would have a different leader of the Free World.
But it begins with the respecting of the identities of one another, and making an effort to do so. Let the past stay in the past. Let us start by removing the Confederate flag. But that will not be enough. Move on to legislation, push anti-discrimination bills through congress, and pass a new Civil Rights Act. Human beings are all just that- human beings. That message has to be sent. But it is not going to be easy. We have to find ways to prevent racists and white supremacists from getting guns without infringing the rights of mentally stable, law-abiding, and harmless gun owners. And for all the times when a gun will just not be enough protection, we need the police, but not racists in uniform. To reduce racism among the police, the widespread message needs to be sent that racism and discrimination not only has no justification, but is simply not American. You are an enemy of this country if you are a discriminatory racist. Plain and simple. And legislation making that assessment is needed immediately.
The Confederate Flag has no place in society in government or private Use. In fact keeping it around is making things worse, as it is a reminder of a norm we have long abandoned, and is disparaging to all those involved in the Union during the Civil War, Reconstruction, The Civil Rights Movement, and those who may be advocating for civil rights in the present. The flag encourages racial divide and violence. We have the United States flag as our universal flag for a reason. Let’s come together and stand under one flag. Sometimes I wonder how we can still value and devalue skin color, even in today’s times. Perhaps it will continue without it, but for peace of mind, an act that will clear our conscience is to take down Confederate flag at the capitol grounds of Columbia, South Carolina, and any other government property.
Update 6/22/15, 9:06 PM: South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley has announced an effort to take down the Confederate flag on the Capitol grounds of South Carolina10. In addition, Walmart has announced it will no longer sell Confederate flag merchandise11.
The reason why opponents of Ferguson and Baltimore police brutality protests (peaceful ones, obviously) are imbeciles is because the Ferguson protests are for legitimate concerns of excessive police force, and police responses to protestors are of a nature that you would see for domestic terrorism such as the Tsarnaev brothers, but they were enacted on generally peaceful protests. Because of its absurdity, it is clear there is racist intentions not only toward the excessive police response to protests, but for the unreasonable killing of Michael Brown in Missouri. But to oppose peaceful protests and marches, which in its core is for the advancement of civil rights, is like criticizing Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. If you call these protesters anarchists and extremists, then so are the individuals I just mentioned.
Also, I must add the fact that after the tragic murder of two New York City police officers being blamed on Ferguson protesters is also an act of an imbecile. The majority of the Ferguson protesters never advocated for killing cops and were most likely supportive of law enforcement but critical of their bigotry. Criticism of the police by Ferguson protesters never meant giving a green light to kill police officers. The person who did kill those officers already had his run-ins with the law, and clearly he took his response to police brutality way too far. I classify him as a “bad apple” among the bunch. The killings of those innocent officers being pinned on Ferguson protestors for encouraging killing cops is irrational. It would be like Fox News criticizing a Democratic congressmen for his policies and then a Fox News viewer goes and kills that politician, and MSNBC pins the killing on Fox News for encouraging the Fox News viewer to commit a murder. Fox News never wanted that congressman dead, and are supportive of the U.S. Congress, but critical of one of its member’s policies. If this was to happen, I believe Fox News would vehemently clear themselves from any responsibility and claim MSNBC is overreacting. So if that is an overreaction, then what do you call Sean Hannity blaming the murder of police officers on Ferguson protesters? Doing so is biased, dishonest, and an act of an imbecile, and I unapologetically stand by calling the Ferguson criticism something a buffoon would do.
1Coates, Ta-Nehisi. “Take Down the Confederate Flag—Now.” The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, 18 June 2015. Web. 23 June 2015. <http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/06/take-down-the-confederate-flag-now/396290/>.
2WALKER, CHAIRMAN, TEXAS DEPARTMENT OF MOTOR VEHICLES BOARD, ET AL. v. TEXAS DIVISION, SONS OF CONFEDERATE VETERANS, INC., ET AL. U.S. Supreme Court. 18 June 2015. SupremeCourt.org. United States Supreme Court, 18 June 2015. Web. 23 June 2015. <http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/14pdf/14-144_758b.pdf>.
3McLeod, Harriet. “White Suspect Arrested in Killing of Nine at Black U.S. Church.” Reuters. Thomson Reuters, 18 June 2015. Web. 23 June 2015. <http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/06/18/us-usa-shooting-south-carolina-idUSKBN0OY06A20150618>.
4“Charleston Shootings: Dylann Roof Photos Found Online – BBC News.” BBC News. BBC, 21 June 2015. Web. 23 June 2015. <http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-33211192>.
5Feldman, Noah. “Thomas’s Vote Speaks Volumes in License Plate Case.” BloombergView.com. Bloomberg L.P., 18 June 2015. Web. 23 June 2015. <http://www.bloombergview.com/articles/2015-06-18/thomas-s-vote-speaks-volumes-in-license-plate-case?utm_campaign=trueAnthem%3A%2BTrending%2BContent&utm_content=5583888304d3017cca000001&utm_medium=trueAnthem&utm_source=twitter>.
6Avlon, John, and Olivia Nuzzi. “Dylann Roof’s Segregation Inspiration and the Politicians Who Pander to Them.” The Daily Beast. Newsweek/Daily Beast, 21 June 2015. Web. 23 June 2015. <http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/06/21/s-c-killer-dylan-roof-s-segregation-inspiration-the-council-for-conservative-citizens-and-the-politicians-who-pander-to-them.html>.
7McPherson, James M. Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era. xix. 1988. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press.
8McGreal, Chris. “Charleston Shootings: The Apartheid Era Flags That Have Found New Life with America’s Racists.” Theguardian. N.p., 19 June 2015. Web. 23 June 2015. <http%3A%2F%2Fwww.theguardian.com%2Fworld%2F2015%2Fjun%2F19%2Fcharleston-shootings-the-apartheid-era-flags-that-have-found-new-life-with-americas-racists>.
9Ingraham, Christopher. “Three Quarters of Whites Don’t Have Any Non-white Friends.” Washington Post. The Washington Post, 25 Aug. 2015. Web. 23 June 2015. <http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2014/08/25/three-quarters-of-whites-dont-have-any-non-white-friends/>.
10Robles, Frances, Richard Fausset, and Michael Barbaro. “Haley of South Carolina Calls for Removal of Confederate Battle Flag.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 22 June 2015. Web. 23 June 2015. <http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/23/us/south-carolina-confederate-flag-dylann-roof.html?_r=0>.