It's amazing, really, that the way we will solve all our racial problems - this time - is to finally take down the confederate flag.
It's amazing on several levels - and not just the obvious "because this has nothing to dowith solving our racial problems" one, although... gee whiz. What's amazing is just how a symbol so fraught with the ugliness of our American past on race, especially across the South, finally gets called up for the symbol it actually is... as opposed to the benign "it's just a part of Civil War history" white apologists like to project.
Make no mistake, this debate about the flag and its meaning is a debate among white people: ask just about any black person and we'll all tell you just what it means, with considerable certainty. The real secret to the success of the hardcore, virulent racists - the ones who thoroughly hate black people and always have, and likely always will - is to succeed in creating a climate where milder, more benign forms of prejudice serve as cover to accomplish their goals. Thus, the flag that became the rallying cry for the KKK gets an apologist dress-up as "merely a part of southern history" and who, really, can be against history?
At every step on a long, hard fought, brutal journey to equality and justice, black people have encountered this morass. It's the reasonable ones, the slightly scared, don't move to quickly, "let's talk about this" ones who really gum up progress because they refuse to take on, and separate from, the true darkness. Let's end slavery... but keep the races separate. Let's have equality... at least on paper. Let's end segregation... but not in my neighborhood.
When Mississippi decided, defiantly and directly, to incorporate the stars and bars into their state flag that wasn't "history"... it was a statement to the rest of the country but even more clearly, to the people in their own state, of just how the state sees its people, and more precisely, its black population. Endemic poverty, lack of opportunity at every turn, the worst education system in the nation (which is saying something... to Alabama), a refusal to provide voting rights, some of the most violent responses to civil rights activism of any civil society... and yet, by all means, let's talk about "the Magnolia State" and it's tasteful charms, and that quaint history of defiance as if there's not a problem here (Haley Barbour: "I've never had a problem with the confederate flag." Of course not).
Who can't be at least a bit impressed with Nikki Haley (finally) standing up and saying the flag has got to go from the South Carolina statehouse grounds? Who can't give some really positive credit to Tim Scott for doing what any decent black man in his elected position would pretty much have to do in this moment, but work to finally end this insult? And yet... for years - and years, and decades, and centuries - the reality of South Carolina and its treatment of black people hasn't been hard to see, or understand. We do, really, know why South Carolina wouldn't take the flag off the state house itself for years. We do know why, even then, the flag had to be on the grounds, at full staff, forever, no exceptions, certainly not to honor the deaths of nine black people gunned down in a historically black church... no, actually, like THE historically significant black church of all Charleston.
Our history is awful. The reality of what many white people have worked so hard to deny for so long, so often, in so many places is just this, all of what's summed up in the sheepish, embarrassed moves this week to finally take down the flags from all the places where they quietly reward the virulent racism everyone's too polite to tackle head on. That flag should have come down years ago. Decades ago. One hundred and fifty years ago. But it's kept on, decorating bumper stickers, and beer coasters and wall hangings, a cheerful reminder of just what it says: these southern white people will never be forced to treat black people decently. Ever.
And by the way, they also lost that war.