The events in Charleston should shake us to the core. The killing of nine people at a church Bible study in a church building is incomprehensible. Why would someone go into a house of worship and murder the very people that invited him in only an hour before?
Why didn’t the people who knew the shooter contact the authorities? What does it mean that we have a black President and greater acceptance of mixed race couple and yet someone can come into a predominantly Black church and start lighting up the place?
These are questions that I think we are all grappling with. There are no easy answers to this tragedy.
But we all search for something to we can do that can at least speak to the event. Which is why, I guess we are are having another discussion about the Confederate Flag.
As an African American, the flag does make me feel uncomfortable. In this specific case, it would make sense for the state of South Carolina to remove the flag from the state capitol grounds.
But there is something that is also uncomfortable with so many people posturing on this issue. It seems unfair to the victims of this tragedy and the people of South Carolina.
Let me explain. South Carolina has an interesting racial history. Charleston was known for its slave markets. The first shots of the Civil War took place here and the state was the first to secede from the Union. So the Plametto State doesn’t have a great history when it comes to race relations- at least in the official history.
The funny thing about this state is that at least in recent history when it comes to race South Carolina has been doing things right, to the chagrin of Northern states. Back in April of this year, a cop in North Charleston killed a black man, Walter Scott, who was running away from him. We have seen a number of these run-ins before and its the same story: a white cop kills a black man and the highups do: nothing. In New York, the cops who killed Eric Garner were not charged. Same thing in Cleveland after the shooting of Tamir Rice. Again and again an unarmed black man was shot and police and judges didn’t do anything.
North Charleston was different. The policeman, Michael Slager was fired from the force. The South Carolina State Law Enforcement Division , along with the FBI and the US Attorney General all started investigations. Earlier this month, a grand jury indicted Slager of murder.
So here we have a police shooting taking place in the cradle of the Confederacy and they did what many of us have been asking for all this time. And states in the North like Ohio, New York and Wisconsin have dithered on this issue. The state that is known for a history or racism is the one that got this issue right.
As Malcolm X was known to say, the Mason-Dixon line stops at the Canadian border.
I bring all of this up for this reason. The Confederate Flag is a troubling symbol. But what matters more: a flag being flown at a state captiol (and let’s not forget that Mississippi still has the flag as part of its state flag) or that a state decides to do the right thing in a matter of race?
What matters in racial justice is not simply the symbols of racism; it means repentance, to start doing right. Removing the flag might make us all feel good, but it won’t stop white cops from shooting black men just because. It won’t help us deal with the racial disparities. Punishing a state for having a stupid flag and ignoring what matters when it comes to race is a feel good measure, that’s all.
And if we are going to talk about South Carolina having to atone for the Confederate Flag, then a whole bunch of us should be repenting for watching a well-known TV show of the late 70s and early 80s which featured a Dodge Charger with a big Confederate flag on its roof. And I’m not joking about that. If it’s shameful for a state to fly this flag, it was shameful for it to be the subject of a TV show and a movie.
The state has come together, black and white, in mourning and defiance. At some point it would be good for the flag to come down and end up in a museum. But it shouldn’t take a tragedy to bring that up. But what matters more to me right now is how we can all work to continue to make United States is a place where all are created equal and deserving of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That’s a lot harder work than removing a flag, but the results will be far more fruitful.