|Sunset on a hurtful Southern symbol|
It hardly seems real. The Confederate flag; an iconic symbol of the Old South has flown over the statehouse grounds of South Carolina for generations. It has finally come down. What does it mean for that state and for our country?
Just a few days ago, the South Carolina House approved a bill to remove the Confederate flag from its perch on its own grounds. After more than 13 hours of debate, the House approved the Senate bill by more than a two-thirds margin. The bill then went to the desk of Republican Governor Nikki Haley, who readily signed the measure.
Like all flags, the Confederate one is a symbol. Arguments over what it represents continues to rage. For some it signifies a Southern way of life that was romantic and gentile. For others, it embodies the proud lineage of relatives from generations past. For still others, the Confederate flag is a scourge – a despicable reminder of a part of the country that sought to preserve chattel slavery and spread the institution to the Western territories.
Now that the flag is down, what’s changed? Not much apparently. The sublime nostalgia for Southern days gone by is still here. The patriotic memories of dearly departed ancestors who were Confederate soldiers remain strong. Racism and oppression still exist. Yet at least in one place, a very important place, a symbol representing that place and time has been removed. Good riddance.
|Friendlier Southern symbol|
Symbols. They can characterize ideas. Ideals. There’s power in them, often a living force. And there’s a lot going on regarding the Confederate flag, in terms of its symbolism; the flag itself and from where it was recently removed.
South Carolina was the first state to secede from the United States of America in 1861. That move, followed by 10 other states and an attack on Ft. Sumter, plunged the country into a bitter Civil War. It was a conflict that killed from 625,000 to 850,000 human beings. From the North and South.
Symbolism. For me, removal of the Confederate flag at the South Carolina capitol was nearly as profound a symbol as Barack Obama being elected President. That’s because I always have considered that southern state to be ground zero for racism in our country. And now it’s gone.
At the same time make no mistake: my home state of Michigan and all our other states – particularly the ones up north that historically have escaped more intense scrutiny – they are equally culpable when it comes to the harmful and enduring legacy of individual and institutional racism.
Back to Obama. His first election symbolized a growing tolerance, if not acceptance among some white people for black people. At least at the individual level. Politics aside, and that’s a big aside for many, the President brought with him a skill set, resume and other assets that would be the envy of anyone running for office. Harvard law degree, president of Harvard Law review, U.S. Senator, great communicator, social justice bend, wife Michelle Obama.
Obama’s professional and personal pedigree made him palatable in a way no previous black presidential candidate was. In short, a significant symbol. When he first ran for president I didn’t buy it. Back then, I, along with others, considered his election bid a pipe dream. I was wrong.
It’s the same regarding the likelihood of the Confederate flag ever being removed from the shadow of the South Carolina capitol. Wrong again. In the end most would agree it’s just one flag coming down in one place. However, it’s more than that. Its removal from this particular location at this particular time in history is a symbol of something greater: change. And healing.
Follow J.R. on Twitter @4humansbeing or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.