Flying Underground

The confederate flag is slated to come down over the capitol of South Carolina–long overdue and worth the celebration.  Public opinion was enflamed to this political movement by the terrorist attack at Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal church in Charleston, resulting in the death of 9 people.  While the flag is coming down, the racist ideology that it represents won’t go in a museum, just underground.

In our 24/7 media saturated world,  an event like the Charleston massacre takes over the airwaves, igniting public debate and sometimes–like with the flag–can result in a groundswell of movement that results in real change.  Sometimes, like in the weeks after the Newtown massacre, the public pressure to create political change isn’t enough to overcome obstructionist policies and plays.

When we are done celebrating this latest victory,  remember that the flag is gone from the capitol, but Dylann Roof has yet to be convicted of the terror attack, and the racist hate groups that radicalized him operate unabated.  Just 2 days ago the prosecutor in Roof’s case reminded us he is innocent until proven guilty.  I get that this is how the justice system goes, but it is a real reminder that in the furor over the flag little has been done to increase the accountability for domestic terrorists.  This is not over.

Symbols play an important role in society, especially because we are  an image based culture.  Simply put–optics matter.  At their heart, though, symbols are the visual representation of some object or idea.  Here is a graphic called a semantic triangle that illustrates this:

In South Carolina, we can pull down the flag, but that has not actually destroyed the ideology of white supremacy that the flag represents.  In the weeks since the debate over the flag  began, there was a sharp spike in sales of confederate flags, and despite Nascar’s best effort to eradicate the flag at it’s latest race, their flag exchange program was a bust.

Dozens of articles and hours of information have painted a clear historical line from the white supremacist ideology in the civil war, through segregation, past burning crosses and leading into the still-active and quite deadly white supremacist groups that operate in America today.  The flags innocent appearance  in Lynard Skynard t-shirts and Dukes of Hazards episodes are not separate from the more nefarious incarnation of the flag–same flag, same southern pride.   The politicians that resurrected the flag during segregation explicitly intentionally tied the symbol to southern pride in it’s tradition of segregation and slavery so that a million –sometime  unwitting–voices would keep their message alive.

The wave of public pressure on this issue has come to wipe the flag off the pole.The flag is down, the referent is gone, but the ideology persists and there is not groundswell to address the real perpetrators.  The internet hate machine, the very real domestic terrorist groups who have killed more Americans than ISIS, The kings of hate who cozy up to republicans. The flag is gone, but hate survives.

So celebrate this small victory in the summer sun, but don’t forget that there still lurks terror beneath.  We’ve going to need more sustained public engagement.  We’re going to have to admit that the most deadly terror attacks to Americans are perpetrated not by ISIS, but by US militia groups. We’re going to need a bigger boat.

 

 

 

Flags of the Fathers, Sins of the Sons

Saturday morning, activist Bree Newsome climbed a flagpole outside the South Carolina capitol building and took down the confederate flag capping a week of hot debate and fast movement towards removing the symbol of southern aggression from official state buildings.  Sadly, the flag is flying over the capital yet again, reminding us that symbols are only as powerful–or weak–as the acceptance of the ideologies they represent.  Removing the flags that celebrate America’s racist past will not eradicate the racist ideology that radicalized Dylan roof any more than removing a label from a can will vaporize what is inside.

Even as the President eulogizes the most recent victims of racism, the war rages on– arson, death and defense of the killer continue unchecked–and unexamined in the mainstream media.  Instead, the flag has taken center stage in the discussion of the Charleston Massacre.  A quick google trends search shows that the focus is squarely on the flag,  not the victims, nor the ideology that sparked the killing.

Trends Chart

You’ll recall the flag furor kicked up when killer Dylan Roof displayed one on his website.  But while mainstream news has focused on the flag, the actual hate groups that pushed their racist filth on the internet, and whom Roof points to in his own radicalization continue to operate.  The presidential candidates who have taken money from Council of Conservative Citizens and other racist hate groups get an easy pass for their support of the flag’s removal without addressing their own past ties to hate activists.  There was no critical questioning of candidates ties to these group son the Sunday talk circuit, but plenty of flag not-waving.

Assuring us that there’s more than one hateful racist willing to perpetrate violence, six predominately black churches have burned in a string of arson stretching from Macon to Tallahassee.    Ongoing investigations will identify perpetrators where they can, but the echo of the 1960’s replete with racially motivated murders and overt attacks on the black community via the black church sound in ears still ringing with this week’s gun shots.  Mainstream media has all but ignored this string of violence in favor of the simply packaged story of the flag which looks to be moving toward a happy ending–audiences love a happy ending!

Two children lost their lives in the course of a police chase in Detroit–a chase that had been called off by commanders concerned about the danger to the public just moments before the deaths. Gunshots, rough rides and speeding vehicles all resulting in dead black bodies still happen daily, leaving the black community decimated emotionally, socially and politically.  The flags that flies over Ferguson, baltimore and Detroit  are all American, and the struggle for justice continues in all those cities.

Lets also not forget that Dylan Roof is not an old racist–he is a young racist, a millennial–from that generation that is supposed to mark the end of racism.  The flag may be a worn out symbol, one long past its prime.  Bu the perpetrator is merely 21–a man born in the heyday of hip Hop, and only 13 when Obama was elected–so squarely a member of new school racism, a racism proving just as deadly as old school.  Racism won’t just die with the rise of the millennials–education is still key in stopping the spread of racism to yet another American generation.

The flag needs to come down.  Removing this symbol from state grounds is important, yes, and long overdue.  But more important than the flag is the ideology that the flag represents–that was what radicalized terrorist Dylann Roof and emboldened others to burn down churches or commit one of hundreds of thousands of hate crimes that happen each year.

Attacking the overt labels of racism is important.  But we’re going to have to open our can of worms racism and deal with it if we are ever to reach a place free from racism and its violent devotees.   Celebrate the small victories in this week filled with funerals, but stay conscious, stay activated and never settle for taking down the flags of the fathers without addressing the sins of their sons.

No Cape Needed

These days we can use a black superhero.  Just in the knick of time–superheroes’ favorite time to arrive–climbing into the clouds to rescue us from the symbols of racist oppression comes Super-Bree!

Bree Newsome, filmmaker and activist did what people have been talking about doing all week.  She climbed the pole behind the South Carolina State house and took the Confederate flag down.  In a statement Newsome and other concerned citizens said:

Deciding to do what the SC Legislature has thus far neglected to do, the group took down the symbol of white supremacy that inspired the massacre, continued to fly at full mast in defiance of South Carolina’s grief, and flew in defiance of everyone working to actualize a more equitable Carolinian future.

Now that’s how you work a pole!