How Is This Even a Debate?

June 29, 2015

After the horrific shooting at the historically important Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, a push to take down the Confederate flag that flies outside the capitol building began. That debate has spilled into other places such as the design of the Mississippi state flag and license plates.

One of the most common reactions to this push to take down the flag in Charleston and elsewhere is that it’s a distraction from real issues. It does not address the true motivations behind the shooter. It does nothing to address gun violence. It does nothing to help actual problems faced by African-Americans. The flag pulled no triggers.

I can’t necessarily refute any of those, not directly. But I do believe this: If talking about the flag is a distraction from talking about real issues, then that is AN AMAZINGLY GOOD REASON to remove it.

This Should Be Easy People

You know when you’re at work, feeling behind and really wanting to get some stuff done, and someone comes by your desk just to chat? That person is being an irritating distraction. You want the distraction to go away so you can focus on things that matter, that make a difference. If that’s all the flag is — a distraction — then we should eliminate that distraction the same way we eliminate chatty coworkers.*

If removing the flag from government buildings and property means we remove a barrier to talking about real problems, ones that more directly affect people’s lives, then it’s a no brainer. But that’s not all the flag is. If you think it’s just an acknowledgment of cultural legacy for southern states, that the Civil War was just an issue of a state’s right to self-determination or some such, you’re kidding yourself. It was explicitly about slavery, couched in those other things. From the declarations of causes for secession of two states.

“Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery– the greatest material interest of the world.”

— Mississippi

“She (the state of Texas) was received as a commonwealth holding, maintaining and protecting the institution known as negro slavery– the servitude of the African to the white race within her limits– a relation that had existed from the first settlement of her wilderness by the white race, and which her people intended should exist in all future time.”

— Texas

How about from Confederate leadership?

“Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition.”

— Alexander H. Stevens, Vice President of the Confederate States of America

Or how about the super awesome guy who contributed the Confederacy’s second national flag design?

As a people, we are fighting to maintain the Heaven-ordained supremacy of the white man over the inferior or colored race; a white flag would thus be emblematical of our cause.

— William Tappan Thompson*

Eliminating government sanctioned uses of the flag is not just about removing distractions, and it’s certainly not about freedom of speech. It’s not about eliminating or obfuscating references to history, either. I think Confederate battle flags belong in museums, at least in some cases. Preserving and learning from history is important. I also think it’s fine if private businesses want to sell them even if I feel gross every time I see one. That right is protected, just like the right to desecrate an American flag is. This isn’t about eliminating things that make us uncomfortable.

But what we presently recognize as the Confederate flag actually began as the battle flag of the Army of Northern VirginiaThat means it was flown by an organization that declared war on the United States of America and fought against it, doing so explicitly in defense of the right to own other human beings. How can it possibly be acceptable for state governments to fly or otherwise depict on anything government related a flag that fundamentally represented an act of treason against its sovereign state? We’re doing the right thing now, even if it’s decades late and maybe not for the right reasons, but how is this even a debate?

*With tasers, right? No? Oh, ok. Maybe just ask them politely to leave you be. That could work, I suppose.

**It gives me no pleasure to acknowledge that this turd came from Ohio, but I appreciate him having the good grace to GTFO


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