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Saturday, October 22, 2016

“You can always count on Americans to do the right thing — after they’ve tried everything else.”

That’s an observation widely credited to Winston Churchill, though it’s one he may or may not have ever made. Whoever said it, the truth of the axiom has seldom been more obvious than now, as we watch the fall of the Confederate battle flag. It is too early to say whether this will prove lasting. But the signs certainly point toward a seismic shift.

In South Carolina, where the Confederacy was born, a motion to allow debate on removing the flag from the grounds of the state Capitol passed by a vote of 103-10. Alabama has already removed its flag. Meantime, a number of major retailers, including Amazon, eBay, and Arkansas-based Walmart, have announced they will no longer carry the flag. Perhaps most amazing, Valley Forge Flag, a 133-year-old flag maker in Pennsylvania, has said it will no longer manufacture it.

We appear to be on the verge of a long-overdue national consensus that this American swastika is unfit for human consumption. And to think: All it took was the blood of nine innocent people.

Ever since 21-year-old white supremacist Dylann Roof shot up Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, the ground has been shifting beneath that flag, so beloved of the white, conservative South — especially after images emerged of Roof posing with one. “God help South Carolina if we fail to achieve the goal of removing the flag,” said South Carolina senator and presidential aspirant Lindsey Graham last week. He said this just days after telling CNN the flag was “part of who we are.”

The suddenness of the change in attitude toward that flag is bracing, reminiscent, in an odd way, of when the Berlin Wall fell: Nobody saw it coming — it happened. That said, it is hard to be wholly invested in cheering what is happening here.

Consider: The Confederate battle flag was not somehow made more racist by Roof’s alleged rampage. Notwithstanding claims by Graham and others that it has somehow been misused as a racist symbol by the likes of Roof, the fact is, the thing was used as such from the moment the first thread of the first flag was sewn in support of a treasonous regime that was, to borrow Mississippi’s words, “thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery.”

The flag was certainly understood as racist — that was the whole point — by those who resurrected it to signal massive resistance to the civil rights movement. It is still understood that way; why else is it ubiquitous at white supremacist rallies?

So what happened at Emanuel did not change the flag’s meaning; it only made that meaning harder to ignore. And while its fall is significant, you have to wonder if it really marks a fundamental change in the mind of the white, conservative South. Particularly since you can’t turn around in Dixie without running into some road, bridge, statue, or park honoring some individual who took up arms against the U.S. government in the name of perpetuating slavery — or without meeting someone eager to rationalize that, hiding behind abstracts like “honor” and “duty” to avoid admitting what the Confederacy really was.

The tragedy at Emanuel has forced a moment of clarity into this fog of cognitive dissonance. In days to come, we’ll see just how much that’s worth in terms of real change. Because at some point, the people of the white, conservative South must themselves take responsibility for their own racial education, for facing — and growing from — the truth about their beloved Confederacy.

Consider that it took an act of mass murder before they were willing to reckon honestly with their flag and its meaning. Yes, one is pleased to see that finally come to pass.

But the price of enlightenment seems awfully high.

(Leonard Pitts is a columnist for The Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, FL, 33132. Readers may contact him via email at [email protected])  

Image: Cuauhtemoc-Hidalgo Villa-Zapata

  • yabbed

    It’s time for this flag and its representation of treason and white supremacy to be folded away. Maybe even the south will be relieved to be rid of it. All things confederate has set the south apart from the rest of the United States and not to the south’s best interests. We are a long way past that time and place and the south has absorbed many non natives into the region, none of whom were party to that history. The flag and all that nonsense needs to be removed from society. Let’s move on.

  • Grannysmovin

    Tony Forward posted on another site:

  • FT66

    I think there are more benefits of letting the flag disappear than retaining it.

  • SibyllasStuff

    What a lot of horse pucky. You can all party about the banning of the Confederate war flag and the REAL history of the Civil War (All wars are bankers wars) and SCOTUS and the LGBT thing but I believe all this is nothing more than a smoke screen for the globalization agenda that is overtaking our lives – all around the world. so very little is really being discussed about the TPP and TTIP which ultimately destroys what little is left of what Americans think they have. Wake up . . . When the media – including the “public” media takes up these issues as if some great victory has been achieved, and the “public” says they are happy with it. BALONEY.

    • charleo1

      The Civil Rights struggle of people of color in this Country. Institutional racism, racial terrorism, and the cause of bringing down the flag that flies at State Houses throughout the South, that represents all that, may not be of import to you. But, neither is it the intentional distraction away from TPP. you claim. After all, “The media,” the oft maligned target for the propaganda spewing Right. Did not walk into that Church in Charleston, S. Carolina, and slaughter those people. A White Supremacists did. And now, we, the decent people of this Nation, feel compelled to go further that to simply punish the killer. But to fully honor those who’s lives were taken from them, and for their families. We are also determined to punish all the haters. Those pieces of cowardly human garbage, who hide in the shadows, and run the websites, and disburse the excrement that inspired this ignorant little weasel to do what he did. So we, the good people of the Country are taking down, and banishing forever their flag of oppression from the Capitols of our democracy, to it’s proper place. along with the Nazi flag, behind panels of glass in a museum somewhere. It’s place in history properly defined for generations of our children to come to understand what it once represented by historians. And, as is right, and just. No longer glorified by it’s illegitimate place on property owned, and paid for, by all of the people.

      • SibyllasStuff

        Boy, are you ever filled with anger and hatred.
        None the less, the kind of media hype about a flag and running a close second with the issue of LGBT stuff, while there are other issues people do not want to face – like the crumbling infrastructure, the dependence on an income that moves offshore because it is cheaper for the company you worked for to do so, the taking of public lands by politicians paying off their creditors – the Chinese, or whatever multinational corporation decides to do to make money for their stockholders. We’ve been sold out. Pure and simple – and the discussion is about a frigging flag. There ARE deeper issues and they are not going to get any less by the continual manipulation of the press to divide us.
        As far as a democracy, it was originally set up as a Constitutional republic. But somewhere along the way, it got quite corrupted by large amounts of money, so that many persons in Congress and other political “jobs” including the lawyers and economists and corporate sponsored lackeys need to go on and on in order to protect their turf and the government money they are getting.

  • johninPCFL

    “that this American swastika is unfit for human consumption”: a perfect description.