Flag was never about heritage

The Confederate battle flag, a blue cross with white stars on a field of red, is not a common sight in Washington state. It flies above private property or adorns T-shirts and bumperstickers. It likely will continue to do so. Those individuals who choose to fly the Confederate flag have the right to do so, though they must now understand the risk that comes with how the flag is viewed by others.

The white supremacist terrorist who gunned down nine people last week at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, intended his actions to light the fuse on a race war. Instead, the nation is mourning a senseless act. But the massacre also has thrown a stark light on the Confederate flag that the suspect listlessly holds in numerous photos online. Finally, the flag’s acceptance in public is being reconsidered.

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley deserves credit for urging the removal of the Confederate flag from the grounds of the state capitol there, but it’s frustrating that Haley is abiding by the notion that the flag can only be removed provided two-thirds of the legislature approves, as if this was a question worthy of some constitutional caution.

It’s even more frustrating that the flag flew on the grounds even as the body of the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, one of the nine victims, laid in state inside the capitol building, the same building where he had served as a state senator. Ever since last week’s massacre, the Confederate flag has flown, full staff, as the U.S. and South Carolina flags fly at half-staff. As mourners filed into the capitol to pay their respects, how many had to purposely avoid looking at a taunting symbol that has long inspired the terrorists who have bombed and burned black churches, lynched innocent people and beat those who fought for civil rights?

Yet, the flag flies, at least until next month, awaiting the say-so of lawmakers.

Others have been quicker to put distance between themselves and the Confederate flag, having finally been shaken awake to the hate that it represents. Alabama Gov. Robert Bently ordered the flag be taken down at a Confederate memorial on the state capitol grounds in Montgomery. Both of Mississippi’s U.S. senators and the state speaker of the House have called for its state flag to be redesigned to remove the likeness of the Confederate flag.

Wal-Mart, Amazon and other national retailers, if they haven’t seen the lie in the stated justification that the flag innocently represents Southern heritage, at least understand that continuing to carry merchandise bearing the emblem could be bad for business.

There is much that can, should be celebrated about Southern heritage and history, not the least of which is its music, literature, theater, food, sports and more. And those who fought for Confederate armies deserve to be mourned, deserve respect and recognition. But the Confederate flag, co-opted by racists and secessionists, stopped being an appropriate banner to represent those memories when the Civil War ended.

There is one danger in removing the Confederate flag from state capitols and other public places that provide what amounts to government and public approval: Doing so risks allowing it to be held as proof that enough has been done to end racism in the United States. Just as some believed we had entered a post-racial era because we had elected a black president, there will be those who will feel that with the toppling of the Confederate flag enough progress has been made.

It’s also much easier to retire a flag than it is to consider effective and reasonable methods of keeping guns out of the hands of those who should not have access to them.

The Confederate flag can now be relegated to museums, put on display next to the Klansman’s hood. It should remain a symbol and reminder, not of Southern heritage, but of the racial hatred we must continue to confront and correct as a nation.

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