>> Friday, June 19, 2015
In Charleston, South Carolina, where one of the most significant slave revolts in American history was quashed, where the first shots of the Civil War were fired, a racist madman with easy access to a gun went and murdered nine people because they were there, because they were black, because he could. Went and did it in the same black church that was burned down in 1822 because the just-referenced Denmark Vesey tried to free his people and failed, rebuilt by Vesey's sons.
What do you say about this that hasn't already been said? And I don't mean this week. We are a country still torn by the sins of slavery and Jim Crow, a country that lets its mentally ill roam the streets unsupervised because we're too high-and-mighty about the rights of white people to lock them up and too cheap to provide care for them, and where dead children are the proper and necessary price for a God-given right to bear arms. We've spent much of this past year watching black people die on film, and having rallies to protest that "Black lives matter," when the essential, basic truth of this nation is that human lives don't matter; that statement isn't an attempt to recast a racial issue as somehow magically non-racist as if centuries of slavery and racist discrimination are to be waved away; no, it's to observe that a bitter truth of this horrible nation's shameful history is that of all the lives that don't matter, black lives matter least.
|By Billy Hathorn (South Carolina State Capitol grounds)|
[CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)
or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)],
via Wikimedia Commons
And boy oh boy, is South Carolina the fiefdom that wants to prove this the hardest. Down there in the heart of treason and tyranny, those good ol' boys have the Confederate flag waving at the monument to the Confederacy at the South Carolina State House, nothing new there, except for the unsurprising revelation today that it takes a literal act of legislation to take the damned thing down to half-mast in mourning for the nine lives they'll pay lip service to today. Turns out, see, they're so committed to making sure nobody comes to take their damn banner away, they went and wrote into law that it can only come down to be changed out. The national flag flies at half-mast, as it should, and so does the South Carolina state flag, as it should, but the flag of the defeated failed country that opened fire on American soldiers because they thought a duly-elected American President would take away their precious right to exploit the chattel labor of their fellow men? Oh, that stays high and mighty on a permanent mount.
Naturally, Lindsey Graham, Senator from South Carolina and would-be President of the country his proud forefathers repudiated and shot at, is one of those called upon to answer for this, and what does he say? He says:
At the end of the day it's time for people in South Carolina—to revisit that decision would be fine with me, but this is part of who we are. The flag represents to some people a Civil War and that was the symbol of one side. To others it's a racist symbol, and it's been used by people, it's been used in a racist way. But the problems we have in South Carolina and throughout the world are not because of a movie or a symbol, it's because of what's in people's heart. You know, how do you go back and reconstruct America? What do we do in terms of our history?
Oh, brah-vo, Senator. "The flag represents to some people a Civil War and that was the symbol of one side"? Indeed, I cannot possibly dispute that: it was, indeed, in fact, well-and-truly, indubitably and undeniably the symbol of the losing side. The side that founded a government 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," as Confederate Vice-President Alexander Stephens put it on March 21st, 1861.
"[U]sed by people, it's been used in a racist way," Senator? Why yes, you are correct, you are on a roll. We called those people "Confederates" and "Rebels" and "Secessionists" and "Disunionists". I'm afraid that perhaps the word we ought to have used after the War Between the States was "Traitors". Later, of course, the flag was picked up by Klansmen and skinheads and neo-Nazis--other traitors, in other words, others who would stand against the principles this country pledged itself to in the Declaration of Independence and Constitution, however shoddy our efforts have been at making those notions a reality.
People throw around the phrase "un-American" to describe those they merely disagree with. But disagreement is nothing, disagreement is the fundamental premise of a democracy, a form of government in which people put disagreement to a vote and pledge to tolerate, if not support, the result. Federalists and Democratic-Republicans disagreed about nearly everything except for a general sense that being an American meant subscribing to a Constitution and ideal.
(I exaggerate: they started calling each other "traitors" and accusing one another of being "too French" or "too Tory" within minutes of John Adams inauguration, and proceeded almost immediately to outlawing free speech; they were, I fear, more like us than we allow. But go along with me for the point I'm attempting to make, please.)
But if there's anything that truly qualifies as "un-American," surely it's opening fire on a Federal garrison at Fort Sumter on April 12th, 1861, or opening fire on a prayer gathering on June 17th, 2015 because your fellow Americans are supposedly "taking over our country. And... have to go." Forgive me, I'm not trying to say these events are both apples or both oranges; what I'm attempting to say is that both acts proceeded from a willingness to reject a fundamental value this nation attempted to found itself upon: "that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." That they proceed from not just a dissatisfaction with our institutions, but a rejection of the principle that our institutions provide mechanisms for repairing themselves, and that the will of a violent minority--or individual--should trump whatever wisdom is possessed by the masses.
The flags of the Confederacy--the national flag or the more often displayed Confederate battle flags--are un-American, anti-American; they are the flags of a defeated slave state. How do you "go back and reconstruct America"? You don't do it, surely, by flaunting the diseased symbols of the anti-Union, of the traitor state. To do so does nothing more than rub salt in the wounds of those who were to have been freed by the crushing of the insurrection against the Constitution of the United States and goad on those who truly don't belong here--the "state's rights"-ers and racists and unreconstructed disunionists who yearn nostalgically for a faltering feudal state where men owned men and the most ground-down white prole could ignore the burdens crushing his class because he could convince himself at least he was "better than a ------."
In Senator Graham's extended comments at CNN he added, "We're not going to give this a guy an excuse about a book he might have read or a movie he watched or a song he listened to or a symbol out anywhere. It's him... not the flag." This is, of course, nonsense, pleasing tripe that a certain kind of Southerner perpetuates and possibly, foolishly, even believes. As if the flag is a deflection, as if it really symbolizes "heritage" without needing to go into exactly what constitutes that heritage. This is a flag that symbolizes a heritage of anti-Americanism and bigotry and violence in the service of anti-Americanism and bigotry (the disputed flag, as Confederate apologists often like to smugly observe, is the battle flag or Navy Jack and not the national flag of the Confederacy; ah, yes, point taken--it's the flag rebels stood under when they were actually shooting at the defenders of the Republic, and not the one they stood under while talking about shooting Americans, got it). The flag is the murderer's banner, the murderer's banner is the flag; there's a symbolic identity at play. The Senator talks about, "what's in people's heart[s]." Certainly, indeed: it appears this flag was in the heart of this madman with a gun.
Those who fly the flag under which a gaggle of slavers demanded blood be spilt for the cause of bigots and torturers and exploiters, of those who would take liberty and give pain, of those who would break the backs of their fellow men and women for profit--yes, we worry what's in your hearts. We see what you associate yourselves with, the history you glorify, the truths you deny, the apologies you offer and the lies you tell, the illusions you weave around your precious heritage and we worry that Senator Graham is honest and earnest when he says that's just a part of who you are. We don't like that part of you. No, we don't like what that flag represents and we don't like what it says about who you are--that is, we don't like who you are. You're right to fear we look down upon you, that we feel contempt and fear and anger--we do, we do, we do. We have contempt for your values and fear for what you might do for them, and we are angry, so very, very angry, at what you have done already for them.
We know it's a part of who you are. How dearly we wish it wasn't.