The killing on June 17th 2015 of nine people attending a prayer meeting in a historical Charleston SC black church has shaken that community as well as many across the nation. While senseless in the mind of most people, it was not in the mind the alleged murderer who clearly identifies himself as being a white supremacist. His stated intent was not only to terrorize that black community but to help spark a race war under the banner of the Confederate battle flag. Instead of triggering hate, he received back a demonstration of forgiveness and affirmation of life that has moved the nation.
At first SC US Senator Graham in talking about the Confederate battle flag flying on his state’s capital grounds noted the flag was part of the state’s heritage. His carefully worded response was an effort not to offend the citizens who form his base and elected him. On the surface the implication was that if the majority of the people wanted it fly on capital grounds that it would remain. His statement lacked passion and conviction hinting of an underlying implication carefully crafted response, that he would not be against its removal.
At the beginning of this week when Governor Nikki Haley courageously advocated for the battle flag to be removed from the state’s capital grounds Senator Graham joined her. When she stated that any flag flying over the seat of government should represent all the people, and that battle flag clearly doesn’t, Senator Graham concurred with her. While these two powerful South Carolina leaders have pushed the conversation on the flag into the open we wait to see if they secure the supermajority in both SC houses to retire the flag or if a symbol of racism will continue to be embraced and affirmed by the government of South Carolina.
Some claim that they fly the Confederate battle flag not as a sign of racism, but of pride in the old south, southern values, state’s rights and freedom of expression. There are many who say that the flag honors their forefathers, most of whom did not own slaves, who thought fighting and dying for their state in the civil war was the right thing to do. As noted in a prior post, if we would be revolted by a person of German heritage using the same rationale and similar statements justifying the flying of the Nazi flag in honor of his/her family members who bravely fought to the end in the German armed forces in World War II, then why do we not have the same reactions about the Confederate battle flag?
The Confederate battle flag is part of history and the heritage, a heritage that includes open overt racism as well as its more subtle forms. While such a symbol is part of its past, it should not be part of its future. No local, state, federal government should sanction its use on government lands and property, including license plates which are state sanctioned communication. Of course exceptions should be granted for filming of dramas and re-enactments, etc. There is a big distinction between private speech and government sanction speech...I may have the freedom to express a view but I should not expect my government to affirm my views through its various vehicles and symbols.
A private company should be allowed to determine for itself whether it wishes to produce and/or market the flag or items containing that flag. No retailer should be expected to sell any product it does not belief aligns with its corporate goals and/or image. If a retailer does, that is their choice and I in return have the freedom to support that retailer or take my business elsewhere if I’m offended strongly enough.
If a private citizen, or a private organization, wishes to fly the Confederate battle flag on their property, they should not be prohibited from doing so. They can do so as it is an expression of free speech. I in return have the freedom to dislike their expressed statement that they align themselves with a symbol and a heritage of racism, and take that into account in my interactions with them.