This is a stupid debate. The Stars and Bars, the flag of the Confederacy, is a hate symbol. Any state that flies it on its capitol grounds, as South Carolina does, is giving official approval to hatred. Those who insist that it is merely a way of paying homage to Southern heritage are supporting a heritage of slavery, an unspeakable legacy of hatred.
It also stands for a twisted justification of the murderous rampage by white supremacist Dylann Roof, simply the latest despicable outrage against civilization that has smeared across the history of our nation, particularly in Dixie. South Carolina likes to proclaim that it has turned into a civilized community where racial reconciliation is evolving. While that may be true, as it sometimes is for our entire country, the Confederate flag stands out for our darkest shame, and gives inspiration to those who hold on to their bigotry, from the most violent to the more polite ones who nowadays mask their prejudice in economic terminology, encouraged by pandering politicians.
Many of these politicians even choke on the idea that the deaths of the nine innocents in Emanuel AME Church Bible study was a racial attack. Never mind that Dylann Roof specifically stated that his motivation came from fear that “black people are taking over the world,” they ignore that and insist that this attack was just another example of the “war on Christianity,” which afflicts those who would impose their cultural views on the rest of us. Most of them are incensed that they’re losing the fight for their right to discriminate against gays. Others, like Roof, have a twisted belief that the white race is in danger.
Barack Obama only serves to reinforce their fears and inflame their mean-spiritedness. They concoct fantasies about his being born in Africa to challenge his fitness to be president. Of course, most of them would not conduct a massacre, but their malignant beliefs contribute to a society that cannot seem to deal with race and ultimately encourages the extremists.
In fairness, there are those on the right — in fact, most of them — who are horrified by what happened in South Carolina. Mitt Romney, a self-described “severe conservative” when he was a presidential candidate, has taken to Twitter to say: “Take down the Confederate Flag at the SC Capitol. To many it is a symbol of racial hatred. Remove it now to honor #Charleston victims.”
There has been some discussion about avoiding doing business with or even visiting the state until the flag is removed. An economic boycott is a nonviolent and highly effective way to inflict pain. But South Carolina is just one of many that have laws or policies that millions find objectionable. Do we add to the list all those who prohibit gay marriage? Should those on either side of the abortion issue impose their views by staying away? More importantly, is it even doable, considering how divided we are as a country.
Obviously, we are not dealing with the issues that separate us. Although we have made major progress on race, there are still major gaps filled with poison. Police brutality against people of color that law-enforcement officials have long gotten away with glossing over is now recorded and instantly exposed to the world; video of each deadly incident is just more friction on our national raw wound.
Even people of good will find it awkward to communicate their experiences and impressions when it comes to racial feelings, but in the case of the Confederate flag on the grounds of the South Carolina, this should be a no-brainer. The massacre in the Charleston church should end any debate, since there is a direct line between the two.
Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.