By: Ewurama Appiagyei-Dankah
The Confederate Flag should not be flown or displayed. This conclusion is not a new one, but it is one that many Americans have come to in the wake of an act of terrorism. Nine people lost their lives as the result of the hatred of a terrorist who entered the Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina on Wednesday, June 17th. He declared that he was there to shoot black people because we are “taking over the country and raping white women”, and additionally had the goal of starting a race war. Photos of the shooter were found soon after on a website he made, and the photos were very calculated. In some, he burns the American flag. The ones that, arguably, caused the most stir were ones in which he totes a Confederate flag, stands in front of Confederate memorials, and stands in front of his car, which has a Confederate flag license plate, while wearing the flags of apartheid South Africa and Rhodesia.
The current debate over the meaning of the Confederate flag and whether it should be flown at the state capitol of South Carolina or displayed anywhere have arisen as a result of the act of terrorism that ensued in Charleston (I call it an act of terrorism, as I firmly believe that is what it was) and the fact that the shooter chose to proudly hold it. Fervent calls for the flag’s removal have been made by people from all walks of life and political parties. However, vocal opponents have also stepped forward, calling for it to remain where it is. Many of those who oppose its removal, instead of paying attention to the atrocity of what happened at the AME church, instead of focusing on the nine lives that were cruelly and senselessly taken and in the wake of that, why it might be appropriate to remove that flag from the state grounds, have had knee-jerk reactions to the idea of anyone removing the Confederate flag.
“I don’t see any problems with it.”
“It’s not a symbol of racism—it’s a symbol of southern pride.”
“I have black friends who wear and have Confederate flags! It’s not racist.”
“People took it and turned it into something that it’s not.”
These represent a small portion of the comments and posts I have seen on my Facebook feed since last Thursday morning when the controversy began to erupt, and I have a few questions for those who so vehemently defend the flag.
1. If it is a symbol of southern pride, what explanation do you have for the widespread presence of the flag in the state of Michigan, where I live? Michigan was a free state and had no ties to the Confederacy. What explanation do you have for it hanging in the front window of a frat house on my college campus that is, again, in Michigan?
2. What explanation do you have for Dylann Roof very intentionally choosing to sport it while wearing the flags of Rhodesia and apartheid South Africa, two countries who were infamous for their segregation and racism?
3. If it is not a symbol of racism, why are there pictures of Ku Klux Klan leaders waving the flag proudly as they marched through cities while trying to intimidate black Americans? Why did they hold it high at their rallies?
4. If it is not offensive, as you allege, why have over 500,000 people signed petitions to get rid of the flag? Why have leaders such as President Barack Obama, Mitt Romney, Governor Nicki Haley, Jeb Bush, Lindsey Graham, Bernie Sanders, and Hilary Clinton, among many others, called for its removal? Why have WalMart, Amazon, EBay, and Etsy condemned it and halted their sales of Confederate flag apparel?
I urge people to think very critically about these questions when defending the flag, and I also urge them to think long and hard about why they so strongly support a flag that, to many Americans, is a sign of hatred and evokes offense. Removing the flag is a symbolic gesture that will not, by any means, eradicate the systemic racism that plagues our country.
However, in doing so and refusing to sell it, South Carolina, other states who display it, and companies will show their commitment to moving this nation forward in the direction of equality—a direction in which no one has to feel unwanted or unwelcome because of a relic from the past.
I’ll end with this: as a person who spent eight years of my life in Charleston, I have a great deal of pride in the beautiful city I was raised in and the state of South Carolina. However, I choose to show my southern pride by wearing and flying the South Carolina state flag. Imagine what a world of difference it would make if everyone chose to show pride in their city, state, region of the United States, or country in a way that did not affront others.
Picture at the top of the page taken by Afua Darko at a Michigan high school.