Put Down the Confederate Flag
After nine people were gunned down at the Charleston church in June, there was an outpouring of opposition to displaying the Confederate flag. Governor Nikki Haley led a movement to get the flag removed from her capital, and many and sundry southerners backed her decision. The flag should be put away, because it is a symbol of racial hatred, they said. Since then I have been depressed to see the flag flying more than ever. In western North Carolina, the flag seems to be on every other pick-up truck, on nearly every motorcycle, and now clipped onto windows in the same way SEC football fans display their team’s colors. Remember Newton's third law: “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” Only it seems that the reaction is much stronger than the original action. One commonly hears the flag defended as the symbol of our “southern heritage.” There are two things about that.
One is that the working-class Appalachians driving the pick-ups and motorcycles around me descend from people who opposed the Confederacy for the most part, and so their heritage is really on the other side—for black liberation. But most important, the flag’s meaning was changed entirely during the civil rights movement to mean opposition to black rights and preservation of segregation. That is the true southern heritage for which it stands. Why do so many whites here, most of them born after the civil rights movement, continue to hold animus for blacks? In The House I Live In in 2005, I wrote that Americans just after the civil rights movement assumed that they lived in a zero-sum society—that is, they believed if blacks gained status, power, and wealth, then whites had lost that much influence and opportunity. I think such thinking still prevails. White insecurity, and the resulting bellicose anti-black action, has been made worse by the presence of our black president. The very idea of a black man’s occupying the White House is an affront to whites’ status, and the mounting indications of President Obama’s political successes only fuel white southerners’ anxiety and racial hatred. The rising white hostility makes politicians, including the aforementioned Haley, and the right-wing media megaphones pander to white prejudice in their opposition to Black Lives Matter. The underlying presumption seems to be that if blacks raise their voice, it somehow undermines white power.
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