On Confederate Flags and the Long Road Ahead

In a surprise move, once it became politically expedient, South Carolina’s governor and others added their voices to the call for the Confederate flag to come down from the state house.

With even Walmart and EBay deciding to ban the Confederate flag, it seems like the days of Confederate flag waving might soon be behind us.

And that’s not bad. The Confederate flag has long been a sign of hate. In 1962, at a time of school desegregation and powerful civil rights organizing, it was erected over the South Carolina state house.

A reminder of who was, and who would remain, in power.

Following the murder of nine people in a terrorist attack on Mother Emanuel church, many have wisely decried this symbol, and a growing campaign has organized around it’s removal.

I will be glad if the campaign is successful, and yet, the effort leaves me unsettled –

There is so much work to do, and it goes far, far beyond taking down a flag.

Like a campaign built upon online clicks, the effort to remove the flag feels like little more than slacktivisim – an opportunity for good people to prove they are good before getting back to their every day lives.

Perhaps I paint with too broad a brush here, so perhaps I should only say that that’s how I would feel.

I’ve been told that any good organizing campaign is sustained by little victories, and I can optimistically see how getting a flag taken down might provide such a foothold. Perhaps a victory there will galvanize people to act further – to demand further reforms and to question the deep, pervasive racism that so tragically defines our society.

But the realist in me, imagines a win a signal the caring eyes that have been drawn to issues of racism. Go home, it might say, we’ve won.

Surely, there is a value to accomplishing some simple, tangible victories – but not if those victories signal permission to no longer act, to put off the really difficult work.

And we do have difficult work ahead of us.

Calls for a “national dialogue on race” hardly do the work justice. We need to dismantle and rebuild our systems and institutions, and we need to talk with each other – not just a nation, but as a community of individuals – and we, white people in particular, need to recognize that we’ve got a lot of learning to do.

It’s easy not to engage in conversations about race and racism when you’re the one benefiting from the system, or when you imagine that what others will tell you won’t ring true to your own experience.

White privilege doesn’t mean your life is perfect: it just means that someone else’s is probably worse.

We have real, serious, deep-seated and systemic problems around race in this country. It will take more than a flag to sweep them away.

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