After Charleston: Ban the Confederate Flag?? Let’s Do Something REAL.
An instant video is circulating on Facebook today, advocating a ban on the Confederate Flag. (Don’t know if non-FB readers can see it, but give it a try.)
Some good Quakers and others have hailed the video and its call. But I’m not one of them. No, I am not a friend of that flag. I’d be happy to see it removed from the SC capitol grounds.
But trying to ban the Confederate flag is a distracting, dumb idea.
For one thing, it confuses images with reality. It’s as if banning pictures of mosquitoes would somehow keep them from biting. Or banning photos of guns would stop gun violence.
And besides distracting, it’s divisive. Imagine: the ban advocates could very easily find themselves facing off, not only against a bunch of stone racists, but also against folks like the ACLU. Because that flag, like most others, has a reluctant but staunch ally in the First Amendment.
The idea that one group of “progressives” would waste time, energy and money butting heads with serious civil liberties defenders is one we really don’t need. Not anywhere, but especially not in the South, where all the state legislatures (as in ALL) are in the hands of some of the most reactionary types on the scene today.
And the civil libertarians there (and all other progressives) already have their hands full with MUCH more serious matters (like, just for starters, widespread, massive vote suppression.)
It’s elementary: when your folks are surrounded, you gotta stick together. And dumb divisive distracting stuff like this doesn’t help do that.
And there’s another angle here: flags and other visual symbols are valuable for intelligence purposes. Consider this photo of the alleged shooter. Note the flag emblems on his jacket. Recognize them?
I didn’t either. But smarter people did:
What about the other one?
Turns out, as this excellent article from the Christian Science Monitor explains, BOTH these flags are widely-recognized symbols in current white supremacist groups:
“The flags are popular in some white supremacist circles as a way to advertise to others in the know without being as obvious as wearing a swastika.”
In short, these flags are important clues for investigators who want to find out where and from whom the shooter got his ideas.
(As the article also explains, the AME church Roof targeted also has important historic/symbolic weight: its founder, Denmark Vesey, planned a slave rebellion.) Then,
“In 1834 when Charleston banned black church congregations, its members went underground, reemerging to worship openly in 1865, the year the south surrendered in the Civil War and the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery passed.”
But step back for a moment. How can we get a handle on the larger forces that shaped this latest violence?
The larger social/cultural/historical background of the situation in the south is described concisely and with great insight in this post by a New Hampshire blogger, Doug Muder. He says he spent much of two years trying to figure out how the South got to the place it (and the country) is at today. And what he found resonates with my own studies and experiences.
From this post, here’s the key insight, and (like everything else about the South, it goes back to the Civil War.) Stay with me:
The Civil War was easy to misunderstand at the time, because there had never been anything like it. It was a total mobilization of society, the kind Europe wouldn’t see until World War I. . . .
If the Napoleonic Wars were your model, then it was obvious that the Confederacy lost in 1865: Its capital fell, its commander surrendered, its president was jailed, and its territories were occupied by the opposing army. If that’s not defeat, what is?
But now we have a better model than Napoleon: Iraq.
After the U.S. forces won on the battlefield in 1865 and shattered the organized Confederate military, the veterans of that shattered army formed a terrorist insurgency that carried on a campaign of fire and assassination throughout the South until President Hayes agreed to withdraw the occupying U. S. troops in 1877.
Before and after 1877, the insurgents used lynchings and occasional pitched battles to terrorize those portions of the electorate still loyal to the United States. In this way they took charge of the machinery of state government, and then rewrote the state constitutions to reverse the postwar changes and restore the supremacy of the class that led the Confederate states into war in the first place.
For anyone who wants to understand what we’re up against in the U.S. today, but especially the South, this article is a MUST READ.
And let me repeat his main point: the U.S. Civil War had two phases; only the first one ended in 1865, and southern white supremacists won the second phase.
They didn’t form a separate country; but they established a widespread common culture of segregation, maintained by both law and terrorism; and they recreated many slavery cognates.
Let’s call this the New-Confederacy. Not for nothing was the movie that became their epic called “The Birth of a Nation.”
New-Confederate rule was somewhat disrupted in the 1960s; there have been some important changes since then. But the New-Confederate forces have come roaring back in the past decade, to regional dominance and national impact, on numerous fronts.
Many of the “progressive” folks who reside in the South have retreated into what amount to walled enclaves — like Durham NC, where I live.
Of course, the “wall” here is cultural, not physical. But it’s real. For instance: Durham County voted 75% for Obama in 2008 and 2012.
But the state is run by New-Confederate sympathizers who fill the legislature from counties like Randolph and Surry, which are almost all white and voted against Obama by 75%.
Meanwhile, most of us inside the progressive enclaves, at least the ones I know, have barely a clue about life and culture in the much larger part of the state which repudiates almost everything they (think they) know about us.
The short-term impact of this ignorance is that the beleaguered “progressives” have so far made very little progress in rolling back the New-Confederate surge.
And in the meantime, paranoia burgeons in the New-Confederate world. We should not be surprised when it spawns actual terrorism. A couple of examples:
Radio ranter Glenn Beck is certain that there’s an Islamic holocaust underway aimed at Christians. (Hmmm. To be sure, ISIS has slaughtered Christians; but they’ve killed many more Muslims; and does either yet amount to a holocaust?)
At home, Republican presidential hopeful (and former southern governor) Mike Huckabee is riding this horse down the track of same sex marriage:
[Note that rightwing news outlets started out calling the Charleston shootings an attack on Christianity, rather than racial terrorism.]
Add to this continuing enraged fundamentalist reactions to the transition of Bruce Jenner to Caitlyn, and horror at the spreading approval of same sex marriage; continuing horror about legal abortion; rampant Islamophobia, with old-fashioned throwback racism often peeping between the lines, and is it any wonder that terrorist violence breaks out from the population stewing in this seething soup?
Still with me?? (There’s a bit more.)
Besides the shameful manipulation of this population by rightwing media, politicians, and foolhardy church leaders, there is a stubborn underlying economic engine for this mess: the long-term drain on jobs, especially in textile-related industries, which were concentrated in the region, mainly outside the big cities.
This economic catastrophe is not so visible from the progressive enclaves, where universities, high-tech and government jobs are concentrated, and which weathered the 2008 crash better than many other areas.
A perfect example of rural change was highlighted in a 2013 article about a textile mill that recently modernized in Gaffney SC.
The key data: the company, Carolina Cotton Works, produces as much fabric with 140 workers as it took 2000 workers to make in 1980. (That’s an astonishing increase in productivity, but an even more stunning — 93% — decline in jobs.) And its new plant is safer, cleaner and gentler on the environment.
A 2012 US government report on the textile industry says:
The United States lost more than 900,000 textile and apparel jobs from 1994 to 2005. [Note: From 1973 to 2005, the jobs lost totaled 1,750,000.]
U.S. rural areas have been disproportionately affected by the loss of textile and apparel jobs, particularly in the Southeast, where textile and apparel plants are concentrated. . . . [Emphasis added.]
Textile and apparel jobs have been in decline for three decades. . . . Continued job loss is expected in the future, as the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the textile and apparel industries will have the most rapidly declining employment rates of all industries over 2004-14.
The Charleston shooter is a high school dropout from the heart of this industrially-denuded region. Once the mills were a place where such persons could find jobs; not very appealing jobs, but paychecks; a start. Now — ?
And stubborn unemployment makes all kinds of other social tensions and pathologies — including racism and violence — worse.
So, let’s sum this up:
Ahead of a ban on the Confederate flag, though I still don’t like it, there would be a long list of other items on my list. Here are some:
— rolling back vote suppression;
— working to calm evangelical paranoia about “holocausts” and “criminalization”, and refuting Islamophobia;
— figuring out how to get real help for the regions devastated by deindustrialization (can anyone still spell “rebuild infrastructure”?);
— defending woman’s and LGBT rights;
— better investigative and law enforcement efforts against actual racial hate groups;
— serious engagement by religious folks with the pernicious (and persistent) theology that props up New-Confederate ideology and practice;
— following up Doug Muder’s fine work with some serious strategic study and debate about how to restart the work of dismantling the New Confederate culture which made big strides in the 1960s, but has slipped back in most areas since then, especially during the Obama years.
None of this may slake the knee-jerk urge to “DO SOMETHING” right NOW. Sorry. Neither Rome nor the New-Confederacy were built in a day.
Can’t we learn to see that impulse as mainly a result of our instant media cultural conditioning? Real impact takes a lot more work.
Besides, today, this weekend, and even after, there will be many vigils and public gatherings about Charleston, to mourn and honor the victims, and speak up for justice and change. By all means join one or more.
You want a symbol? Take a rose, a lily, a ribbon, a candle — something that has color and beauty, life and light.
Then, if you really want to be serious, come home and do some homework about the New Confederacy and how to redeem it.
Dr King believed that the South can rise again. You can help.