SOUTH CAROLINA — my homestate — doesn’t make the news often.
When it does, it’s usually for something embarrassing, like having the highest incidence of domestic violence, or the worst drivers. Nothing could have prepared me for the Charleston shooting. Until June 17, mass shootings were tragedies that happened in Colorado or Connecticut. Lots of bad things happen here, but nothing like this.
On June 17, white supremacist Dylann Roof entered the Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church and gunned down nine African Americans in cold blood, in order to — in his words — “start a race war.” In the aftermath of the tragedy, as national media gathered in Charleston and Columbia, the national and state flags were lowered to half-mast at the State House. But the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia — more commonly known as the Confederate flag — continued to fly, full-staff, at the Confederate Soldier Monument on State House grounds, where it has flown since it was moved there from the State House Dome in 2000.
At best, it was callous to leave that flag flying in the wake of a racially motivated massacre. At worst, it was outright racist. And no matter what a person’s opinion on the Confederate flag is, the Flag Code clearly states that no flag should fly higher than the stars and stripes. I hoped leaving that flag flying was an oversight, that it would be fixed swiftly and cleanly, but it wasn’t.
Instead, SC lawmakers insisted their hands were tied. As part of the 2000 concession, removing the flag for any reason requires a 2/3 majority vote. Yet, as Congressman James Clyburn (D-SC) has pointed out, a simple majority would change the legislation keeping the flag in place.
The controversy has become a catalyst for the removal of the symbol across the nation. As of this post, K-Mart and Wal-Mart have all discontinued selling Confederate flag merchandise, while Amazon, eBay, and Etsy have banned Confederate flag listings. Alabama has removed the flag from its own State House grounds. States with Confederate license plates are moving to ban them from circulation. And Mississippi, whose state flag contains the Confederate flag, is considering adopting a new symbol.
Despite overwhelming national support for removing the Confederate flag from businesses and state buildings, many white Southerners are currently balking at what they see as the eradication of their heritage. I know that many of the people who identify with the flag would never dream of joining or supporting a hate group. Ignorance of the Confederate flag’s past — spread both at home and in educational institutions like SC’s Bob Jones University — is pervasive. But what the flag may represent to your average white Southerner has no bearing on its actual meaning.
Southerners protest that the flag doesn’t have racist connotations or represent anything beyond regional pride. Yet their protestations ignore the fact that the Confederate flag only rose to wider prominence in the South as part of pro-segregation campaigns by the Dixiecrats and the KKK in the 1960s. When they claim that the flag represents “states’ rights” and opposition to tyrannical government, they ignore that the only rights in question were the rights to purchase, own, and sell their fellow humans.
As thousands have gathered peacefully in locations across the state to pray and demonstrate, SC has celebrated its ability to unify. Because of the myriad misconceptions surrounding the flag, many of the demonstrators undoubtedly support its presence at the Statehouse as a heritage symbol, and see no conflict in their beliefs and actions. But that flag doesn’t represent Southern heritage; it represents white Southern heritage. It divides Southerners as a whole by denying black Southerners a place at the table. Opposition to the flag’s removal flies in the face of Southerners’ professed unity.
The South has plenty of things to be proud of, but the Confederate flag isn’t one of them. If Southerners want a flag to represent regional heritage, let’s make a new one. Here are the top five contenders for its symbols.
It’s the house wine of the South, and we love it here. If you don’t want a healthy dose of diabetes in your beverage, you’ll have to specify unsweet tea down here.
Southerners fry everything. Even Oreos and bread. But chicken is the king of fried foods, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a Southern restaurant that doesn’t serve it.
If the South has a slogan, it’s “y’all”: Hey, y’all. Bye, y’all. Y’all eat? Stamp this little pronoun on a flag we can all rally behind it.
Spicy food is a huge part of Southern heritage, so it’s no coincidence that SC is home to the hottest chili pepper in the world: the Carolina Reaper.
Southern states produce over 100 thousand tons of peaches each year, making the sweet orbs the official fruit of the South.