Confederate Flag Controversy

By: Hope Kelly, Contributor

Not too long ago, Americans eager to create social change naively rallied behind the elimination of the Confederate flag, all the while entirely missing the real point: people are racist, objects are not. The simple act of attacking a flag will not end racism.

In the wake of a tragic racially-motivated shooting in Charleston, S.C., legislators and citizens alike began to call for the removal of the Confederate flag from the South Carolina State House grounds in Columbia, S.C. According to the Huffington Post, the 21-year-old white man charged for the murders “posed with a Confederate flag in photos posted online with a racist manifesto,” strongly linking the Confederate flag to his racist actions in the eyes of many people.  

There are two different perspectives that can be taken from this information. The first is that both the man and the Confederate flag are racist. The second is that only the man is racist, and he used the Confederate flag as a tool to promote his beliefs.

If you wonder which of these perspectives is correct, ask yourself this question: do you believe that if everything in this man’s life was the exactly same except for his access to the Confederate flag, would this tragedy have failed to happen? This man may have used the Confederate flag to promote his racist ideals, but his society, his environment, his parents, his friends, and more all lead him to this moment, not just a flag. It is not necessary for various companies such as Walmart, Amazon, and Sears to stop selling Confederate flags, but rather, it is important for them to work on and support anti-racism campaigns.

I am not suggesting that the Confederate flag should not have been removed from the front of the State House. The government of S.C. and the United States should represent the well-being of its citizens, and if the flag is enough of a racist symbol, it should be removed. We are so anxious to make change, we forget to stop and take a moment to think. The decision to remove a flag that has existed for over a hundred years was made in only a few weeks.

The confederate flag waving outside South Carolina’s State House prior to it’s removal.
The confederate flag waving outside South Carolina’s State House prior to it’s removal.

The Huffington Post quotes College of Charleston political science professor Gibbs Knotts who said, “The change in opinion in the last day or two is like nothing I have ever seen. It’s been a tidal wave.”

During this tidal wave, there was never a true safe space for opposing perspectives to be discussed, as often is the case with racism. We do not want to talk about it; we just want to get rid of it.

State Legislator Leon Howard told the Huffington Post, “Anyone who gets in front of this train is going to get run over.”

However, there are opposing perspectives worth being heard. The generalization that everyone who owns a Confederate flag is racist is not only unfair, but also untrue.

Some people see the flag as a sign of Southern pride and unity. For others, it is a testament to family members who died fighting for their country, their family, and their beliefs. For some, the Confederate flag serves as a reminder of a time of racism to which they hope never to return.

The Confederate flag has become a scapegoat for racism. By getting rid of the flag, we do not eliminate racism. Instead, we avoid addressing it. In the future, this political tidal wave should shift its focus from eliminating objects to actually eliminating racism.

Photo credit: Creative Commons

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