In the wake of the massacre at Charleston's historic Emanuel AME Church Wednesday night, Ta-Nehisi Coates says it's well past time for the state to rid itself of the Confederate battle flag flying over the statehouse in Columbia.
The Confederate flag’s defenders often claim it represents “heritage not hate.” I agree—the heritage of White Supremacy was not so much birthed by hate as by the impulse toward plunder. Dylann Roof plundered nine different bodies last night, plundered nine different families of an original member, plundered nine different communities of a singular member. An entire people are poorer for his action. The flag that Roof embraced, which many South Carolinians embrace, does not stand in opposition to this act—it endorses it. That the Confederate flag is the symbol of of white supremacists is evidenced by the very words of those who birthed it:
Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner-stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth...
This moral truth—“that the negro is not equal to the white man”—is exactly what animated Dylann Roof. More than any individual actor, in recent history, Roof honored his flag in exactly the manner it always demanded—with human sacrifice.
Surely the flag’s defenders will proffer other, muddier, interpretations which allow them the luxury of looking away. In this way they honor their ancestors. Cowardice, too, is heritage. When white supremacist John Wilkes Booth assassinated Abraham Lincoln 150 years ago, Booth’s fellow travelers did all they could to disassociate themselves. “Our disgust for the dastardly wretch can scarcely be uttered,” fumed a former governor of South Carolina, the state where secession began. Robert E. Lee’s armies took special care to enslave free blacks during their Northern campaign. But Lee claimed the assassination of the Great Emancipator was “deplorable.” Jefferson Davis believed that “it could not be regarded otherwise than as a great misfortune to the South,” and angrily denied rumors that he had greeted the news with exultation.
Especially at this point in America's history, where one party gives us the constant rhetoric of "taking our country back" from those who they view as beneath them, the Confederate battle flag is a barbaric relic of a traitorous past. Under no circumstances should it be celebrated. It is the flag of those who do not believe in the quest towards a more perfect union, but the fantasy of disunion and the poison of discord.
As Coates says:
Put it in a museum. Inscribe beneath it the years 1861-2015. Move forward. Abandon this charlatanism. Drive out this cult of death and chains. Save your lovely souls. Move forward. Do it now.
If we cannot accomplish this at least, we have much larger problems. The violence of the last several hundred years will never be broken unless we stop praying at the altar of those who split this country in order to defend the practice on enslaving others.
Take it down.