aNewDomain — Lots of public pressure mounted in the last week and it finally happened: The Confederate battle flag is now toxic.
And it is not just politically toxic. It also now is socially toxic, as Americans at last begin to recognize it as the symbol of racism and social regression it always was.
It looks like the Confederate flag is on its way out. But that doesn’t mean racism is over. It means it will become less and less popular or acceptable to say racist things or display racist things publicly in the South.
The real danger here is that the most serious racists, once socially ousted, will just put on their old white hoods. Here’s why.
Republicans, Dixie Democrats And The Ku Klux Klan
South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley has asked the State Legislature to enact the flag’s removal from the capitol building in Columbia, SC. But the state assembly is heavily Republican (34 of 41 members) and we’ve always known in our hearts that conservative Southern Republicans have to cater to racist voters.
Sometimes you’ll hear Republicans reminding us that it was Dixie Democrats who staunchly opposed desegregation. That’s the truth, but it is also a lie. Because first it happened. And then all the Democrats switched teams.
The Dixie Democrats who ran with the Ku Klux Klan became Republicans, and the Democratic Party became the party of the people. So to speak.
Here in the North, we tend to think of the South as deeply, endemically racist, and while that’s for sure stereotyping, the news out of South Carolina reaffirms the worst of our biases.
Consider this recent news story: Republicans nationwide have been happy to take money from white supremacist groups. Now they are forced to disavow their connections, return donations or give them to Charleston benevolent funds.
That ought to irritate the racists, and I’m good with that outcome. But please: They only sent the money away because they got caught with it.
It’s just not that easy for us to escape the shadow of these groups.
Such groups hide behind hazy names, like the Council of Conservative Citizens, which the Southern Poverty Law Center says is “the reincarnation of the old White Citizens Councils, which were formed in the 1950s and 1960s to battle school desegregation in the South.”
But seeing the name Council of Conservative Citizens on a list of donors won’t immediately alert you to what this group is. Especially if your admin never digs any deeper and just writes a nice thank you letter.
But then there are the politicians who speak at racist rallies. These so-called public officials court their key demographics shamelessly. They will give back racist money if they’re caught with it.
But you can’t give back these speeches.
Make no mistake about it: Racism isn’t going to die. Not because of the Charleston shooting, Dylann Storm Roof, the victims or anything at all about the Confederate battle flag.
You Can Hide The Flags; You Can’t Hide The Hoods
You can hide the flags and make the racism unacceptable in public, but it’s still going to go on underground, just like racism has in the North.
In other words, racists will just go back to wearing white hoods when their words and actions aren’t so accepted and don’t seem defensible or even civilized.
So yes, the Confederate battle flag might come down. And it’s politically and socially toxic, finally recognized by many (not all) reasonable people as the racist symbol it always was. That’s great. And yes, as a result, political candidates and office holders will be forced to disavow racists and racism overtly. Conservatives are beating the right drum for a change. Even Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney are on board. Even Walmart, eBay and Sears are responding. They are removing Confederate flag items from their inventories. Amazon is also said to be considering the change. All this is awfully wonderful.
But is this meaningful change? And what good is any of it if the worst racists start wearing hoods again?
The remainder of Republican presidential candidates have bounced the question of rebel flags back to the states. No position. It seems like we aren’t even asking Democratic candidates because we all know who’s exploiting racism, right?
Why don’t they all come out against racism — actually, explicity and effectively? Maybe because Southern red states are red because of the exploitation of race. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said in his historic speech at the conclusion of the Selma to Montgomery march of 1965:
If it may be said of the slavery era that the white man took the world and gave the Negro Jesus, then it may be said of the Reconstruction era that the southern aristocracy took the world and gave the poor white man Jim Crow. He gave him Jim Crow. And when his wrinkled stomach cried out for the food that his empty pockets could not provide, he ate Jim Crow, a psychological bird that told him that no matter how bad off he was, at least he was a white man, better than the black man. And he ate Jim Crow. And when his undernourished children cried out for the necessities that his low wages could not provide, he showed them the Jim Crow signs on the buses and in the stores, on the streets and in the public buildings. And his children, too, learned to feed upon Jim Crow, their last outpost of psychological oblivion.”
He was speaking so directly at our times that Michelle Alexander captured these same ideas for The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. This work details how the U.S. criminal justice system, in turning a blind eye to racism, ends up enacting racism everywhere in America every single day. The stats support this totally …
But here Dr. King is also talking to political institutions that keep us divided — black, white and other — institutions that keep us from forming effective voting blocs based on true differences.
Winning elections had much to do with keeping people of color, especially poor people of color, from voting in the segregationist South. Voter ID laws today are largely discredited but they are still marching through state houses nationwide, and especially in the red states.
Despite an overheard public statement from a successful Republican strategist that this is all about keeping Republicans in office, the narrative pretends it really is to prevent voter fraud, which is at once negligible and from white folks. And the laws do unduly affect minority voters.
It isn’t enough to disavow the overt symbols of racism.
The Republican Party keeps telling itself it has to court women and minorities, to broaden the tent. And stats support this notion.
But courting women and minorities distances the party from its base, which was constructed for itself in the racist South.
Meanwhile, the Republicans warmly welcomed in Dixiecrats and spent the next five decades gerrymandering so they could chase those votes as if they’re the only ones that ever mattered.
The way out isn’t in taking the flag down, although that would be a helpful first step. The key is to get out of anything-to-win politics, and racial policies in which candidates cherry pick voters. To seem welcoming, you have to actually be welcoming.
For aNewDomain, I’m Jason Dias and I’m not running for president.
Image one: Report: Confederate Flag Raised Off I-95 Without Permits, HamptonRoads.com. All rights reserved.
Image two: All rights reserved.
Image three: All rights reserved.
Image four: Bubba With Confederate Flag Belt Buckle, Buckle City. All rights reserved.
Image five: Confederate Flag House, Memphis, Tenn., Wikimedia Commons. All rights reserved.
Image six: All rights reserved.