Wednesday evening, a horrendous terroristic act was carried out on a predominantly black Church in South Carolina. A 21 year white male opened fire on unsuspecting Bible Study attendees, leaving 9 people dead – Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Cynthia Hurd, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Tywanza Sanders, Myra Thompson, Ethel Lee Lance, Susie Jackson, Daniel L. Simmons, and Depayne Middleton Doctor. In the aftermath of this attack, we’ve uncovered that the suspect set out to purposely terrorize black people – and had been planning to do so for quite some time. Without a shadow of a doubt, his attack was racially motivated and his ideals toward blacks a reflection of white supremacy. Pictures even flood our Facebook feeds of the suspect clad in white supremacist flags.
But it doesn’t end there. The vestiges of white supremacy in the state of South Carolina have also risen to the surface, specifically the confederate flag which flies over the state’s capitol. This flag is a symbol of white supremacist ideology which upheld the institution of slavery in the south. After slavery was abolished, the flag remained a symbol which stood against the full inclusion of black Americans into society, refusing to accept them as fully human endowed by God with inalienable rights. Its presence not only continues to deny this humanity but it also validates the existence of racism, segregation, apartheid and terror against black people.
No doubt, the flag should come down. It must come down. But as we demand change here, I wonder what we accomplish in the long run. Does the mere removal of the flag eradicate the historical dehumanization and centuries of injustices perpetrated against black people in South Carolina or America at large? Does it somehow undo the damage done to the families and the black community at large created by this recent act of terrorism? No, no it does not. By the disappearance of the confederate flag, at best what we’ve achieved is removing a visual representation of white supremacy in this country; however, we still have in place systemic patterns that produced the flag to begin with.
I believe that as a deeply wounded people who have experienced 250 years of slavery, 90 years of Jim Crow, 60 years of separate but equal and 35 years of racist housing policy, we are bound to look for quick fixes to our problems. In times like these, where emotions are high and morale is low, it is natural to seek out an answer that will bring about an immediate solution to the pain that we feel. As such, we are tempted to define the solution into the problems that are erected by white supremacist arrangements. For instance, we were calling for cameras on police as if that in and of itself was the panacea for terroristic police brutality. But then Eric Garner proved us wrong; his death was captured on camera but the state killer agent was set free.
The only thing we can celebrate, which I am not sure is something to be celebrated is that prior to technological advancements, many blacks they were lynched were “deaths at the hand of the unknown.” Now through the help of cameras we know them, but those killers are still walking free. We’ve criticized the over militarization of the police force in America. Our criticism suggests that the problem with the police force was its over militarization and that if it could be demilitarized the problem will be over. The 1033 program which allows the transfer of excess military equipment to civilian law enforcement agencies was introduced in 1997, and foggy relations between the police force and African-American/communities of color stretches back to slavery.
Again, here we are calling for the confederate flag to be lowered as if our victory against white supremacy is tied to lowering of a flag. I am pretty sure that if the removal of the confederate flag symbolizes victory, the late Rev. Clemeneta – who was also a state senator – would have called for the removal of the flag. However, he knew that the flag was just the symptom of the ideals of white supremacist system and not the root cause of black suffering in South Carolina.
White supremacy runs deeper than its symbols, even in liberal states in the North. States like Minnesota don’t have a visible confederate flag erected above the capitols. And yet we see the evidence of the flag flying in our liberal policies. Minnesota is one of the most progressive states in America, yet has one of the worst educational achievement gaps in the country – remember no visible confederate flag hoisted. Also, Minnesota has the biggest financial gap between whites and communities of color in America. It is also considered to be the second worst state for blacks to live in the nation. Places like Milwaukee and Chicago do not fare much better for black Americans, all places mind you, that do not have a confederate flag. And yet the evidence of white supremacy is glaring.
The United States constitution once stated in Article I, Sections 3 and 9 that blacks were only 3/5 of a person. Although, the clause has long been removed from the constitution, the removal of the clause doesn’t guarantee our humanity. In 2015, we are yet to attain 5/5 of a person – we are still marching, we still can’t breathe, we are still fighting for the recognition of our humanity, prophetically uttering #blacklivesmatter as another one of our brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers are slain in the streets!
Even if we succeed in tearing down the confederate flag waving above South Carolina’s state capital, we’ve only succeeded in attacking the effects rather than the causes. And truth be told, as long as our collective energy is focused at attacking the symptoms, the change we desire will become a pipedream. The Confederate flag is one of the many effects of white supremacy; let’s take it down for sure, but also tear down every pillar of supremacy that continues to deny our existence.