During the aftermath of the brutal shooting in Charleston, heated debates over whether the Confederate flag should still fly outside of government buildings took center stage in the national discussion of race relations. In response South Carolina governor Nikki Haley has called for the removal of the flag, with other states following suit. Since that time, social media has gone on a hashtagging frenzy, celebrating how quickly moves are being made. Even I was pleasantly surprised at how sweeping the actions have been to this point. One-hundred, fifty years of turmoil couldn’t get the Confederate flag removed faster than the week or so after the Charleston shooting could. It could be argued that this simple act of contrition – though not yet finalized – is taking a huge and long overdue step in the direction toward racial healing and reconciliation.
All the same, I’m not ready to pop open the champagne bottles just yet.
The truth of the matter is there are just as many losers out of this whole ordeal as there are winners. And the winners, I should point out, are not necessarily the ones most of the people I know (i.e. progressive-minded people) would cheer for. Let’s examine, shall we?
Winner: Governor Nikki Haley. Right now, Nikki Haley is looking like a rockstar. She can lay claim to stardom the same way Sarah Palin did at one point; she can proudly boast about going against the fray. She can declare how she single-handedly challenged a multi-generational legacy of hatred while successfully bringing her Republican colleagues along for the ride. When other Republicans were ducking and dodging any talks of racism, Haley can say she came to the rescue.
Winner: The National Rifle Association. As long as the conversation is on the confederate flag and the hate it shields, the heat is off the NRA. First off, they get to distance themselves from the criticism that felons use guns to harm people (a legal loophole allowed Roof, a pending felon, to own a gun since it was given to him as a gift by a private owner, as opposed to a licensed gun dealer). But also, generally speaking, people’s attention is drawn elsewhere. While they focus on the images of Roof wrapping himself around the flag, they are virutally ignoring the .45 caliber he used to kill nine people. Finally, the NRA scored a major victory earlier this year when Haley signed into law a bill allowing gun owners with concealed weapons permits to carry their firearms into bars that serve alcohol. Guns and booze. What’s the worse that can happen there, right?
Winner (sort of): South Carolinians supporting the flag. The removal of the Confederate flag was just on government buildings. The flag can still wave freely on private property. While major vendors like Walmart, Amazon, Sears, and eBay have agreed to pull merchandise bearing the image of the Confederate flag, I suspect it still won’t be too difficult to come across.
Loser: Black people in South Carolina. As I said on Twitter, removing the Confederate Flag does not remove the hatred from people’s hearts. And it certainly doesn’t improve the quality of life for black people in South Carolina. The state’s voter ID laws still impact the black voter more than just about any other state. The black employment rate, while being the second-lowest in the country, is still higher than the employment rate for white South Carolininans. The poverty rate for blacks in South Carolinians is at a remarkable 28 percent. I’m sorry. But removing the Confederate flag from government buildings has no impact on the actions taking place inside of those buildings. At least not for black folks.
Loser: Democrats. As with all tragedies, the shooting and the subsequent discussions were political opportunism at its core. But with Haley and SC’s GOP-controlled Congress swooping in almost immediately, Democrats hoping to use this to galvanize reticent black voters in 2016 saw their opportunity slip away. Hillary Clinton’s recent “All Lives Matter” speech doesn’t help matters one bit. Black people are hurting right now, and the Democrats have been shuffling their feet and sleeping at the wheel at a time when support of the black community has mattered the most. As I argued before, black voters are used to feeling supported by Democrats, even if they actually aren’t. But now it appears that the Republicans have taken the lead on addressing racial issues. Sort of. But definitely enough for folks to remember as they enter the voting booth.
Loser: The victims of Emanuel AME Church and their families. No matter what happens over the next few weeks, months, etc, those nine souls are still gone. But even being able to make their deaths meaningful has lost some traction (please note that I am NOT implying that their deaths are insignificant. I’m going somewhere with this. Don’t log off yet). While the news of the shooting definitely sent shockwaves across the country, it could have been even more impactful had a civil suit been filed against the South Carolina government. It could have been argued that the state was advertising an image of hate which, in essence, contributed to Dylann Roof’s state of mind. That suit may sound frivilous, but on any given day with a jury? Who knows?
I don’t wish for the takeaway to be that I don’t appreciate the major strides being made. But let’s not pretend that removing a flag carries with it a removal of the systemic issues plaguing our nation. It doesn’t.