In the wake of the terrorist attack on Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, a social media campaign has emerged to #TakeItDown, urging South Carolina to remove the confederate flag from the South Carolina State Capitol building.
Dylann Storm Roof, the 21-year-old white supremacist responsible for the attack, holds deep hatred for Black people, proudly waved Confederate flags and reportedly claimed that he hoped by murdering African Americans he would spark the next Civil War.
In response, some protesters have started to burn confederate flags across the state, a revolutionary act that I fully support. There is nothing that can be done to that flag that is worse than what it represents, romanticizes, protects and endorses: state-sanctioned murder and domestic terrorism against African Americans.
When I interviewed Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) on reparations a few years ago, we spoke about the south and how terroristic acts are framed as southern legacy:
"You know, the neo-confederacy, where they want to remember the South in a fond way, flying the rebel flag everywhere; these people took up arms against the United States and that’s called being a traitor.
"Jefferson Davis [President of the Confederate States of America] was a traitor. These people were traitors against the United States and the fact that they could ever hold any honor, anywhere is an outrage. What did they fight for? Did they fight for a noble cause? No, they fought to keep other human beings in bondage. They are totally disreputable, contemptible, and hold no value in the United States of America."
While I support the #TakeItDown campaign, I also believe that shifting the conversation to the confederate flag can deflect from the structural racism that it symbolizes. More importantly, it allows the United States government to pretend that racism is quarantined in the Deep South.
That's a lie. We can't have a conversation about the Confederate flag without having one about the United States flag which continues to wave despite a legacy of violence against people of color, including Latinos, African Americans and Indigenous peoples.
The dehumanization and oppression of Black people is not only built into the Constitution, it's an American past-time that takes place under the Stars and Stripes. Violence against African Americans is frequently sanctioned by government and rarely penalized by law.
Eric Garner was killed on Staten Island. Oscar Grant was killed in Oakland. Ramarley Graham was killed in the Bronx. Renisha McBride was killed in Dearborn Heights, Michigan. Tamir Rice was killed in Cleveland. Mike Brown was killed in Ferguson. Natasha McKenna was killed in Fairfax, Virginia. Aiyana Stanley-Jones was killed in Detroit.
Unfortunately, the list goes on and on and on.
Conservative politicians hide behind "states rights" as a means of allowing a symbol of domestic terrorism to fly gently in the southern breeze, while hypocritically censuring it at the same time. Yes, the Confederate flag needs to come down; it should have come down a long time ago. In fact, they all should have been burned when the Confederates lost the Civil War. But what happened in Charleston is not a southern problem; it's an American problem.
In response to a Facebook comment I paraphrased Malcolm X, who said, "You don't stick a knife in a man's back nine inches and then pull it out six inches and say you're making progress."
And despite the lie this country likes to tell itself, we are not "indivisible" and "liberty and justice" certainly aren't for all.
See the Storified tweets of this discussion below.