In a previous post, I expressed some pessimism that southern states would disassociate themselves from the confederate flag, pointing out that the determination of fans and owners of the Cleveland Indians baseball team to retain their racist mascot in the face of opprobrium shows the strength that symbols have on people. If a baseball mascot could not be gotten rid of, what are the chances of doing so for a flag in a nation that fetishizes flags?
But it seems like I was wrong. The confederate flag has suddenly become so toxic that even Republican politicians in the south are now calling for its removal from all places that might signify official endorsement.
The Confederate battle flag planted in the ground outside the statehouse in South Carolina has been protected by a state law since 2000 that says it must remain hoisted at 30 feet in perpetuity. Perpetuity, it turns out, might end next week.
State legislators introduced a bill on Tuesday to reverse the old law and remove the flag, following days of impassioned protests outside the capitol by thousands of citizens galvanized by the killing a week earlier of nine African Americans inside the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church in Charleston.
Decades of resistance to retiring the emblem, which has long been held up in the south as a symbol of regional pride and reverence for fallen Confederate soldiers, suddenly seemed to disappear this week in revulsion at pictures posted online of the alleged church killer, Dylann Roof, with the flag.
This feeling was not restricted to South Carolina. The killings have sparked a quickly expanding movement to abolish the flag symbol across the states of the old south, which fought unsuccessfully to leave the United States in the civil war of 1861-65.
Multiple states have acted to remove the flag from official use, while retailers have announced bans on its sale and elected officials have spoken openly against it for the first time in memory.
More importantly in a nation that views market forces as indicating the will of the people, Walmart, Amazon, and Etsy have said they will no longer sell merchandise with the confederate flag on them and one of the biggest flag makers in the country says it will no longer make them. NASCAR has also piled on.
Of course, the dead-enders will cling to their flag to the bitter end, even more closely than ever as they feel themselves besieged by public disapproval and there is nothing that can be done about it, just as nothing can be done about those who proudly associate themselves with the swastika.
One should remember that the flag is just a symbol of deeper underlying problems and those remain unaddressed. Jon Stewart points out that Fox News and others who pander to the gun lobby and subtly feed the narrative that racism no longer exists are now in full-blown attack mode, trying to shift attention away from the roles played by racism and the easy access to guns in the Charleston massacre. They have some success with this strategy of delay and deny in the past. After all, recall that even the Newtown massacre of 20 elementary school children and 6 adults in 2012 did not result in any meaningful reform of gun laws.
Larry Wilmore also had something to say about the flag
He also gave some interesting facts about the flag that I was not aware of before.
(These clips aired on June 22, 2015. To get suggestions on how to view clips of The Daily Show and The Nightly Show outside the US, please see this earlier post. If the videos autoplay, please see here for a diagnosis and possible solutions.)