Well publicized and–in political time–hasty removal of Confederate flags, and soon iconography, across the South is pushed in a bipartisan lens as positive steps toward national reconciliation after the terrorist attack in Charleston. In isolation, the removal of Confederate iconography is good. There are many other symbols particular to the South that capture the heritage and alienation that is the Southern experience in America. Many of them do not possess the clear racial tinge of the Confederate, slave-economy-then-Jim-Crow flag.
Out of ignorance, many people cling to that flag as a token of how the South has generally been an other in the American polity. Whether that otherness is because of external victimization or a conscious choice by Southern leaders to foment alienation as a tool of collectivization around single-party, stratified socio-economic hierarchy is a question for another day. (Hint: it is mostly the latter.)
The Confederate flag should be elevated high atop the tallest flagpole in each state that has strong governmental policy in place to encourage racial discrimination. By removing this symbol of oppression, political leadership claims credit for a generational victory while doing literally nothing to lessen racism in society. In some sense, it would seem better to keep the flag as a symbol of ongoing racism in places it occurs, especially since it now seems to make conservatives uncomfortable and businesses are superficially deterred from operating in these states.
The National Conference of State Legislatures puts out some incredibly handy reports every year. One such report surveys the state of voter ID laws in the states. Below is a recoloring of their map to show greater contrast in state-by-state laws. Dark green states have a low amount of discrimination in voting procedures (i.e. voter ID laws), while the transition to yellow and red denotes an increased form of lawmaker directed institutional discrimination. There is a very high correlation between the implementation of draconian voter ID laws and the presence of a GOP governor and unified GOP legislature. That in itself is evidence the GOP’s recent turn toward “social justice”–removing the confederate flags–is purely symbolic in an effort to keep heat off of their more harmful, purposefully created discriminatory policies.
This map is slightly misleading, as several dark green states actually passed voter ID laws. North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin’s voter ID laws have either been struck down by the courts or set to kick in late 2015 or 2016, so this map does not fairly characterize the intent of the legislative and executive regimes within those states. However, it does indicate the state and federal judiciary seem to remediate some of the worst tendencies of state lawmakers and Nixonian types like Scott Walker. New Hampshire’s voter ID law is also set to become strictier in the new year.
Every state that makes it harder for anyone to voter, but especially those that face barriers to entry such as the poor, elderly, naturalized citizens, and students, should be stamped with a Confederate flag in proportion to how much they discriminate. The nationalization of this Southern symbol might be useful, as plenty of Northern and Plains states implement racism and discriminatory policies, but because the legacy of racism in these areas was not economic-based, but instead social, people often ignore how pernicious racism is across America. The map below converts the NCSL map into a simple demonstration of how discriminatory state voting regimes are as denoted through the size of the affixed Confederate flag. Even states that do not dabble in voter ID-based oppression still receive a small Confederate flag, since other policies, such as race-based incarceration disparities (California and New York lead the pack), police violence, educational outcomes, school closures (Rahm Emanuel in Chicago), housing costs, unregulated predatory banking practices, and general economic deprivation are supra-state, national problems.
The Confederate flag is the symbol of race war, white supremacy, slave economics, state sanctioned violence, and cultural warfare. Because many of these issues still pervade society, politics, and public policy, I argue the Confederate flag should remain a visible symbol of ongoing discrimination. I fear taking it down will supplant rightful discussions about racial inequality. Many political leaders have already argued racism is a thing of the past, but the prominence of the Confederate flag has always hampered the legitimacy of these claims. Now that the flag is being removed–to join lynch mobs and the word nigger in the annals of “heritage” lost–racism deniers will have fewer visible symbols of ongoing racism. If not for videotaped police perpetrated beatings and murders of people of color, the US media might never address issues of race.
Race still matters, and irresponsible politicians that downplay its relevance in state policy contribute to ongoing racial inequality. They should have to see what they defend everyday, in the form a detestable flag.