I didn’t see my first Confederate flag in the flesh until the mid-'90s, when my family moved to Orlando, Fla., And every time I saw it, even now, I was overcome with a stinging pang that made me wince because it represented so much more to me than heritage.
While Florida isn’t typically considered as the true Deep South, white southern pride is very much a part of the landscape in many parts of the state. In fourth grade, I distinctly remember a lanky blond boy telling me to go back to Africa during recess. Of course, this isn’t to say all white people are hateful, but in that case, one can assume that type of hate talk comes from generations of reinforcement.
In those years, it wasn’t anything to spot a Confederate flag on a bumper sticker or displayed boldly on a flagpole outside someone’s home, or on a T-shirt sold at the local Walmart. But in the wake of the horrific shootings in Charleston, S.C., last week, much of this is changing. It’s a glimmer of hope in our modern civil rights movement.
Walmart, Amazon, eBay and Sears and have announced that they will stop selling Confederate merchandise in their stores. South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley have called for the removal of the flag from their state Capitol grounds and there is a vocal chorus of state lawmakers who support them. These actions will not bring back the lives of the victims, but it’s a huge step toward healing not seen in this country for years.
What it means is that those in influential positions of power are seeing this flag as more than just a symbol of southern heritage, as it has been argued. They’re seeing the complexities of a flag that arose out of the Antebellum South’s secession from the Union (South Carolina was the first state to secede in 1860). A flag that would be adopted by white supremacist groups as a tool to terrorize and subjugate African-Americans for decades.
In a more recent example, photos have surfaced of the Charleston shooting suspect Dylann Roof holding up the Confederate flag defiantly, a man who admitted to police that his intent was to start a race war. We can’t forget that he had the First Amendment-protected right to express his views in those photos. That flag also played a role in the murder of nine innocent people inside Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.
Last week, I asked you, the reader, to take a stand by supporting the political candidates and issues that directly impact the African-American community. I said that the real agent of change is action.
The action of corporations and politicians looking deeper into the implications of the Confederate flag — where and how it is expressed — is a small step. But it can lead to many more steps towards making this country indivisible, with justice and liberty for all.
The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.
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