It arose in the 2000 GOP presidential primary, when George W. Bush and John McCain refused to utter a bad word about the capitol flag, insisting it was something for South Carolinians to decide.
After losing the 2000 primary, McCain admitted he was dishonest in defending the flag. But he didn’t just abandon the position he had taken to win votes in South Carolina.
The Arizona senator said his Confederate ancestors “fought on the wrong side of American history. I don’t believe their service, however distinguished, needs to be commemorated in a way that offends, that deeply hurts, people whose ancestors were once denied their freedom by my ancestors.”
He admitted he was dishonest. And then he basically said, “Sorry if the flag pisses you off.” Because this is about people being pissed off. That’s the real problem here. This is about people’s feelings.
I get frustrated when politicians are pressed to take a stand on things like this, because we have a finite number of hours in the day and if a presidential candidate spends all of them equivocating about a flag instead of being made to explain how his policies will improve the lives of poor minorities, we have spent a day doing absolutely nothing.
Symbols matter. I’m a writer. I would never say they don’t. But the flag doesn’t just make black people feel bad. It doesn’t just signify to black people that they’re conquered and that white people are the conquerors.
It is the public face of all the ways in which white people do treat black people like they’re still owned.
It is a symbol of approbation to all the Dylann Roofs of the world, a wink and a nod that says sure, we can’t SAY outright anymore that we agree with you (PCPOLICEFEMINAZICOLLEGELIBERALS) but we do, in our secret hearts.
And if we take down that flag, and white people still act as conquerors, still treat black people as the conquered, what then? If all this incident leads to is the lowering of that traitor’s banner, if that is all that changes — if we still put a bulletproof vest on a white mass murderer to protect him and choke a black man selling cigarettes to death — then not enough will have changed, when weighed against the lives lost.
Take down the flag, erase the lionization of those traitors to America from every monument and byway in the USA, strike their names from the public buildings and cross them out of the history books. And then, the very next day, begin to act like race and poverty deserve more honest airtime than how a particularly dimwitted congressman or two feels about the symbol of all those things.
Otherwise, lowered flag or no, people will just keep winking and nodding, knowing the resentful, paranoid, angry Dylann Roofs of the world are still watching.