Southern Culture on the Skids

We all know now that a week ago Dylann Roof went into a predominantly black church in South Carolina and murdered nine people. He flat-out told them his reason for doing so (they were black), he had a manifesto and was looking to incite a race war, and he left one person alive to tell others what happened. Somehow this isn’t enough to make him get called a terrorist, which makes sense; in America, a terrorist is a person who makes white men afraid.

Once again a mass shooting will get some people to mention guns, but guns will have nothing to fear. There won’t be a gun debate because the gun debate is over and the guns won (fun fact: I don’t remember which shooting that was). Instead we will do as we always do and talk about something else.

Will it be the fact that Roof’s hatred was racially motivated? Heavens no, it can’t be that because we have a black president and therefore racism is over. Obviously any lingering cases of white people being convinced that black people are taking their women and ruining their country are isolated incidents with no recognizable connection between them.

Will we talk about the appalling state of mental health care in this country, even as we say that Roof was clearly sick, twisted, and crazy? Ha ha no indeed we will not.

So instead this time the Confederate flag will take the hit, which, let me tell you, I was shocked as hell to see. Did Dylann Roof play so few videogames or listen to so little music that we had to resort to this? It was surprising enough when the Confederate flag was thrown under then bus, but then Republicans couldn’t start repudiating it fast enough!

Now, let me say that I couldn’t be happier to see the beginning of the end of this miserable rag. Throw them all in a landfill, salt the landfill, and then shoot the landfill into the sun. Whatever sense of pride and heritage you get from the symbol of a bunch of traitors fighting for the right to own human beings can stand to feel a little bruised. I don’t give three-fifths of a damn about your great-great-grandpappy who served with Beauregard at Shiloh or whatever. If you have some affection for the Confederacy and its flag, maybe you need to re-think a few things. You can pretend it means something else, but it’s a symbol of a society founded on racism and slavery and we don’t need anyone “honoring” it. We certainly don’t need the government honoring it. I am all for getting it the hell out of here.

But although Roof sported the flag in some photos, he didn’t kill nine people with it. He didn’t murder them after reading up on Civil War history. The flag was a symbol of his racism and anger, but it wasn’t the cause, merely an expression of it (as it was when South Carolina decided to fly it in 1961, when the Negroes started getting uppity). At no point was Dylann Roof walking down the street when suddenly he saw a Confederate flag and thought, “Yes, father, I shall become a racist.”

It’s hard to complain about someone doing the right thing for the wrong reasons, but this is too important to let slide. It plays into the narrative that racism is over, that we’re all equal now, that it’s all in the past. To take down the symbol of an 1861 rebellion and then high-five ourselves is to ignore the racism that is going on right now, which isn’t stopping, and which seems to be growing in strength. We already teach that from the moment slaves were freed, things have just gotten better and better for black folks, which isn’t even remotely true. We can backslide, and we’ve done it several times. Again, that flag wasn’t flying over South Carolina since 1861, it went back up a hundred years later. Black people are constantly told that slavery ended a hundred and fifty years ago and they need to get over it, yet white people still need for some reason to hold on to the pride and heritage of their failed slave state. Take down the flag because it’s a continuing symbol of hatred, not because it might be “misinterpreted” by people who haven’t gotten the word that we’re all equal now.

President Obama recently spoke frankly about race; in fact he used the “n-word”. People who’d been happily calling him an n-word for eight years (or at least some polite company euphemism, like “thug”) were outraged that he would say such a thing. In fact, no one knows what context it was said in or what else he said because we were too busy having to take some air at this breach of social conduct unbecoming to the office of President (which has been held by many people who owned n-words). This bizarre theater, feigning outrage at a word we were sure had not been uttered in decades (except maybe by the aforementioned “thugs” who for some reason get to use it), is baffling. Who is it intended to convince?

I also worry about this new-found criticism and disowning of the Confederate flag because yeah, this time the scapegoat is, in fact, a symbol of hate and racism, but what if Roof had been big into videogames, or some kind of music, or comics, or weed, or whatever? We’d have the same song-and-dance now, the same theater and posturing by those in positions of authority, but I think most of us wouldn’t be quite as excited. Yes, by all means let’s stop the actual government from flying this garbage flag, but are we really ready to see it removed from stores and such because it’s currently unpopular? That’s the unfortunate thing about freedom; people are free to have shit opinions. Like religion, we unfortunately have to accommodate every whackadoo who thinks he’s got a hotline to the Creator, but it’s not the government’s job to support any of it (or at least, not supposed to be).

It already seems like the moment when we could discuss the legacy of the Civil War, the ugly root that survives and thrives in our society, has passed, and now we’re talking in mere symbols and signs, and within a few days that discussion too may well pass. Hell, maybe we’ll have another mass shooting to take our minds off it. Or maybe another baffling, isolated case of systemic racism in a fraternity or police department or school district or wherever. Maybe an actual 100% certified terrorist will get busted for thinking about maybe some day beginning to formulate a plot that would kill hundreds if it ever actually went off or even existed. The real threat out there isn’t Dylann Roof’s racism, it’s violent dangerous people who aren’t white.

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