Earlier in 2015, Indiana did a very stupid thing. Despite the rising tide of support for LGBT rights, they passed a law enabling business owners to discriminate against members of the LGBT community, thinly veiled as protection of religious rights. The response was swift. People from around the country exploded in outrage. Municipalities and states indicated they would no longer fund travel to Indiana. Scheduled national conferences threatened to cancel their events. Leaders of major corporations threatened the same, with prominent figures publicly chastising state leadership for their actions.
It didn’t take long for Indiana to backtrack, adding provisions that would protect the same community they had set out to marginalize. Why? Because money talks louder than ideals in this world, unfortunately. It’s not enough for something to be the right thing; there has to be a cost for doing the wrong thing.
In South Carolina last week, we were reminded that there is something very, very wrong with the way racism is tolerated in this country. A young man who had been incredibly vocal regarding his racist worldview ended the lives of nine black parishioners at the historical Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in an attempt to start a “race war.” His views, despite violent rhetoric, had not raised any alarms until it was far too late. The proud bearer of the Confederate Flag had already completed his murderous mission.
In the wake of this brutal attack, South Carolina also did a very stupid thing. Well, arguably, they had been doing said stupid thing for years: flying the Confederate Flag along with Old Glory at their state capitol. With the Stars & Stripes at half mast, the antiquated Battle Flag stood unmoved but by the wind, and people across the nation cried foul. How tone deaf and cruel to fly the symbol that had represented the Charleston shooter’s hatred at full mast while the mourning had only just begun?
In rapid fashion, #takeitdown began to trend. Politicians who had initially come off as ambiguous or defensive on the matter found themselves needing to backtrack as backlash mounted. South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley started by dismissing the matter out of hand until she, too, found herself calling for its removal.
Those who wish to see the flag remain present arguments just as transparent as those embraced by proponents of Indiana’s “religious freedom” law. It’s a symbol of heritage, they say. It’s a celebration of history, they say. It’s emblematic of Southern culture, they say.
These arguments are neither new nor persuasive. One need only contemplate whose heritage it celebrates (hint: certainly not that of the Black enslaved lives which prompted its creation) to recognize that this line of reasoning is privileged garbage at best and explicitly, disgustingly racist at worst. The basis of the argument is also ironically incorrect from a historical standpoint, as the prevalence of the Confederate flag technically surged in the 1950’s in response to mandated desegregation — another act of racially charged rebellion in the South. It’s really just bullshit no matter how you slice it. The same folks claiming “Southern Pride” as a justification for embracing the Confederate Flag would be appalled by Germans flying swastikas in the name of historical.
Well, for the most part.
Despite the heat facing South Carolina, though, the take down of the Confederate Flag is far from a sure thing. Its removal would require support from a supermajority in the legislature, and given that politicians are always looking to the next election, this issue gets tricky. 73% of White people in South Carolina — a demographic which makes up more than 68% of the state — want the Rebel Flag to continue to fly. Politicians taking a stand against that big a swath of the electorate would be gambling with their futures.
But revisiting battles earlier this year, let’s remember that money talks. It’s time to give South Carolina the Indiana-treatment.
Boycott South Carolina. Stop traveling there. Cancel those vacation plans today, and tell the venues WHY. Stop giving money to companies with a hub there. End your services with Verizon, skip Denny’s, get your new appliances from anyone other than GE, and tell them all WHY. Hey Angie’s List? Salesforce? Where you at? Seattle? No more travel, alright? Collectively, we can pull the purse strings tight enough to make tolerating a symbol of bigotry as a matter of public policy an untenable position, just as was done with LGBT discrimination in Indiana. It works. And it’s time.
Let’s get it done in South Carolina, but don’t stop there. The Palmetto State is far from the only offender in terms of Confederate imagery. Hell, the Confederate Battle Flag is ON THE STATE FLAG in Mississippi, with other variants present in state flags of Georgia, Florida, Arkansas, Tennessee, Alabama and North Carolina. In Maryland, Mississippi, Alabama, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Louisiana, Virginia and Tennessee, states profit off of the sale of Confederate Flag license plates. Let’s turn up the heat this summer, shall we?
But beyond your wallet, make sure you bring your beliefs with you in the voting booth. Demand that your candidates, at a minimum, oppose the governmental use of the Confederate Flag and vocally indict its personal display. For the record, Ted Cruz, Carly Fiorina, Mike Huckabee, Bobby Jindal, Rick Perry, Marco Rubio, and Rick Santorum all fail this test. They’ve said it should be up to the people of South Carolina to determine its appropriateness. You know, the people who favor its continued presence at the Capitol. Don’t cast your vote for someone who would tolerate that sort of bigotry. I mean, really, even Mitt Romney got this one right. It’s not that difficult.
It’s not enough to use a hashtag. It’s not enough to be saddened or outraged. Put your money and your vote where your mouth is, because it’s overdue. If you can honestly look at the events of the past two years and say with a straight face that racism is not a current, widespread, urgent problem in this country, you’re either delusional, a liar, or a proponent of racism apologia yourself. The time for tolerating emblems of racism under the guise of culture never really was, but it certainly isn’t today.
We can’t just take it down, folks. We have to take it all down. Even that only scratches the surface of the work to be done in this country on the issue of race, but it’s a start. So let’s begin.