Everyday Racism in the US

Is it purely political cosmetic? A long overdue step finally taken under pressure? Or has South Carolina’s conservative governor really begun to understand? At any rate, on Monday she announced she no longer wanted the Confederate flag to be flown at the state capitol. Because of the massacre in Charleston, Gov. Haley said, the flag now represents a deeply offensive symbol to some.

Prior to the massacre, what did she think it represented? For African-Americans at least, the flag was never anything but a “deeply offensive symbol of a brutally offensive past.” Apparently, people have to die in order for a Republican governor to catch on. Taking the flag down and consigning it to a museum as everyone is demanding is long overdue. And Wal-Mart’s decision to stop selling merchandise bearing the Confederate flag is nice of them, too. But it all falls far short of the mark, by which we mean only that they shouldn’t just rename all the streets that are now named for slave-holding Civil War generals. They should do that as well, but it’s really all about something more. The white majority must come to understand that it has to abandon its “it wasn’t meant that way” excuse. Unless that happens, racism will remain a defining moment, even if people forget what was meant by the “N-word,” even if all the streets are renamed in honor of civil rights leaders and the Confederate flag can be seen only in museums.

It was Just a Lone Psychopath, Wasn’t It?

People who speak of “white privilege” let themselves in for corrosive journalistic attacks from the conservative media and political machinery. Mainstream society still refuses to recognize the clearly defined continuity lines from slavery to police brutality and the assassinations in the Emanuel church. They say what happened was bad, but that it was obviously the work of a psychopath acting alone.

They say there are far more black criminals than white — just take a look at the prisons. They say more blacks are killed by other blacks than are killed by the police. And in addition to that, if they all take drugs and commit theft and don’t care whether their children skip school and then can’t get decent jobs — well, that’s not the fault of whites!

A Confederate flag flying over the state capitol was an honest expression of a white society that had internalized the idea that it set standards of identity that blacks — provided they behaved well and we remained tolerant — could creep toward but never actually achieve.

Since Barack Obama became president, the tea party has become the determinative force within the Republican Party. Its battle cry, “We want our country back,” can’t be interpreted as being anything but racist. Naturally, they insist they don’t mean it like that, just as those who defend using the N-word in children’s books or not changing the name of Berlin’s Mohrenstrasse* say flying the Confederate flag isn’t meant like that and is just political correctness. We’re not racist, but …

The Charleston shooter never allowed himself to be distracted by such protestations. He understood how things were supposed to be and the only way they could possibly be. Then he did what he thought he had to do.

*Translator’s note: Mohr translates as Moor, an obsolete term in Germany for a black person.

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