- - Monday, July 27, 2015

I’d wanted to see it for years. I couldn’t believe the Confederate flag flew atop South Carolina’s Capitol, and was floored when the solution to its removal was placing the flag in an even more visible place on the Capitol grounds. This symbol of “heritage” so intimately woven into our national psyche that most of us don’t see it for what it is: the closest thing we have to a swastika. I had to see it, but never had an opportunity.

Finally, this past April, I had my chance. I drove slowly past; it sat mere yards from the main street. I took a picture through the window. The battle banner of the Confederacy lay limply that day, behind a Confederate monument. I started to park so I could get a better picture, and then decided that I did not want to give the Confederacy any more of my time. I was in Columbia for a gathering of VASHTI, the women’s organization that’s part of the People for the American Way Foundation’s African American Ministers Leadership Council (AAMLC). I had to leave the day before AAMLC members gave the flag the best kind of time: prayer.

As Leslie Watson Malachi, director of African American Religious Affairs at PFAW described it, they stood beneath the flag publicly praying for its removal, two months before someone she described as their “friend and brother Reverend and state Senator Clementa Pinckney, along with members of the congregation, were massacred at Emanuel A.M.E. church by a shooter who embraced the Confederate flag, clergy stood hand in hand in prayer, reflection, and even tears for the removal of this symbol of hate and bigotry.” Ms. Malachi shared in a blog post that they did it because “the Confederate flag remains a visible, strategically placed reminder of a southern heritage that embraced slavery, segregation and hate. Because a symbol rooted in the dehumanization of Black Americans is still prominently waving at the capitol, still validated by a government body.”

It’s off the South Carolina Statehouse grounds now, but it is part of the design of other state flags and elsewhere. In recent weeks those waving the flag in Tennessee and Oklahoma have greeted President Obama. Our current commander in chief also faces what historian Michael Lind told CNN is the “Southernomics” fine-tuned under that flag: taking advantage of workers and keeping government starving for its financial life-blood. I remember several great discussions 15 years ago with former congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. and Frank Watkins about their reasoning that the Civil War is still very much with us in economics and public policy. The shooting stopped in 1865, most of it anyway, but many former Confederates apparently took Abraham Lincoln’s forgiveness as an opportunity to keep their thinking and everything that went with it intact, including the flag. Lincoln should have asked for more.

I want the flags down and changed, but the Confederate mindset must change even more. Out with “Southernomics,” the practiced ignorance of our nation’s history and its impact on our present and the too small but increasing percentage of Americans who see race as a significant issue. With all of the challenges we face today from without, stop fueling stupid battles within. And no, race is not a stupid battle. It is our original sin. We cannot move toward redemption without acknowledging that, and I’m tired of so-called Christians who feel otherwise. I can prove my slave ancestry, but I’m willing to stop thinking about reparations if the nation repairs the slave history-structured Congress (ask one of them where “other side of the aisle” came from).

I get that humans will always fight, but we can also always choose our fights. We are our memories but we are also our dreams, and we have a lot of those in common. Who dreams of a worse world for their children than the one they grew up in? Who dreams of getting a worse job with fewer benefits and satisfaction? Who dreams of driving on highways that are riddled with potholes, or being unable to pay for desperately needed health care?

The Confederates were traitors, and they lost. They lost. They have been spared doing what this nation has always expected African-Americans and Native Americans to do. It’s their turn to get over it and get with the program. And everyone else who is enamored with the Confederate way of doing things needs to do the same.

Theresa Caldwell is a producer on the Right Side Forum with Armstrong Williams.

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