We have ONE flag to deal with, and in SC, we know which one it is

flags cropped Sowell

This morning, The Washington Post ran a story headlined, “Did Republicans jump the gun on the Confederate flag?

It was prompted by a national poll that showed the public evenly split on whether the flag is a racist symbol. The premise of the story was that golly, did Nikki Haley and the rest get ahead of public opinion by moving to take down the flag?

This engendered a couple of strong reactions in me. The first was, a NATIONAL poll? Really? In what way is that relevant? I appreciate that, in this era of all local stories being nationalized, the rest of the country feels like it’s a part of our problem, but no matter what sort of vicarious interest they may have in this drama, it is ours to deal with. Our obligation, our duty, our task.

The second was, please don’t anybody do a South Carolina poll, not for another week or so, please. And my reason for saying that leads to my third reaction, which I put in a Tweet:

I realize that to folks in Washington, a town full of political consultants, the idea of getting out ahead of public opinion is… well… unprofessional.

Of course, it’s an awfully rare thing here in South Carolina. In fact, the last time I saw leadership on the flag by a public official in our state was Joe Riley’s march from Charleston to Columbia in 2000.

But that’s what we’re seeing right now. That’s the miracle, or one of them. Our governor and two-thirds majorities in both chambers are ready to act, and they’re not waiting around for polls or political advice from anyone. And I, who have castigated pretty much all of them on one occasion or another (and with a lot of them, a lot more than that), am as proud of them as I can be.

Anyway, my Tweet ended up on Facebook as all of them do, and someone commented (and seems to have thought better of it and taken it down now) something to the effect that she was fine with taking this one flag and putting it in a museum, but she felt like people across the country going on about other Confederate symbols and such were going overboard.

My response to that:

None of that concerns me, or I should think any of us in South Carolina. We have this one flag to deal with. We’ve known that for ages. So we need to get it done.

There’s this one flag, that is qualitatively different, in terms of what it means, from any other flag, symbol, statue, institution name, monument or what have you anywhere in the world.

It, in one form or another and in one place or another, has flown at the State House since 1962, and we all know why. It is a way white South Carolinians have had of saying that, despite Appomattox and the civil rights movement, We can do this. We can fly this flag no matter how it affects you or how you feel about it. We don’t care about you or how you think or feel about it; you can go to hell if you don’t like it. In your face.

This message is delivered, of course, primarily to black South Carolinians, and secondarily to anyone else who wanted the flag down, including — putting in a word for people like me — quite a few of us white South Carolinians.

It’s a message that could only be delivered by a flag flown at our seat of government, this message about a highly exclusive, restricted definition of whose state this is. You can’t send that message anywhere else with any symbol. By flying rather than being a cold monument, it says this definition of South Carolina is alive; it’s now; it’s not just history.

That’s why this one flag has to come down.

I’m tired of folks, some of them quite nice folks, talking slippery slopes: Oh, but what about all those other flags, symbols, etc.? I dismiss such questions with increasing impatience. We are dealing with this specific flag for specific reasons that are particular to it — in fact, unique. Those reasons don’t exist for any other object you can name.

Let the rest of the country talk about what it wants to. Since they don’t have this flag to deal with, let them obsess over whatever lesser symbols they have in their desire to be a part of what we’re dealing with. That desire may be laudable, but right now it’s a distraction, if we let it be.

We know what we have to do here in South Carolina. And finally, we’re about to do it.

18 thoughts on “We have ONE flag to deal with, and in SC, we know which one it is

  1. Karen Pearson

    Yes, Brad, that’s exactly what that flag says. Kudos to you for saying it outright, rather than tiptoeing around the issue. Anyone who is blind to the insult that flag throws in black folks’ faces is beyond blind. I have no word for it, and I kinda doubt that they don’t see it, and just refuse to admit it.

  2. David Carlton

    One thought, Brad, that may not be entirely welcome, but so be it. One thing that strikes me about the sharp reversal on the Flag is that I suspect that for many years there’s been a soft, slow decoupling of the Confederate Battle flag from white southern identity on the part of the expanding number of middle-class, educated whites–mainly for reasons of class. I have in the past taught fun seminars on southern identity here at Vanderbilt, and can recall asking my generally well educated, affluent southern white students what the Confederate battle flag means to them. Their response? “Rednecks.” And by that they didn’t mean anything nice; indeed, the redneck image elicited some fear in them. This brings to mind a news story on the Flag reversal quoting a white Charlestonian who opposes the Flag because he associates it with The Dukes of Hazzard! That’s not all to it, by any means; to such people the Flag could be tolerated as a symbol of “southern pride” or whatever, but not taken seriously. What changed was, first of all, the remarkable space opened up by the Emanuel shootings for genuine conversation across racial lines (Alas, after all this time all too rare either in SC or the US), which exposed whites who had no deep commitment to the Flag to the exclusion it represented to their black compatriots. But there was also the dramatic reinforcement Dylann Roof gave to the image of the Flag as a symbol of redneckery. While it’s not as deep as the racial divide in South Carolina or the South, there’s a not dissimilar class divide among whites. Plenty of whites who otherwise cling to symbols of southern heritage are ready to ditch what they see as an emblem of hooliganism. For that reason, I’m starting to doubt that this reversal will extend to most Confederate monuments; there’s a big difference between identifying with a “redneck” symbol and identifying with genteel Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee. (Well, Nate Forrest may be different). Make sense?

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Oh, of course. Emile DeFelice, an organizer of the flag rally two weeks ago and the one coming on the 4th, was alluding to all that when he said this:

      “We really take it on the chin in Columbia,” he said. We host the nation’s Army, the state’s flagship university, the state government, and the region’s homeless people.

      He says “we’ve done enough” without lawmakers “planting a flag and running home” to leave us to live with it. “I work on Main Street,” he says, and he’s tired of it. He wants to tell them, “It’s not fair for y’all to plant that flag where we have to deal with it.”

      He fantasizes about getting a bunch of Confederate flags, some poles and a few bags of cement, and driving them in a truck to the places of business of some of these lawmakers — their law offices, their insurance agencies and so forth — and planting the flags in front of their businesses and seeing how they like it.

      And he’s right, of course. Most of them wouldn’t. They just keep the flag up because they don’t want to stir up that extremely passionate minority out there who would descend on them if they lifted a finger to bring it down — the kinds of people who totally freak out the uninitiated when they venture into flag territory….

      In other words, the majority in the Legislature has tolerated the flag this long for fear of the aforementioned rednecks, who can be a potent force in a GOP primary.

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Of course, there is the occasional Confederacy fetishist who is NOT a redneck — such as John Courson, Glenn McConnell. And they tend to emerge as leaders when the subject comes up.

        But I’ll say this about the middle class: Many of them — plenty of them who have been to college — have supported keeping the flag up because they don’t want to “knuckle under” to “those people” out there. They may not feel it as passionately as rednecks do, and at a moment like this they have the good sense and sense of propriety to keep quiet about it — but it’s there.

        His language is a bit brutal, but I think Randy Newman was talking about those folks when he sang:

        College men from LSU
        Went in dumb — come out dumb too
        Hustlin’ ’round Atlanta in their alligator shoes
        Gettin’ drunk every weekend at the barbecues

    2. guest

      ” the remarkable space opened up by the Emanuel shootings for genuine conversation across racial lines….”

      And is this space really being filled in any truly meaningful way?

      Talk of “conversation” in this context reminds me of this from the president’s eulogy last week:

      “Every time something like this happens, somebody says we have to have a conversation about race. We talk a lot about race. There’s no shortcut. And we don’t need more talk. (Applause.)”

      Much was said by that applause.

  3. guest

    A point of order: The poll was not about whether the flag at the State House should be hauled down. It was simply about whether those polled consider the Confederate flag a racist symbol. And on that, there’s nary a thing to complain about; the rest of the country definitely has a right to weigh in. Moreover, what you failed to mention is that the same poll shows 55 percent saying the flag should not be flown on government property. So on that specific issue, the rest of the country is with you. So there’s really nothing here to complain about. Move along, folks, move along.

    Just as an aside, though, perhaps you might want to consider creating your own special bumper sticker: a crossed out rebel flag followed by the words: “Fergit, hell yeah!”

  4. Bryan Caskey

    RE: The Slippery Slope:

    I’m just wondering what to make of the fact that the fact that so many other Confederate Flags are being removed and/or purged from existence. For instance, Warner Bros. is no longer manufacturing merchandise for “The Dukes of Hazzard” with the Confederate Flag, which basically means the General Lee car, I guess.

    Also, TVLand (a channel that shows old shows) is pulling the re-runs.


    What should we make of all this? Are we happy? Are we indifferent? Are we somewhat concerned about this purge? Maybe it’s okay to toss some stuff down the memory-hole, right? Or is it?

    Oh, and one point I think should be made is this: I haven’t seen every single episode of “The Dukes of Hazzard”, but I’ve seen a fair number of them. I can’t recall EVER seeing anything racially-oriented in a Dukes episode. The whole furor seems to be about a decal in the background.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      I thought the General Lee thing was about what was on top:

      images (1)

      But to answer your question: “What should we make of all this? Are we happy? Are we indifferent? Are we somewhat concerned about this purge?”

      My answer is “indifferent.” Or at least, far too busily engaged in an actually relevant issue to waste time thinking about it.

      As I thought I said pretty emphatically, the flag issue we are dealing with here is qualitatively different from anything else anyone may choose to talk about with regard to the Confederacy or other Southron icons.

      What it says by flying there, and what we will say by taking it down, are central considerations. This is about how we define our state, and ourselves as South Carolinians. It speaks to basic assumptions about how we treat each other.

      Nothing else is like that. And until we get this done, we need to focus on it like what Dr. Evil would term a “laser.”

      And in the meantime, with regard to the General Lee — yeah, indifference.

    2. Norm Ivey

      TVLand operates on a profit motive. I suspect they are feeling some heat from its advertisers to make such a move. The market is removing the flap from these other places, that’s all.

        1. Norm Ivey

          But hasn’t it always worked that way? Plenty of advertisers used to use derogatory black or Indian images and dropped them because of public–market–pressure. Remember Sambo’s restaurants? Dukes was in no way offensive, but the bigger message is that the flag cannot be taken lightly anymore.

  5. Lynn Teague

    Too late, Brad – there is a poll in SC, I was called yesterday. It wasn’t just a poll, it was very obviously precisely the kind of poll you hope wouldn’t happen, for good reason. The pertinent questions were whether I wanted the flag up or down, and how much influence that would have on who I voted for in SC Senate and House elections.

    I don’t know if the poll was statewide or more restricted, I assumed statewide but it might not be. I didn’t catch the name of the polling company, which is a shame, since that might help to point toward the client who commissioned it.

  6. Mike Cakora

    A national poll, eh? How many of those polled know much about the Civil War or about the varied perceptions of the flag in question?

  7. bud

    I would imagine that before the AME shooting the overwhelming majority of folks were indifferent about the whole flag thing. I certainly was. We should take it down if for no other reason than to shut Brad up about the damn thing. How many posts has Brad done on this issue in the last 3 weeks? It must be several dozen. In the meantime we still have a plethora of REAL issues with REAL consequences that are unresolved. Most overblown issue that has ever come up in this blog.

    1. Norm Ivey

      I don’t know. Seems we spent a fair amount of energy on the top five war movies of all time.

    2. Mark Stewart


      How do you feel about DOT highway signs?

      Green ones, brown ones, blue ones, yellow ones? Do you have faith in what they project? Do you trust that if the state flags things for your attention that these are things you should trust?

      The Confederate flag on statehouse grounds is a false flag. Do I need to draw the DOT comparable?

      Symbols matter when they get in front of reality. “REAL” is how we perceive, and react to, our social projections. Do this: save your responses to this issue on this blog for your grandchildren. How do you think their future selves will perceive you after we are all gone from this earth?

    3. Kathryn Fenner

      It’s hardly THE most important issue, but for once, it’s something we can possibly do something about. The time is now for this one.

Comments are closed.