Voices from the inside out: Racism and the Confederate flag

August 30, 2015

From the September-October 2015 issue of News & Letters

by Robert Taliaferro

There should come a time when we are able to unite for a common cause without the specter of tragedy being the impetus. The removal of the Confederate battle flag from the capitol grounds of South Carolina is a positive action that should be applauded, yet there are those who would decry that event as pandering to liberal political causes centered in Washington under the Obama administration.

Then there are those who feel that the flag represents their heritage and the pride that they have for those who died for the Southern cause in the Civil War, at the time a call for “state’s rights” and the continuation of slavery.


It is a sad state of affairs that 150 years after the end of the Civil War the U.S. still has a culture infected by a deep and moral dilemma that engenders vehement debates over a piece of cloth, a relic of history that represents a culture entrenched in violence, racism and brutal class discrimination.

The most curious aspect of this predicament is not so much the attitudes of some who were born and raised in the South, but rather the white kid from Wisconsin, Minnesota or Alaska who waves the “stars and bars” defining “their heritage” when neither they, nor their family, have ever set foot south of the Mason-Dixon line.

No one is born a racist. If one is taught to look at a group of people in a particular manner (regardless of whether that person is white, Black, Jewish, Muslim, Native American or Christian) then there is a good chance that they will assimilate the nuances of that cultural environment if for no other reason than to “fit in.”

The building blocks of the hatred that led to the killing of nine Black men and women in a South Carolina church were not forged in a vacuum; rather, they are as conspicuous as the symbols of hatred and ignorance that those actions often encompass.

In a country whose whole existence was borne on the backs of slaves and floated on the sweat, blood and tears of those same slaves, we still have nothing better to do—it seems—than debate a cultural relic that represents one of this nation’s most offensive moral sins.

We are a nation of contrasts and contradictions on the personal, state, national and international level, and this conflagrant confluence of opinions and ideas is one of the definitive characteristics of the U.S. mentality, and this is not dependent on a particular political party.

One wonders if the Republicans of today—particularly Tea Party Republicans—would have felt inclined to aggressively put an end to slavery, especially since they support “states’ rights” and “smaller federal governmental influence” as staunchly as the Southern Democrats and anti-Abolitionists were at the start of the Civil War.

The consignment of the Confederate battle flag to a museum where it can be displayed in a fashion that represents both Southern heritage and U.S. history, is a positive step in the fight for the end of discrimination whether it is based on race, gender, religion, sexual orientation or culture. We must remember that it is only a battle won in an ongoing war.


Over the last several months we have witnessed a sort of cultural revolution in many areas that are now a part of the U.S., world and human experience, but we must continue to apply pressure to ensure that the gains achieved today are tinder for more evolved and permanent changes.

“Nothing great in the world,” Hegel wrote, “has been accomplished without passion.” It is for us to ensure that this passion is focused not on the historical embers of the past, but in the seeded new growth of change that is embodied in an equitable future that does not distinguish between race, class, gender, sexual orientation or religion.

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