American Letter: Will US politicians remove the ‘Stars and Bars’ or just whistle Dixie?

Shootings at Charleston church blows up storm about flying the Confederate flag

The state flag of Mississippi, which incorporates the   Confederate flag , is displayed with the flags of the other 49 states and territories in the tunnel connecting the senate office building and the US Congress. Photograph: Chip Somodevilla/Getty

The state flag of Mississippi, which incorporates the Confederate flag , is displayed with the flags of the other 49 states and territories in the tunnel connecting the senate office building and the US Congress. Photograph: Chip Somodevilla/Getty

 

The Confederate flag has meant different things to different people over the years in the United States. It is far more than just a diagonal blue cross emblazoned with white stars against a red backdrop.

The flag carries so much political, cultural, racial and philosophical baggage. It is also far more than the piece of fabric that the Confederate states of the American South stood behind when they seceded from the US after Abraham Lincoln, a Republican, was elected president with the goal of stopping the expansion of slavery.

To some, it is a proud emblem of Southern heritage; to others, it is an insulting symbol of slavery. The latter association, a source of rancour for years, has come to the fore since the US’s latest gun atrocity. On June 17th, Dylann Roof, a 21-year-old white man, is accused of shooting dead nine people, all African-American, at a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina. Photographs of Roof have since appeared, showing him posing with the Confederate flag to promote his racist views.

Roof is reported to have told one of the nine black victims: “You are raping our women and taking over the country.”

In response to the suspected racially motivated attack major US retailers, including Walmart, eBay, Sears, Apple and Amazon, moved to ban the sale of any products that displayed the Confederate flag.

Corporate reaction

Nikki Haley

Haley, an Indian-American, had previously resisted efforts to remove the flag from the state’s seat of local government, instead supporting a compromise that led to the flag being removed from the top of the state capital dome and relocated to a nearby memorial to Confederate soldiers.

Standing beside South Carolina senators Lindsey Graham, a 2016 Republican presidential candidat, and Tim Scott, Haley said: “This flag, while an integral part of our past, does not represent the future of our great state.”

“I hope that, by removing the flag, we can take another step towards healing and recognition, and a sign that South Carolina is moving forward,” Graham, a three-term Republican senator, said.

Graham’s influence is thought to have shifted opinion among local politicians in this decades-old debate about whether the Confederate flag should fly over government property in any part of the US or whether, as President Barack Obama said last week, it “belongs in a museum.”

Mr Obama travelled to South Carolina yesterday to deliver the eulogy at the funeral of Rev Clementa Pinckney, the state senator who was gunned down in the church shooting.

“It’s true a flag did not cause these murders . . . but for too long, we were blind to the pain that it caused,” Mr Obama told mourners.

The president caused a stir this week when he used the racially charged “N-word” in a podcast interview while discussing the nuances of the struggle to beat racism.

“Racism – we are not cured of it,” he told comedian Marc Maron. “And it’s not just a matter of it not being polite to say n****r in public. That’s not the measure of whether it still exists or not. It’s not just a matter of overt discrimination. Societies don’t, overnight, completely erase everything that happened 200 to 300 years prior.”

Opposition to flag

Robert Bentley

State lawmakers in Mississippi are reconsidering their use of the flag, which has been on one of the corners of the state flag since 1894. Democrats and Republicans in Tennessee have called for the flag to be removed from their state house.

A proposal to remove state flags containing any part of the Confederate flag from Capitol Hill in Washington was put on hold after Republicans in the House of Representatives sent the resolution to a congressional committee for consideration.

The measure, proposed by Congressman Bennie Thompson, the only black member of Mississippi’s congressional delegation, would only affect his state’s flag. Congress could take a lead in removing the “Stars and Bars” from all government property but given the political divisions in Washington they are more likely to whistle Dixie and do nothing.