Sunday, 21 June 2015

Charleston: Take it Down

John Stewart may have gotten the most attention for his monologue the day of the shooting at AME Emanuel Church in Charleston, South Carolina, this week, but his colleague Larry Wilmore, on the Nightly Show, had the best response:

Going straight after the limp-wristed and offensive coverage from Fox, in which they tried to spin it as an attack on Christians rather than on African-Americans, Wilmore put together a panel to try and make sense of the killer's motives and of why it seems to be so hard for the American right to take responsibility for its extremist wing.

The main thing, of course, is the fact that the Confederate Flag still flies over South Carolina and other parts of the South - the same flag (along with that of Rhodesia) that the shooter had sewn onto a jacket to show how serious he was about fomenting race war. A couple of Republican figures have come out and said the flag shouldn't fly over the state house - Mitt Romney, most notably, has been saying since 2008 that he doesn't recognize that flag. This is a nice step up from Jeb Bush, who called for it to be taken down but has hedged disgracefully about whether the shooting in Charleston counted as racially motivated.

Which is, of course, the point that nobody seems willing to acknowledge. In addition to the fact that it stands for racism and the degradation of an entire race - a degradation, moreover, that still echoes today, as we can tell from all the shootings of unarmed black men by police in the last year - that flag is a flag of treason. Most of the generals and politicians who supported the South during the Civil War were either executed as traitors or exiled, and the fact that it's inexplicably considered a cultural symbol should hold no water: just burn the fucking thing.

I'm reluctant to invoke Godwin's Law here, but no state in Germany is interested in flying the swastika, no matter how conservative they may be. There may be Germans who consider it a "cultural symbol", but those people are neo-Nazis, and are so far out of the mainstream discussion that they may as well not even exist.

So why do American Southerners cling to the Confederate flag, and why do the rest of us let them do it? You can bleat about states' rights all along, but the whole fucking point of the Civil War, beyond slavery, was that we aren't a collection of mini-nations with their own rules - there's a law of the land, which is applicable from Maine to Florida to California, and it trumps the laws of the states. To pretend otherwise is an insult to the nine victims at Emanuel Church, as well as to all the others who died trying to achieve civil rights throughout American history.

And it's not a free speech issue, either. There's a shibboleth among white right-wingers that minorities and the poor are only interested in having their rights recognized, and don't face up to their responsibilities. I'd like to submit that it's the most vocal members of the Tea Party and other hard-right groups who ignore their own responsibilities - in claiming that they aren't being heard, they forget that the speech they're trying to protect is in many cases hateful and degrading to other Americans. Nobody wants to hear that speech - and if they do, they're not the people you should be courting.

The first thing we learned in our media law class back in journalism school was that the First Amendment isn't an indiscriminate permission to say whatever you want. There are limits to what can be said, and we need to highlight these lines much better, because as long as the bloviating windbags of the hard-right continue to spew their hatred with impunity, the killing won't stop.