The past month has been a turbulent one for South Carolina. On June 17, Dylann Roof killed several African-Americans in a mass shooting at the Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston. His shooting drew special attention because of his history of sporting white supremacist imagery in photos and his declaration beforehand that he wanted to kill black people. In the wake of that, South Carolina’s legislature voted to remove the Confederate battle flag from the statehouse grounds in a long-overdue action.
I was born and bred in the South, having spent the majority of my life in Virginia and living in Georgia for the past three years. My father’s side of the family is from Charleston. Some of my white family, friends, and acquaintances growing up sported the Confederate battle flag in many forms: hanging it on a wall, having it in a bumper sticker, etc. I even knew a kid in school who had an image of it painted on the retainer he wore after he got his braces off. I’ve never understood these sorts of people’s obsession with the flag. Anyone who advanced past middle school knows why the Civil War was fought: slavery. Every cause of the war can be traced back to that. The South was afraid that newly elected President Abraham Lincoln would try to end slavery, and they started a war over it. Period. Full stop.
The Civil War was the lowest point in American history, pitting friend against friend, brother against brother, all to protect the disgusting institution of African slavery. I don’t understand why that became a source of pride in the South, especially after hate groups such as the Ku Klux Klan adopted the symbol for their causes. Maybe that same attitude is why it took 100 years for African-Americans in the South to attain basic fundamental rights such as voting or not being refused goods or services because of their skin color. Simply put, the flag is an ignominious symbol that does not belong anywhere near a government building. Shortly after the Charleston shooting, a number of retailers entered the debate too, including Wal-Mart, Target, eBay, Amazon, Sears/K-Mart, Etsy, and Google. They announced that they were pulling all merchandise featuring the Confederate flag from their tangible and digital store shelves. This sparked some controversy, but I think it was the right move.
I wish we could simply end the debate right there. However, some are threatening to take the debate to extremes. In the wake of the above retailers’ decision, Apple removed all Civil War games from its App Store. While I understand the above actions, this one puzzled me. Many of these games are strategy games that seek to show an honest depiction of an era in American history, however difficult it may be to stomach. The developers that made these games are not using Confederate imagery in a racist or mean-spirited way. In fact, many of these games are used in school curricula because of their historical accuracy and realism.
The Atlanta Chapter of the NAACP also took a controversial position, calling for the famous Stone Mountain carving featuring Confederate figures Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, and Stonewall Jackson to be sandblasted off or sold. While Stone Mountain has its own sordid history, having been a popular meeting place for the KKK, it hasn’t been used for that purpose in 50+ years and is now a memorial and popular meeting place. The Confederate battle flag still flies there, next to the graves of some soldiers who fought in the war.
My main purpose in writing this post, as the headline implies, is to encourage liberals to tread lightly here. You won this debate. Democrats and Republicans alike joined in the effort to remove the battle flag from the South Carolina statehouse, get the flag off store shelves, and off state-sponsored license plates in some states as well. There are probably still other places that the flag needs to be removed from. But if we start talking seriously about destroying priceless works of art or removing the flag from memorials, the accusations from some conservatives that we are attempting to erase part of our history will be true. We need to preserve symbols like this in their proper place: museums and other historical landmarks like Stone Mountain. Understanding and remembering our history is key to making sure that we don’t repeat its mistakes. The Civil War was a giant mistake, but we shouldn’t forget it. Just as we shouldn’t forget the indignities and abuse suffered by the African-American community over the years, some of which still goes on today. So to my fellow liberals, I say this: take yes for an answer, don’t overreach, and move on to other issues, such as preventing another mass shooting.