I have too many thoughts about the white supremacist terror attack at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, to get them down in any coherent way, and besides, Jon Stewart said it right, anyway. He also said that he knows the country well enough to know it’s not going to actually do anything about this. That is probably correct.
There are two things that should and must be done, though, two steps that must be taken, and not because of a shooting at a church, but because their persistence is an embarrassment to the country and a slap in the face to the nation’s stated founding principle that all men are created equal. And because their persistence overtly endorses things like this shooting at a church. Those steps are to get rid of the South Carolina Confederate flag flying over its statehouse, and to change the Mississippi state flag, which is the only one that still bears the “stars and bars” of the Confederacy.
Faulkner wrote “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” That is a simple and profound recognition that our past — individual and collective — continues to shape us.
And yet we are works in progress, and one hopes that however dark our past may be, we would continually strive to move forward, to improve. That while our past may inform us, it does not define us.
This progress is fundamentally impossible, though, if we institutionalize the most shameful period and practice in the history of our nation, and officially celebrate our great shame as a point of pride. Our nation and our citizens have committed many atrocities, but no one seeks to enshrine any others as a state symbol in the name of “history,” or “heritage,” or “tradition.” The California statehouse does not feature a proud symbol of Japanese internment camps alongside the Bear Republic flag. The city of Chicago does not fly a flag emblazoned with a Tommy gun outside of city hall.
It’s time for South Carolina to put their statehouse battle flag in a museum. And it’s time for Mississippi to change their flag, like the other longstanding holdout Georgia finally did over a decade ago.