Friday, June 19, 2015
My Letter to South Carolina
It's not great. It was written in a hurry. But it's a message that somehow has to penetrate, lots of people better than me are trying, and here is my own spoonful of effort towards reconciliation.
Hon. Nikki R. Haley
Office of the Governor
1205 Pendleton St.
Columbia, SC 29201
This week you are hearing much from the entire country about the significance of a confederate flag flying on the capitol grounds of South Carolina. It is not a new controversy, but has flared like an old wound (and so it is) in the wake of the murder of nine people at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, an attack carried out by an open white supremacist.
It can be argued ad infinitum that the flag is benign, that it has no causal connection to what occurred in an historic African-American church in Charleston, and that we can look away from any cultural culpability because surely this perpetrator must be insane.
These exercises in deflection do not spare South Carolina and you from the responsibility to consider what the presence of this flag means for those grieving in Charleston. A person strongly devoted to white supremacist ideology murdered African-American people at an important historical site, and the flag upholding this ideology (there is no evading this – must I quote the Cornerstone Speech outlining the founding principles of the confederacy?) continues to fly on the grounds of the state capitol implying some official recognition of that flag and what it stands for. It is an astonishing affront to those whose lives are lost, and those who truly mourn them.
The place for the flag of the confederacy, the flag of secession, the flag of a union founded on the principle that “the negro is not equal to the white man,” is a museum. The place for it is not the capitol grounds of one of the United States of America. This vain display of defiance is a tacit endorsement of the disunity and white supremacy for which it stood from the beginning.
In the wake of this mass murder, comparable to the bombing of African-American churches in Birmingham and numerous other attacks that have taken place in places where African-Americans worship from the present day spooling backward generations into our past, it is time for an unambiguous sign of unity with a nation in mourning. Take it down. Do so with respect; not with shame, but as an embrace of the entire nation and a new conversation about the social fabric of the United States. The confederate flag is a powerful historical artifact and belongs in a museum. Take it down. Do so, not least, as a sign of respect and an unmistakable rejection of the massacre in Charleston. Take it down, and put it back up in a museum of history.
What is asked of you requires some political courage, no doubt, as the embrace of this flag is a matter of strong passion for many in your state. As an embrace of national unity, however, the response from the entire nation would be tremendous and South Carolina, and her governor, would be celebrated for a simple action that would change our conversation about race, union, and American identity. Why hold yourself back from that historical opportunity? How often will you have an opportunity to melt discord and anger into tears of national reconciliation?
From my patch of these United States I will be watching in hope that you will do what needs to be done.
Most sincerely yours,