In the wake of the massacre of nine black church-goers in Charleston, S.C., by twenty-one year-old Dylan Roof, outcry arose to remove the Confederate battle flag flying over South Carolina’s capitol. The Confederate flag has flown there since 1961. Removing the Civil War-era flag requires a two-thirds vote from both chambers of the General Assembly.
Roof saturated himself in white supremacist vitriol, burned the American flag and flew the Confederate battle flag, wore a jacket with the flags of apartheid South Africa and Rhodesia, and fantasized about a reigniting a civil war.
Soon, it seemed like the headlines were filled with politicians distancing themselves from the Confederate flag (some, albeit, ambiguously) and retailers were whipping Confederate-flag emblazoned products off the shelves.
One of the latest Confederate flag-bans comes from television channel TV Land’s announcement that it would pull reruns of The Dukes of Hazzard television show because of the Confederate flag-topped stunt car, the General Lee. Warner Bros., the holder of Dukes of Hazzard licensing, will stop selling General Lee merchandise. Perhaps not surprisingly, DVD and download sales for “The Dukes of Hazzard” have soared.
Here’s the thing, taking down the Confederate flag flown on public, governmental grounds in South Carolina’s capitol is important and must be done.
Axing Confederate-flag merchandise and impounding the General Lee will not stop systemic racism in America. Those are perilous distractions.
I’m going to indict myself along with all other well-meaning white folks when I say that in the face of discomfort at examining our own role in systemic racism, we rush to find ways to bind our anxieties, to DO SOMETHING, to prove that WE are not racist. We want to ban everything. We sign online petitions. We boycott companies and organizations.
And none of it makes a substantial difference.
We well-meaning white folks have to sit with the discomfort. It ought to haunt us and keep us awake at night. And then we need to jar other white people out of comfortable numbness and begin the hard work of self-examination in order to name our role in perpetuating white supremacy.
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