Equality and the Confederate Flag
A flag symbolizing slavery may come down, but it is only a beginning in recognizing racism
Despite the electoral balancing act that removing the flag (in South Carolina) will require, it is one of the easiest steps to honor the dead of Emanuel A.M.E. Church. The more enduring acts are also far more difficult and unlikely. South Carolina Governor Haley’s opposition to the Affordable Care Act’s expansion of Medicaid, for instance, left an estimated three hundred and fifty thousand people without access to health insurance. The impoverished, mostly black school districts along Interstate 95—the so-called Corridor of Shame that Barack Obama referenced during his first Presidential campaign—remain an example of failing, underfunded public education. When I spoke to Anton Gunn, a former state legislator who ran Obama’s primary campaign in South Carolina, he asked, “If you take the flag down tomorrow, what is going to substantively change in the lives of black people and people affected by inequality in South Carolina?”
The situation in South Carolina has become a tragedy wrapped in an irony. The Confederate flag was erected as a pandering symbol to a segment of the white population who could expect little else from the government. Taking it down offers a kind of equality—an equality of emptiness—to black South Carolinians. Given the obvious electoral considerations, I thought that, with her speech, Haley did as much as any Republican could be expected to do. Haley is not, for instance, going to expand Medicaid or allocate funding to black schools—to uproot that disparity that the flag spoke to but most certainly did not cause.