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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Confederate flag burns hearts of Americans

In a 5-4 decision last Thursday, the Supreme Court determined that the First Amendment does not require the state of Texas to issue license plates bearing a Confederate battle flag.

The court’s four liberal justices were joined by Clarence Thomas, who is often considered the court’s most conservative and is also the court’s only (and second-ever) African-American, to form the majority opinion.

The license plate in question was proposed by the organization Sons of Confederate Veterans who argue that the flag does not represent racism, but merely celebrates Southern history and pride. The Texas Department of Motor Vehicles Board chose to reject the license plate because “a significant portion of the public associates the Confederate flag with organizations advocating expressions of hate directed towards people or groups that are demeaning to those people or groups.”

I couldn’t agree with the board more. For me, a black man, even looking at the proposed license plate was extremely triggering. Whenever I encounter a Confederate battle flag, whether hanging in a store, on a car decal or on a person’s shirt, I feel unwelcome and unsafe. I don’t know if the person I may be near or interacting with is going verbally or physically assault me because of my skin color.

In a country where violence against people of color has such a long history that continues even today, my fears are well founded. More than once I have found myself in situations where I feared for my own safety while white men verbally attacked me for my skin color. Hate speech and violence are only a few of the ways white supremacy affects the lives of people of color on a daily basis. Whenever I see a Confederate flag, a persistent emblem of the Ku Klux Klan and other hate groups, the only symbol I see is the idea that white supremacy should be celebrated.

I remember stopping at a gift shop in Missouri. When I got to the counter, I saw a Confederate flag hanging on the wall behind the register.

I told the woman working there that the flag made me feel excluded, and I couldn’t purchase products from a business that displayed it. She didn’t answer me, but just looked at me with a face that told me she couldn’t give less of a shit.

Dylann Roof, the racial terrorist who recently assassinated nine people at a historically significant African-American church in Charleston, S.C., drove a car with Confederate flags on the license plate. His Facebook profile also includes a photo of him wearing a jacket adorned with the flags representing the white supremacist regimes of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and apartheid-era South Africa: two countries where an invading white minority brutally ruled over a black majority.

In Charleston, South Carolina’s state capitol, the American and South Carolina flags have been lowered to half-mast as tribute to those slain in the hateful massacre, but the state-sponsored Confederate flag still flies high, serving as another source of pain for the mourning African-American communities in the city.

The flag has long been a center of debate in South Carolina, and last Wednesday’s events have reignited the conversation. NAACP president Cornell Brooks, who grew up in the state, has called the flag a “symbol of hate” that should be banished from public life. Speaking to CNN on Friday, he described the anguish the flag is causing South Carolina’s African-American communities and explained that the symbol affects everyone. He pointed out that companies seeking a welcoming environment for all of its employees may reconsider relocating to cities like Charleston where state-sponsored Confederate flags are flown.

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who has been against removing the flag in the past, reversed her position on Monday. Appearing at a news conference alongside Sen. Tim Scott, the state’s first African-American senator, and Sen. Lindsey Graham, she called for the removal of the flag. Gov. Haley declared, “150 years after the end of the Civil War, the time has come.” Removing the flag would require action from the state legislature.

South Carolina isn’t the only state to fly the Confederate flag; several other states including Mississippi, Georgia and Florida incorporate the it into the state flags.

In states that so proudly embrace their racist heritage, how can I, as a black man, expect to be treated as an equal citizen under the law? If I am ever subject to a traffic stop within their borders, how am I supposed to feel safe interacting with their police? If I chose to ever live in such a state, can I expect their justice system to adequately handle hate crimes ranging from housing discrimination to threats of violence?

I shouldn’t have to worry about these things, but as long as state governments continue to celebrate white supremacy I am forced to do so.

I thank Texas Department of Motor Vehicles Board, as well as Gov. Haley, for having the courage and sensitivity to make the right decision. I hope that the South Carolina legislature can find the same strength, and that other states will be similarly inspired.

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