A mere eight months after defending the Confederate flag’s presence on the statehouse grounds, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley made national headlines calling for its removal. What caused this about-face?
In October of last year, while running for re-election, Haley stated that the flag was never brought up in her negotiations with CEOs and that since the state had a female minority governor and an African-American U.S. senator, there was no need to address the issue of the flag flying at the statehouse. By using the standard Tea Party tactic of utter allegiance to Big Business and a rabid insistence that racism ended in the 1960s, Haley attempted to deflect any real conversation about the state’s history or contemporary race relations.
South Carolina is a state plastered in Confederate imagery. The SC Department of Motor Vehicles issues Sons of the Confederacy license plates. The Confederate flag can be found on any variety of apparel. Car bumpers from Travelers Rest to Beaufort are plastered with them. Former Lt. Governor and current president of the College of Charleston, Glenn
McConnell, is proudly and openly pro-Confederate. A photo of McConnell at a party dressed as a Confederate soldier standing next to African-American men dressed as slaves wasn’t even a hiccup in his political career.
In this environment, it is no wonder that 17 white-supremacist hate groups are active in the state, and, inevitably, someone would act. That person, as we all know, was Dylann Roof, a 21-year-old racist who grew tired of the hate groups’ all talk, no action approach and massacred nine people inside Mother Emmanuel AME Church in downtown Charleston.
In Haley’s address, she described the flag as symbolizing “traditions of history, of heritage, and of ancestry” while Roof represented those who take “a sick and twisted view” of the flag. Those sick and twisted views are the same traditions of history, heritage, and ancestry she holds so dear. Racists like Roof want to turn back history to when only the Confederate and state flags flew at the statehouse. They hold their heritage and ancestry as special and above that of the rest of humanity. They fly the Confederate flag to say these things. So where is the difference, Gov. Haley?
In reality, there is none, or so little as to be the same. The difference between what Haley called “honorable” traditions of history, heritage, and ancestry and a “terrorist manifesto” is the change of tide of opinion driven by a new mass movement against racism, known popularly as “Black Lives Matter” which has manifested in uprisings and protests across the nation, as well as in social media. For the CEOs that Haley looks to for approval, supporting the continued visibility of the Confederate flag in SC no longer seems viable from a public relations perspective.
While the politicians in the SC Statehouse debate whether or not the flag should come down, activists Bree Newsome (pictured above) and James Tyson took matters in their own hands and took down the flag in a daring act of civil disobedience on June 27. Ultimately, it will be mass struggle that not only takes down a symbol of racism, but uproots and overturns white supremacy altogether.