It’s not just about that flag
It’s not just about that flag
By Pastor Rasheed Z. Baaith
“The wicked watcheth the righteous, and seeketh to slay him.” (Psalm 37:32)
One more time the fact that racism of the most virulent type is alive and thriving in America has been proven. This time the proof lies in the deaths of nine Black men and women, several of them clergy who were murdered while in church for Bible Study. Among those killed was the pastor of the church. Their killer was a 21-year-old white male who declared as he shot them that, “Blacks were taking over” and were “raping white women.” Those he killed had welcomed him into the church and he sat watching and listening before he killed them.
The aftermath of this inhumane horror was what it always is: the Republicans denying the obvious, Presidential candidates side stepping the issue of racism having the power that it has in America out of fear of losing the support of white conservative voters, President Obama showing anger and sadness, Black folks being forgiving as we always are. It may be time to remember as well as forgive.
A lot of us, like a lot of others, have bought into this popular nonsense of America no longer being the America of the Civil Rights era and the racism of that time no longer existing today. How could they ask if we have a Black President? It’s true that America is not the America of the 1960s but what place is? It is equally true that the racism of that time has gone. We no longer have laws that enforce segregation or prevent our people from public accommodations or don’t allow whites to marry Blacks or have public lynchings. All of that is true.
But the racism of today is just as pernicious, just as unbending, just as embedded in American culture as it was 150 years ago. Even more, because so many people including us refuse to acknowledge its existence it is having a greater impact on us than ever before.
We have gotten caught up in symbolism and symbols are powerful. The Confederate flag is a case in point. Because of what it means to many southerners, it is sacred, even holy to them. It inspires them to yearn for the Antebellum South. A time when white supremacy was the accepted social order of the day.
It reminds them of a failed revolution they led that still remains a just cause in their mind and even more the Confederate flag reminds them of a culture of exclusion. I don’t believe they will ever let it go.
The fact that the political leadership of South Carolina has agreed to ask the state legislature to take the flag down impresses me not at all. The cost of the asking was too great, it took the shedding of innocent blood and the desecration of one of the most respected churches in Black America to even get the conversation started. That too is symbolism.
But again that’s partly our fault. We keep telling each other we need to move forward, to leave the past in the past, that slavery and what it did to our people is no longer relevant. I wonder at that thinking and how shallow it is.
I have never heard anyone tell the Jews to forget about the holocaust, to leave that attempt at the genocide of them behind them. People know better than to even voice that ignorant madness to them. But no one minds telling us that. You need to wonder why.
Don’t mis-understand. I’m not suggesting that what happened to us should always be our story but I am suggesting that to deny what happened to us and to those who enslaved us before, during and after slavery is a type of insanity that is as destructive as that experience we try so hard to forget. Forgetting it is a great error.
After all we can see from these murders and from the mind of the murderer, what happened to all of us, Black and white, seems to have impacted us for generations yet to be born.