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Taking down the flag is a good start, but it won’t ‘fix’ racism

80 percent of people subject to the GOP’s refusal to expand Medicaid live in former slave states.

Photo: Confederate “battle cross” flies at the South Carolina State Capitol. (eyeliam/Flickr)

Since the racist massacre of nine people in a Charleston church known for its history of black liberation, state governments and businesses across the country have chosen to do the right thing by removing a flag of racial hatred and treason from public display. But removing the Confederate battle flag from the state flag of Mississippi and the South Carolina state Capitol grounds is a small step on the march to ensuring that Black Lives Matter.

Today in Montgomery, Alabama, where men signed a new constitution that prohibited any law that infringed on “the right of property in negro slaves” 150 years ago, Republican Governor Robert Bentley ordered the removal of the flag from the Capitol grounds. That follows a statement yesterday by Mississippi’s Republican House Speaker, who called for the removal of the “battle cross” from the last state flag in the country to openly display the racist symbol. The South Carolina legislature will soon debate whether to take down the flag on its Capitol grounds.

Perhaps more importantly, the fight has moved beyond the flag alone. In Tennessee, Democratic and Republican leaders said that a bust of KKK founder Nathan Bedford Forrest, a Confederate war hero, should be taken out of the state house. Republican Robert Stivers, president of the Kentucky state senate, said that a statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis should be removed from the state Capitol rotunda as well.

These actions obviously represent progress. But the fact that nine African Americans had to be murdered while praying in the sanctuary of their church to create this change speaks to a deeper problem in our society. Taking down the flag is one way to show that Black Lives Matter, but it won’t bring back the 1.5 million black men lost to mass incarceration or early deaths. Removing statues of traitors from our public buildings won’t stop black children from being 500 percent more likely to die from asthma than white children.

Removing symbols won’t stop the march toward re-segregation that has made school segregation worse now than it was in the 1960s.

Racism too often underlies our politics and policy—80 percent of the population who lack access to expanded Medicaid provisions due to Republican obstructionism live in pre-Civil War slave states, as Paul Krugman wrote Monday.

Politics are behind Republicans’ decisions to disavow the flag this week, but as Charles Ellison wrote earlier in The Hill, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley’s statement that the flag should be removed is a “reverse course” for a party that has been “happily whistling political Dixie” for the past 50 years.

As he said, just simply coming out and saying that the flag should come down (the South Carolina flag is still flying and there’s no date set for its removal) is assumed to be “remarkable” for Republicans.

To truly address systems of white supremacy and racial violence that persist in our society, taking down a symbol of racism and treason against the United States from public property cannot be “remarkable.” It must be normal. It must be “the right thing” before political pressure, not after.

You know what would be remarkable? The appointment of a truth and reconciliation commission to discuss the 400 years of violence and oppression faced by people of color in America. Until we come together and address our history, we will be stuck in a cycle of violence from Birmingham to Ferguson to Charleston and then back to square one, again.

Zac Bears can reached at zac@dblstand.com.

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