Capitol Thoughts

Symbols of Hate and Systems of Inequality

Jun 26, 2015

As the bodies of the nine victims in the Charleston massacre are laid to rest, there is raging debate about the death of the symbol of hate that has historically been linked to groups like the KKK – the confederate flag. Shortly after the shooting, a South Carolina State Representative, Bill Chumley, essentially blamed the victims for their own deaths by asking why no one ran and why no one had a gun to shoot the killer saying the victims sat and “waited their turn”. The comments, which have not received as much media attention as it could have, showed the ignorance that we are fighting as we deal with issues of hate, racism, structural and systemic inequalities and disparities in how minorities are treated when their lives are lost. But it underscores another huge issue that we have to address – voting.

On the two year anniversary of the Supreme Court decision in the Shelby County v. Holder case which removed a key provision of the Voting Rights Act, disabling it from performing one of its main functions – requiring preclearance for any changes in areas with a history of discrimination, a diverse group of advocates rallied in Roanoke, Virginia to demand a hearing by the Chair of the House Judiciary Committee, Bob Goodlatte. On the journey back to Washington, DC from Roanoke, a group of us stopped at a shopping center to get food for the journey back. As we looked across the street, there stood the confederate flag, atop a business, waving in the wind. I saw it as a reminder that the flag is part of a legacy of hate and discrimination in this country. Although the flag we have come to know as the confederate flag was not the actual flag of the Confederate states, it was a battle flag that has since remained a symbol of war – war on the black community.

Even as some elected officials are ready to give up their affiliation with the flag, we have to ask ourselves if the policies and laws will also follow suit. Bill Chumley is an elected official in the State of South Carolina. He was voted in by the people. But, he also voted against opening the debate on removing the flag. He is someone who wants to keep the flag waving, despite all that it stands for and the pain that it causes for the nearly 28% of the African Americans in his state. Chumley has since apologized for his statements regarding the victims of the massacre; however, it is clear by his staunch support of the confederate flag and his membership in the Sons of Confederate Veterans that he is not concerned with the Black citizens in his district or his state. I wonder, did he blame the victims of the Colorado movie theatre shooting or the children and teachers in the Sandy Hook shooting?

There is much more to what is happening than a flag. Though the removal of the flag does signal some progress, there is still a long way to go before we see change in the hearts of men. If the flag comes down today in every state where it now flies high, that does not mean that the people who take such pride in it will automatically change their views or the way they make policies or laws. As we sit without voting protections that prevent states from passing discriminatory voting laws, as we see police brutality in every corner of the country along with over criminalization and incarceration of black people, as we still have double digit unemployment in the black community and inequity in our classrooms, we have to see how the policies being made aren’t being made with us in mind. We are unable or, at times, unwilling to vote our issues. The result is that people like Chumley are allowed to say what is good for us. The systems of inequality run deeper than symbols of hate that fly above. It is our responsibility to eliminate both and a big part of that starts at the ballot box.