What Nikki Haley Gets Wrong About the Confederate Flag
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Not long ago, Governor Nikki Haley got it right.
After Dylann Roof murdered nine parishioners at the Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C., in 2015, then-Governor Haley made the right call.
A follow-up manifesto written in jail brought his actions into starker clarity: “I did what I thought would make the biggest wave, and now the fate of our race is in the hands of my brothers who continue to live freely.”
In the aftermath of the massacre, the eyes of the world were on South Carolina, including the Confederate flag which flew over the state house, the very symbol that Roof believed would inspire a race war.
Back then, there were protests and op-eds, and finally, an extraordinary civil action: Artist, filmmaker, and activist Brittany “Bree” Newsome scaled the 30-foot flagpole and removed the flag herself.
“You come against me with hatred, oppression, and violence,” Newsome said from her perch. “I come against you in the name of God. This flag comes down today.”
Haley made sure it stayed down by signing a bill that removed the flag from the State House grounds. “The State House is different, and the events of this past week call upon us to look at this in a different way,” she said.
But on Friday, Haley, who most recently served as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, seemed to say that the Confederate flag had been “hijacked” by Roof, and had ruined the symbol for everybody.
“People saw it as service, and sacrifice, and heritage,” the ex-governor said, speaking with host Glenn Beck on Blaze TV. She sounded exasperated. “But once he did that, there was no way to overcome it. And the national media came in droves—they wanted to define what happened. They wanted to make this about racism. They wanted to make it about gun control. They wanted to make it about the death penalty.”
The national media “wanted to make this about racism.” Let that sink in.
Whatever Haley’s motives are—which are anybody’s guess at this point—she gets the history of the flag dangerously wrong.
Adam H. Domby, an assistant professor of history at the College of Charleston, was unsparing in his assessment of her remarks.
“Indeed, the flag had long been tied to white supremacy, racism, and racial violence,” he begins.
It first appeared atop the South Carolina State House in 1962 in part to protest civil rights and integration, and it’s been the source of pain and controversy in the state ever since.
In this opinion piece, Domby, the author of The False Cause: Fraud, Fabrication, and White Supremacy in Confederate Memory, traces an unbroken line of white supremacy from the Civil War to today:
“Look no further than Charleston in 1875, where armed members of the Carolina Rifle Club of Charleston marched through town behind a Confederate flag in an effort to intimidate black voters as part of a statewide white-supremacist campaign that included voter intimidation, ballot box stuffing and terrorism. White supremacists at the time did not need to appropriate the symbol; it already belonged to them.”
The Confederate flag is a signpost of voter suppression to this day.
In an earlier op-ed, Kareem U. Crayton, an associate professor at the University of North Carolina School of Law, says that the Confederate flag has become a deeply anti-democratic symbol, and flying it has consequences:
“The Southern Poverty Law Center has tracked the proliferation of hate groups nationwide, including those known as neo-Confederates. These are not the folks who primarily re-enact battles. Rather, the neo-Confederates lament the demise of the principle that made slavery possible—that some people are not created equal. Their aim is to reinstate that order, and their brand heavily relies on the rebel flag. Their headquarters are almost entirely located in the American South, with the largest number in South Carolina.”
A brief Crayton helped present to the Supreme Court explored the impact of these entrenched racist ideas on democratic institutions.
“We found that whites living in the states covered by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act (a provision rendered inert by the Supreme Court) report a greater willingness to agree that black people have too much influence in government,” he says. “Whites living in these states are also more likely to express racial resentment than those living elsewhere.”
The Confederate flag has always been a complicated bit of business for this
I think it’s safe to say that we, as a nation, are doing a uniformly poor job putting our Confederate past into any sort of context. While it’s undeniably painful, by failing to do so, we’re also allowing those symbols to erode already shaky democratic norms.
“For all of its historic appeal, the flag inspires an idea that is not just unappealing but anti-democratic,” says Crayton.
It’s a hijacking, alright, not just one that Haley meant.
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Correction: A previous version of this article misspelled Adam Domby.
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There’s a deadly measles epidemic in Samoa It's a case study in misinformation, government mistrust, and anti-vaccine propaganda. Some 70 people have died, almost all under age 15, and 4,700 people have been infected since October of this year. The national immunization rate flagged last year after two infants were accidentally given an anesthetic instead of the actual vaccine, and the Samoan government shut down the vaccination program to investigate. Public trust never fully recovered. But the full-blown epidemic has spurred Facebook harassment from around the world and another terrible side effect: A sudden shortage of baby and toddler-sized coffins.
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Why do people love the Confederate flag? When Donna Ladd, a journalist based in Jackson, Miss., asked why people still love their Confederate flag despite its history, the answers were mostly what you’d expect. But the history itself is at issue. White resentment from the Civil War and Reconstruction persists in Mississippi; along with a high number of casualties, the state went from being the richest from slavery to one of the poorest. But a revised version of Civil War events underlies their efforts to “preserve their history,” and Ladd is admirably armed with facts that dispute the idea that the South seceded over state’s rights and not slavery. But the wounds still seem fresh. “People like me… it’s in our blood. We know about our family, their sacrifices,” says Larry McCluney, Jr, a national officer in the Sons of Confederate Veterans. “Slavery was an issue, but not the cause.”
What we lose when we refuse refugees The U.S. didn’t take in a single refugee in October, and a new federal cap will keep the number at 18,000 next year, a huge drop from 85,000 in 2016. The Economist has a lengthy piece on the issue, and centers on the opportunity costs of shutting out people like Wilmot Collins, a Liberian refugee with a remarkable story of survival and service, and who was elected the mayor of Helena, Mont., in 2017. (See? Remarkable.) He’s now running for the Senate. “In few countries would Mr Collins’s story be possible,” notes the author. In 1994, Collins was met at the Helena airport by strangers holding a banner that read, “Welcome home Wilmot.” It’s the basis for his optimism for refugees and his home state. "On the whole, Americans have an open door," he says.
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Tamara El-Waylly helps write and produce raceAhead.
“We stand for the segregation of the races and the racial integrity of each race; the constitutional right to choose one's associates; to accept private employment without governmental interference, and to earn one's living in any lawful way. We oppose the elimination of segregation, the repeal of miscegenation statutes, the control of private employment by Federal bureaucrats called for by the misnamed civil rights program. We favor home-rule, local self-government and a minimum interference with individual rights.”
—Article 4, Platform of the States Rights “Dixiecrat” Democratic Party, 1948.