Progress demands more than removing Confederate flag

Dawud Walid

Last week’s act of terror by white supremacist Dylann Roof, in which he murdered nine people at the Emmanuel African American Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, is the latest and most traumatic event in our country in the past year.

It reminds us that we are far from being a post-racial society. Within this context, there is renewed discussion about South Carolina ceasing from flying the Confederate flag.

I am a proponent of changing the flags of South Carolina and Mississippi as well as six other southern states that have variations of the Confederate battle flag. Growing up in the South, I never saw the rebel flag as a sign of pride. It signified those who fought against the Union in part to keep Dixie as an area where the enslavement of my ancestors was the order of things.

I’m glad to see that South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley has changed course and now supports removal of the Confederate flag from the state capitol’s grounds. Many South Carolinians, however, are still staunch supporters of flying the flag. The discrepancies between different people feelings about this flag reflects how America has never healed from her original sin of racism.

Talking about race in America brings unease. Many Americans simply do not want to confront how deeply immersed racism is in our country and the psychological damage that has inflicted upon us as a people. When we serve in our military, we are stationed on military bases named after Confederate generals such Robert E. Lee.

Even we withdraw money from banks, we look at four faces on our currency of men who owned and profited from enslaving blacks including Declaration of Independence author Thomas Jefferson.

Racism in our land is not isolated to the South. The North has an ugly history of racial animus and structural inequality as well. In Michigan, for instance, we continue to have statues, schools and roads named in honor of racists such as late Dearborn Mayor Orville Hubbard, who was just a bigoted as the average Jim Crow-era mayor in South Carolina.

Taking down the Confederate flag in South Carolina may not be too difficult at this point. What will be more difficult for South Carolina and our nation as a whole is being open to go through the painful process of discussing race in America. And when I say discuss, I mean really going in depth about how racism has historically influenced every aspect of American life.

In this moment, in which we look at the horrific carnage in South Carolina, I hope we can be brave enough to expand our discourse on the issue of race in America that we turn the page toward having a more equitable and hate-free society.

Dawud Walid is executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations—Michigan.