“A new day in South Carolina” = “That’s not black progress. That’s white progress.”

OK it is done. That nasty Confederate battle flag will fly one last night on South Carolina’s statehouse grounds and then be consigned to a museum, which is the only place where it belongs. Y’all know I have some thoughts on all this.

First, the facts, in case you missed these:

* SC legislature passes bill to remove flag

* Governor signs bill

Political and activist conversations in these few weeks since the Charleston Emanuel AME Church massacre have shown that real cultural change — toward unity, respect, equality — IS possible, but only when those with unearned social privilege acknowledge their position in society has been a gift, and achieving true justice requires them to swallow hard and relinquish some of their power.

No, it’s not fun to accept you may not get the cookie which you earnestly worked for, the cookie you were *promised* by your forebears, the cookie that many other people similar to you did get. Nor is it nice to learn you absolutely must share your cookie, and you may have to share it with someone you don’t admire. It’s unpleasant, but it’s not “unfair.” It’s entirely fair. Reduced privilege feels like oppression; it feels like something being stolen from you — but it’s only rebalancing the scales so life is less horrible for everyone who isn’t you.

And “you” may not even mean YOU. It might mean people who came before you. It means apologizing and taking responsibility for the sins and omissions of your predecessors because somebody’s gotta and the actual individual perpetrators are dead — yet their actions and feelings live on. Funny, that: The institution of slavery outlasted every Southern cotton plantation; Jim Crow policies continue now,  well past the death of every Dixiecrat. And someone, somewhere, needs to fix the messes they left. This is where we have the opportunity, and the obligation, to stand up and take some lumps from the past and for the future.

Chris Rock offered this stinging and accurate insight 6 months ago: “When we talk about race relations in America or racial progress, it’s all nonsense. There are no race relations. White people were crazy. Now they’re not as crazy. To say that black people have made progress would be to say they deserve what happened to them before. …[To] say Obama is progress is saying that he’s the first black person that is qualified to be president. That’s not black progress. That’s white progress. There’s been black people qualified to be president for hundreds of years. … The question is, you know, my kids are smart, educated, beautiful, polite children. There have been smart, educated, beautiful, polite black children for hundreds of years. The advantage that my children have is that my children are encountering the nicest white people that America has ever produced. Let’s hope America keeps producing nicer white people.” (Q: It’s about white people adjusting to a new reality?) “{Yes…} Owning their actions. Not even their actions. The actions of your dad. Yeah, it’s unfair that you can get judged by something you didn’t do, but it’s also unfair that you can inherit money that you didn’t work for.”

So that’s a lot of sweeping generalization. Here’s where it gets specific. IT CAN HAPPEN. IT IS HAPPENING. The lead-up to today’s action in S.C. included a sudden, widespread stigmatization of the Southern Cross. Megacorps stopped selling flag merch. The ultimate good ol’ boy yeehaw icon, the “Dukes of Hazzard” muscle car known as the General Lee will have its rooftop repainted to bear a Stars and Stripes rather than the Stars and Bars. NASCAR will discourage the display of battle flags by fans. Money talks, yeah? And right now it’s saying this flag is bad for business. Great!

However, the official political discourse is what will be truly noted by history. The S.C. state legislature recognized the eyes of the world were on them and seized the moment to reconsider that damn flag’s place of honor on the S.C. Statehouse grounds, moving long-simmering tension to official debate. Look, in this essay, I don’t care to recap what the conservative rednecks said on one side, or the Democrats and people of color on the other. That’s all completely predictable.

Here’s what I am very happy to see: Two significant examples of archetypical conservative Southern white people making personal progress and leading the way for their cohort — with passion, conviction, responsibility, remorse, and hope for the future:

1) Legendary segregationist Strom Thurmond’s son, Paul Thurmond, a S.C. state senator, calling the actions and decisions of his forebears “wrong, wrong, wrong” and using the Christian Bible, which is too-often used as an instrument of oppression, to teach a new lesson in sowing peace

2) Jefferson Davis descendant Rep. Jenny Horne of the S.C. House excoriating and exhorting her statehouse colleagues to fast and decisive action, recognizing any respect for her heritage sparked by that flag can’t be compared to the offense and outrage felt by her colleagues and constituents (Reading the transcript just doesn’t do her speech justice; please watch the embedded video!):

Both of these legislators are lifelong South Carolinians, Republicans, and Christian heterosexual parents — they are personifications of the exact archetypes which most progressives feel at loggerheads against. But read/hear their words! They each have come to a new understanding of precisely what evil the Confederate flag represents, and the ongoing toxic legacy of white supremacy.

Understand, I am absolutely not saying that because white people are saying the flag is bad, it’s now bad. What I’m pointing out is, if ANYONE ever says the flag reps heritage, history, family, or anything similar ever again, there’s no excuse. There’s nowhere left to hide. There’s no coverlet to wrap around your “traditional values” white supremacy anymore. If Jeff Davis and Strom Thurmond are being called out by their own family as wrongheaded ancient history with no place in today’s South Carolina, then we have truly reached a watershed for a certain stream of white America — and I sincerely hope the leadership of these local legislators will be heeded. (I mean all of the S.C. legislators, not just these noteworthy two. Because 131 legislators voted in favor while 23 anachronisms voted against.)

I hope this is the opening of a new day not only for South Carolina, but for all of us. It’s proof we can increase and expand how Americans work together for justice. We don’t all have to like each other, we don’t have to embrace each other — but we must all tolerate and accept that members of all cultures and races have equal rights in our society, and deserve equal respect from our officials and in all our communities.

Tomorrow may bring bad news. But at least for today, I embrace this good news: South Carolina has moved the Confederate battle flag off its statehouse grounds and into a museum. I celebrate this victory, which is both literal and symbolic. I hope this action, and these understandings, this true progress, continues to reverberate throughout our society.

Congratulations, South Carolina, for doing the right thing today. And as we say in New York: EXCELSIOR!!

Edited to add:

Also, here’s a screed against the magic power of “white tears” in mainstream culture, specifically referencing Horne. It’s not what I’m talking about — my focus is on explosion of the “heritage” sham and checking white/southern privilege — but it’s worth including and learning from. White people must ALLY for people of color, not play savior for them.


About amywinns

Semi-snarky, semi-sincere, occasionally ranting, always paying attention. Feminist who can work a skirt and crack a joke. Grammar nerd who is also fun at parties. Mid-career writer/editor with 15 years’ experience in newspapers & magazines who now helps developers at a major media corporation communicate with the suits who write the checks. Pro-women, pro-family, pro-choice, pro-workingclass, pro-entrepreneur, pro-farmer. Like every other bourgeois Brooklynite, I choose local/organic/raw food — mostly vegetables — whenever possible/reasonable/affordable but I’m not a smug asshole about it. Hometown: Atlanta. Weird hobby: lindy hop. No pets, no kids, no thanks.
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