‘Old Glory’ is a big deal here. At least a half dozen of the houses in my street fly the flag of the United States of America, and some homes even fly flags sporting ‘Welcome Fall’, ‘Happy Easter’, and other holiday messages. The closer July 4th approaches, the more the flags multiply. There is a national holiday commemorating the adoption of the Stars and Stripes as the national flag. In Cumberland, as in many other towns, the local Post of the American Legion holds an annual ‘flag retirement’ ceremony where US flags that are no longer serviceable are destroyed with full honors. Cars have flags – even my car’s government-issued tags (number plates) sport a flag.
Dylan Roof, the young man who slaughtered nine African Americans in a church in South Carolina last week, also had a license plate decorated with a flag – in his case, the Confederate. He videoed himself burning the Stars and Stripes and also wore the flags of Apartheid South Africa and the flag of old Rhodesia, which was a “cause celebre for white supremacists in the 1960s and 1970s”.
If you fly a US flag on your home, you are clearly identifying as someone proud of America. Roof, on the other hand, had contempt for the Stars and Stripes and instead chose flags to advertise his pride in racism.
Nevertheless, despite his flags and his declaration to his victims that “you rape our women, and you’re taking over our country. And you have to go”, some have tried to deny that racism drove his actions. For example, Fox’s Steve Doocy said that he was “astonished” that it was being called a “hate crime”. ‘Fox & Friends’ suggested that Roof might have murdered out of “a hostility toward Christians”!
Some argue that the Confederate Flag is not a symbol of racism, but an important reminder of the bravery of Southern soldiers in the Civil War. This is a moot point (Debate.org outlines the case for and against), but it clearly symbolized racism for Roof, because he chose it to ‘fly’ side-by-side with other flags strongly associated with racist regimes.
This sickening allegiance is why, two days after the shootings, the Governor of South Carolina said that she would urge her government to remove the Confederate flag from the grounds of the state capitol. She did this, not to deny history, but to affirm that racism is an ugly stain which has led that flag to be used to promote hatred. Soon after her declaration, major retailers including Target, Walmart and Amazon announce d that they would no long offer confederate flag merchandise for sale, and Alabama, Mississippi, Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee also began removing the flag from government-owned sites.
By using his ugly symbols, Dylan Roof has moved Americans to brighten the image of the Stars and Stripes.