Could Nikki Haley's Call to Remove the Confederate Flag Be a Game Changer?

The South Carolina governor uses her power to acknowledge the pain the symbolic flag holds.

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley delivers a statement to the media on June 22 asking that the Confederate flag be removed from the statehouse grounds. (Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Jun 22, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Adrienne Samuels Gibbs is a writer specializing in cultural analysis, urban affairs, and the arts. Her work has appeared in Chicago magazine, the Chicago Sun-Times, Ebony, and The Boston Globe, and on NBC.

After the tragedy in Charleston, South Carolina, the world was introduced to the victims and the gunman. But the most controversial element of Dylann Roof’s rampage needed no introduction: the Confederate flag.

In the wake of the racially-charged massacre that left nine black victims dead, state officials found that they couldn’t even lower the Confederate battle flag that flies on the grounds of the statehouse to half-staff out of respect for the victims killed in a Charleston church by a suspected white terrorist who posed in pictures with the Confederate flag and a gun. That heightened the feelings of disrespect that have made the flag controversial for decades in the state and the South.

On Monday a historic decision was made: Gov. Nikki Haley revised her previous stance and called for the removal of the flag from the grounds of the South Carolina state Capitol.

The flag has a troubled history in South Carolina, but Haley called on her state to look to the future. The landmark decision to question government use of that flag on taxpayer land marks a turning point in modern American history.

The move enables the nation to resume a conversation about the symbols of racism and enduring antiblack attitudes that have lingered in the wake of American slavery and the civil rights movement. These conversations are an important part of healing because no one can get over it if we can’t talk about it. Calling the the nation “post-racial” is only a flimsy scab that has broken away from a nasty wound.

The Civil War ended 150 years ago. The United States won. The Confederate flag is the flag of the losing party, so it is odd that the traitors have been allowed to display anything of that sort on government grounds —outside of, say, in a history museum or in a reenactment—for as long as they have. Several states still have a version of the Confederate flag incorporated in their flags; others have settled into a live-and-let-live attitude. Now, though, there are documented, recent consequences because nine people were not allowed to live.

So, Why Should You Care? Haley's public comment about the Confederate flag is a magnificent step toward acknowledging and demolishing a symbol that has come to represent racists the world over. Even if the South Carolina state legislature shoots down the measure (which requires two-thirds approval), that Haley and some of her fellow Republicans took a just stand is a good thing. (You can track who is for or against the move here.)

They’re not alone. Walmart recently agreed to stop selling Confederate flag merchandise. Haley's move shows, finally, that some outside the black community agree that while the flag might represent one view of Southern heritage, that same Southern heritage was created by the enslavement of women and men and children.