Jean Barker

Flags of shame

2015-06-26 08:46

Jean Barker

We were having such a great news month in America.

First there was Rachel Dolezal. Awesome! Then, Donald Trump announced his run for president. It was as if America dug deep to see what would provide the greatest amount of pleasure to Facebook, Buzzfeed and Twitter users at home and internationally.

Both provided plenty of comedy centered on lovely, light-hearted fare such hair, and well… mostly hair, actually.

Then, a right-wing terrorist wearing an apartheid South African flag and a Rhodesian flag on his jacket killed nine people in Charleston, USA and everything changed.

Deadly serious

When Dylan Roof killed some of Charleston’s finest men and women, we were all shocked, no matter who we were or how we reacted later. As a South African, and as someone who’s come to love the USA too, I felt it deeply. Sadness and confusion filled me all day and I listened to the news obsessively.

I learned that the terrorist killer told his victims he was killing them because of their race. He specifically selected a church that was always symbol of black resistance to slavery and racial injustice as his target, rather than a random white church. He wore a jacket with cloth apartheid South African and Rhodesian flag badges, and had been photographed posing with the confederate flag. He ranted in the language of white entitlement so familiar, and sadly, still so widely used. You know this nonsense, because you’ve heard Steve Hofmeyr say similar things… “taking our country back”, etc.. (Newsflash, it was never yours.)

We were reminded of how serious racism is. It’s not just a thought when you have a gun in your hand. But when I say “we were all reminded”, by “we” I only mean those of us who were thinking clearly.

Because although you’d think these events, and this evidence - 300k membership of neo-nazi group Stormfront, Dylann Roof’s connection with Neo-Nazi hate group No 88, and Rhodesian hate groups, and his manifesto - would allow even the most pig-headed denialists to accept that there’s a racism problem in the USA and that the threat of racist terror should be taken seriously. But you’d be wrong. Some people are still burying their heads in the sand.


White defensiveness has been amply supported by Fox News and their crack team of racially diverse tame morons. This is a media empire built on kneeling to service America’s stupidities. These are the same people who seek to paint democrats as anti-Israeli, and who seem to hysterically claim every December that Christmas is under attack. So, of course, Fox News consistently took the line that this was an attack on religion, and Christianity - not a racial terror attack, or even a hate crime.

Yeah, nothing says “I’m a racist” like claiming against all evidence that racism doesn’t exist.

‘Southern Pride’

Which brings me to the whole Confederate Battle Flag debate - because the other thing racists do, is claim that by clinging to symbols of racism, they’re just “preserving their history”. Fine, but my question is this: would they want to do so by flying a flag of racism – unless they somehow still glorify this history?

That’s why seeing the apartheid flag on Roof’s chest chilled me. It’s never been my flag. I want people to remember that history so as never to repeat it, but I see no reason to buy an old SA flag key ring in order to jog my memory, and I don’t know any South Africans who’d fly that symbol of our apartheid past. Imagine the old South African flag outside Parliament in Cape Town? Just, no.

And yet, there are people in South Africa and apparently in America, who wish it did exist, just as there are millions in the USA who still cling to their confederate battle flags as a symbol of “Southern Pride” as states fly it, or even include it as part of their state flags. German neo-nazis even use it instead of the (banned) swastika.

There are also businesses, like Walmart, who condoned it – until recently, they stocked confederate merchandise (they finally stopped, last week, perhaps in response to low sales figures).

Call it what you want: “Southern pride…” “White pride…” Why pick a racist past to be proud of? I’d have a lot less trouble understanding a flag depicting something that’s worth celebrating, like Dolly Parton, or a bucket of fried chicken. But the Steve Hofmeyrs, Donald Trumps and the Dylann Roofs of our time, who share shades of the same viewpoints with one another - should be ashamed of themselves.


The silver lining is of course that ultimately, the actions of those who do wrong often inspire change that’s the opposite of what they have in mind. I used to admire Hofmeyr’s professionalism and charisma, but now he’s merely a symbol of stupidity for me and many others. Donald Trump’s actions will help turn more voters democratic than Republican, and soon, Dylann Roof’s actions will result in the last thing he would have wanted – the long overdue lowering of the Confederate flag throughout the USA.

- Jean earned an MFA in Directing and Screenwriting and works in the LA film industry. She tweets as @jeanbarker and blogs pictures of signs and more, here. She will be back.

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