The Most Racist Flag
With new announcements about flag removals and anti-Confederacy political posturing we continue our critical coverage of the subject with attorney, activist and author Mr. Kamau Franklin
JARED BALL, PRODUCER, TRNN: What’s up world, and welcome back again to The Real News Network. I’m Jared Ball here in Baltimore.
This week in the aftermath of this most recent massacre in South Carolina we’ve now heard from Nikki Haley, governor of that state and a Republican, a call to remove the Confederate flag from the South Carolina statehouse grounds. We’ve also heard from Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi that he, too, now feels the flag, as he said, should be put in a museum. And just this morning Governor of Alabama Roger Bentley ordered the flag removed from their capital grounds. We also continued to see and hear what is to me an incessant focus on this flag debated in what are said to be alternative news spaces.
To help us respond to this question of mine about the particular focus on the Confederate flag rather than, for instance, the American one, and joining us from the state of Georgia who also has its own version of this flag debate is Mr. Kamau Franklin. Franklin is a lawyer and longtime activist with the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, National Lawyers’ Guild, and now works with the American Friend Service Committee. He is also a contributor to our volume A Lie of Reinvention: Correcting Manning Marable’s Malcolm X.
Kamau Franklin, thank you, and good morning. And welcome, and thank you for joining us.
KAMAU K. FRANKLIN, ATTORNEY AND ACTIVIST: Thank you for having me, Jared.
BALL: So as I said in the intro, I am concerned about this particular focus on the Confederate flag, and what seems to me to be a straw argument in this question of what is the appropriate symbol for white supremacy. So I’m asking your response, given your experience, your breadth of work, and where you are now, as I said in the intro, in the state of Georgia. What do you think about this discussion of the Confederate flag taking place right now in the context of this country’s history and the white supremacist attack there in South Carolina a few days ago?
FRANKLIN: Well I mean, I start off with thinking about Malcolm, and when Malcolm X told us, stop talking about the South. As long as you’re south of the Canadian border, you’re in the South. And what he meant by that was obviously that there might have been a certain kind of overt, in-your-face, white supremacist activity that has for years been sort of dedicated in the South in terms of its actions towards black folks, but by no means is that the extent of how white supremacy has sort of perpetrated itself and acted on the lives of black people throughout its history in America.
So even now as we’re having this discussion around the Confederate flag and a symbol that of course, you do want taken down. You do want the most sort of objective, in-your-face symbols taken down. But that doesn’t cure what’s happening in this country, and the policies, and the way economics and race are sort of put upon black folks not only in the South but in, all across the country.
BALL: You know, it was raised by one of my colleagues here that Denmark Vesey was hung as a traitor, John Brown was hung as a traitor, of course, Nat Turner was hung as a traitor, and many others. And yet the flag that most represents treacherous secession from the United States is still seen by some as heroic and necessary, and a proud memory of a specific tradition in this country. So again I’m wondering, why all this focus again on that flag? Why, especially in spaces on the left, do we not hear a more appropriate critique of the United States itself and its own symbolic representations?
I mean, especially given your work with political prisoners – I asked Eddie Conway the other day the same kind of question. It wasn’t the Confederate flag that was the symbol of the repression of the Black Panther party, or what locked him up and many others like him. It was the American flag, and this state of the United States that did that. Particularly this question of mine about the left’s discussion of it. What do – do I have a point? Where do you stand on this?
FRANKLIN: I think the left, as well as everyone, is taking too much of their lead from mainstream media and corporate media about how it portrays these types of incidents. So you have this sort of really stark, in-your-face white supremacy activity, where someone who says they’re a devout white supremacist comes out and does this horrific deed and kills nine people. And so it’s quite easy to say look, it’s that, and it’s not everything else that’s going on.
So I think what’s happening in the United States is similar to when we look at the issue of the police violence organizing and activities. When a young individual is killed by a police officer, we rush out and we of course try to condemn what’s happening, talk about it, but it’s that system underneath. That person getting killed by the police officer is the tip of the iceberg, but there’s a whole institutional system underneath that operates on a day-to-day level.
And white supremacy, of course, is just like that. We see, and now that people are talking about this one dastardly deed, but they’re not talking about the gentrification of neighborhoods. They’re not talking about mass incarceration. They’re not talking about the economic gap and wealth gap between black and white America. They’re not talking about health issues and education issues. Those things don’t take center stage, because white media in particular, corporate media, is comfortable portraying some as horrific killers and people that we even don’t want to be identified with. But it is not comfortable, of course, examining the whole system and how it operates, and what some people like to call institutional racism as opposed to white supremacy, but how that institutional racism keeps the status quo going, and that’s what’s really represented by the United States flag.
So people are willing to come out against sort of crude killings that represent sort of the tip of the edge, non-connected, let’s say, to government activity white supremacy. But they’re not willing, of course, to examine the larger system. And I think the left also falls into something that becomes sort of a propagandistic victory but doesn’t get to the heart of what’s happening in the country.
BALL: It reminds me, this conversation, it just occurred to me that back in the early ’90s when I was in the United States Navy, we had a similar controversy on our ship surrounding the wearing of flags of nations that we visited on our cruise jackets, and the attempt of some of us to wear the insignia of Malcolm X or Bob Marley, or Marcus Garvey, or the red, black, and green flag on our cruise jackets. And we were told you’re not allowed to do that. In fact, the only flag that was allowed to be sewn above the American flag on our cruise jackets was the Confederate flag. It was given that kind of prominence even then in the United States military.
Which reminds me that there is also, I wanted to ask you this question being raised around gun violence, that this is not an issue of white supremacy, but that this is an issue of gun violence in the United States. And for those of us who have taken various positions on defending armed struggle for those of us in oppressed communities, how do you feel about that particular question being raised, gun violence as the issue instead of white supremacy, and anti-blackness?
FRANKLIN: Yeah, I think in this particular–I think gun violence is a necessary thing to put on the table and talk about, because I think that our community suffers interplay, gun violence between us that we need to all deal with and talk about, and I think we do. So I don’t have a problem necessarily talking about gun violence as part of a larger frame of a terrorist act that was committed against black people.
But again, I think the other thing that we need to continually talk about is it’s easy to talk about this particular act. It’s harder for folks to really talk about and do something about the overall institutional white racism that really controls how people’s day-to-day lives and day-to-day activities exist.
We look back at Jim Crow again, and what we see is people could fight what they see as sort of the symbol or the most egregious laws that come and do damage to black lives. But what’s harder, of course, is for us to sort of struggle around the lack of resources in our community, who controls the resources, and how we can very–it’s happening all over the place. Our communities are sort of moved around and disbanded at will, because we don’t control anything in our communities.
So those conversations, I think, are important conversations to have. But I think the framework of this particular talk around this young person who went in and killed somebody, one should be around it’s a terrorist act. And as we know, and I think has been pointed out today in the New York Times, there’s been more right-wing killings, terrorist acts, post-9/11 than any sort of Islamic killings that have taken place in the United States during that same time period. But yet these white folks who kill are not called and talked about as terrorists. We need to talk about that.
We need to talk about the interrelationship between this right-wing ideology and general right-wing ideology that gives it cover and validates, that now may want to push it off to the side, but has been using it obviously as a potent force not only since the ’50s and ’60s but obviously since reconstruction to control, let’s say, white working-class folks and to think of it as, think of sort of a connection that they have. That even though they’re poor, right, that still they’re better off than being black.
So we need to talk about that kind of stuff and bring it, and widen that context so that we’re not talking about just gun violence or sort of the lone white killer, or the poor young person with mental illness. We need to look at–so I think those lenses which we’re constantly told to look at these things are the things that do damage to us as a community, and to not be able to focus in on what’s really happening across his country.
BALL: Kamau Franklin, thank you very much for helping us situate this conversation more appropriately. We appreciate your time.
FRANKLIN: Thank you.
BALL: And thank you for joining us here at The Real News Network. For all involved, I’m Jared Ball. As Fred Hampton used to say, peace, if you’re willing to fight for it, everybody. Catch you in the whirlwind.
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