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What Is the REAL Symbol of White Supremacy?

Eddie Conway and Dr. Gerald Horne discuss media coverage of the Charleston massacre and whether the particular focus on the Confederate flag misses the mark when looking to unpack racist symbolism and its impact on society

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Story Transcript

JARED BALL, PRODUCER, TRNN: What’s up world, and welcome back to The Real News Network. I’m Jared Ball here in Baltimore.

In the aftermath of this most recent massacre in South Carolina there has emerged a ton of focus on the Confederate flag as the symbol of white supremacy, violence, and anti-black hostility. And this is not just an issue with the mainstream or conservative presses. It is also an issue with those self-proclaimed left or alternative media outlets as well. But is this an appropriate focus, and specifically does this create a straw argument that ultimately defends or inappropriately absolves the stars and bars themselves?

To address these and related questions are our two guests today. Eddie Conway of course is our resident producer and former Black Panther party leader and political prisoner. And joining us again via webcam is Dr. Gerald Horne, who is a professor at the University of Houston and author of more than 30 books, articles, and essays, including his forthcoming work on Haiti, and his previously-published Negro Comrades of the Crown: African Americans and the British Empire Fight the U.S. Before Emancipation.

Welcome to you both.

DR. GERALD HORNE, CHAIR, HIST. AND AF. AMER. STUDIES, UNIV. OF HOUSTON: Thank you.

EDDIE CONWAY, FORMER BLACK PANTHER AND TRNN PRODUCER: Thank you.

BALL: So as I said in the intro, Eddie, and I’ll start with you. I have my own personal critique of what I’m seeing happening with the coverage of the post-South Carolina massacre, all of which seems to focus on the horrors symbolically represented in the Confederate flag. And a lot of people calling for the flag to be removed, taken down, et cetera. And this has become, as I said in the intro, a big call not only in the mainstream and conservative presses but also in the so-called alternative.

And I’m wondering, why is there such a refusal, or an inability perhaps, to address I think a more appropriate focus on the American flag itself. That is, is not the American flag also a symbol of white supremacy, violence, imperialism? In fact, it wasn’t the Confederate flag that was used to stamp out the Black Panther party or put you in prison for 44 years unjustly, it was the American flag that was the symbolic representation of the state and its repression of those, that movement in particular and you specifically.

So what do you think about this question I’m raising, about the straw argument created about an almost exclusive focus on the Confederate flag?

CONWAY: Well, I think you’re right. It’s the American flag that is the main culprit for controlling the rest of the populations in the world, for helping to steal the resources, for doing the things that’s occurring in the name of the American citizens. That flag represents that. But I think there’s a sleight of hand using the Confederate flag by the extreme right wing, tends to focus and shift the tension away from the misdeeds of the American flag in a sense that it polarizes the [race]. And I think the extreme right wing is taking advantage of that symbol to push for perhaps not just race polarization, but maybe a race war in the future.

And one of the things that I had mentioned to you earlier when we were talking, with the Turner Diary. When you look at the Turner Diary, which is a fictionalized account of a white, right-wing, white supremacist taking over the American government and the American country and creating a race war, you look at the facts after that book was written. I mean, it led to Timothy McVeigh attacking the Oklahoma FBI office. It led to other extremist groups robbing banks, assassinating people. Several cases have happened as a result of that book, including police officers attacking people of color and making reference to that book in their trials as their defense.

So it’s a distraction, and it’s a distraction that we shouldn’t ignore, though, because it’s leading to their endgame. But at the same time I think we would be remiss if we ignored the mother of it all, which is the American flag and the American military machine internally and externally.

BALL: Gerald Horne, let me ask you the same question. Do you feel that there’s any straw argument, as I’ve argued, being developed here in this incessant focus on the Confederate flag exclusively?

HORNE: Well, first of all I think that the speech by Gov. Nikki Haley yesterday in Columbia, South Carolina represented something of a defeat for the right wing of the United States. The Confederate flag–not only the Confederate flag in Columbia, but I’m speaking to you from Chapel Hill, North Carolina, supposedly a liberal college town, and the centerpiece of this campus is a statue honoring a soldier from the Confederate States of America, so-called, with a gun in his hand pointing north. The idea of this kind of Confederate flag and Confederate statue is to suggest that the overthrow of the United States government is always legitimate if it’s going to come from the right. And if it’s going to move backwards. Whereas any move forward is ipso facto illegitimate.

And so to that degree I think that the right wing in the United States is on the back foot. At the same time, your implicit if not explicit critique of the left is well founded. But of course we understand that for reasons that need not detain us here there’s been an ideological retrogression in the United States. That is to say that even today in 2015, a country built upon the dispossession of the indigenous population and the mass enslavement of Africans is viewed by many on the left as a great leap forward for humanity.

Now, when you have such a contradiction embedded in the discourse and the ideology of so many on the left it’s understandable why there’s no comprehension or critique of the U.S. flag.

BALL: You know, there’s a lot more I want to ask you here, so what I’m going to suggest is we take a quick break and come back with a second segment on this question, because I know we’re up against the clock here and I think there’s a lot more to get into. And I have at least one more round of questions for each of you.

So Eddie Conway, Professor Gerald Horne, if you would just bear with us we’ll come right back with another segment here on The Real News Network. And I thank you both for joining us for that segment and I thank you all for sticking around. We’ll be right back with another segment. Or stay tuned for the second segment of this conversation about the Confederate flag, the American flag, and press coverage of these symbolic representations of the United States.

Don’t go anywhere. Much more coming up here at The Real News Network. For all involved, I’m Jared Ball. Peace, if you’re willing to fight for it.

End

DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.