reacting to charleston: why symbols matter…

A few days ago, I shared some early thoughts on last week’s shooting at Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina.  There were so many different threads of issues running through my head that I couldn’t possibly address all of them at once.  I still wasn’t really in a place to articulate most of them.

I focused, then, on a very personal aspect:  the renewed push to remove the Confederate Battle Flag from the State House grounds in Columbia (my hometown).  I based what I wrote on my own personal experience with both the flag and the faith tradition I was brought up in.  I was certainly not trying to make any sort of comprehensive argument about the flag, its history, or its role in the Charleston shootings.  I simply wanted to pose a question to those back home who would instinctively jump to defend the flag’s official display.

What I couldn’t do at the time, and what I’ve been stewing over ever since, was answer the questions, “Why does removing that flag matter?  What will it accomplish that would prevent another event like the shooting at Mother Emmanuel?”

I’ve been mulling all week over the importance of symbols, especially in the South.  What they represent.  How they have the power to inspire, or inflict harm.  How they can be used to represent and validate one particular worldview at the expense of another.  How devotion to them can blind us to the greater realities around us, and prevent us from addressing them head-on.

I was going to spend this weekend fleshing out those ideas.  I even picked out a great line from historian George Tindall’s groundbreaking essay on the role of mythology in Southern history:  “There is, of course, always a danger of illusion, a danger that in ordering one’s vision of reality, the myth may predetermine the categories of perception, rendering one blind to things that do not fit into the mental image.”

Well… the president, while eulogizing the slain pastor and State Senator Clementa Pinckney, beat me to it.  And, not surprisingly, he did it far better.

So I’m just gonna’ leave this here.