More than just a flag
A version of this post initially appeared in the September 7, 2015 edition of The Tablet, Wake Divinity’s student publication.
“Currently, black lives don’t matter,” according to Alicia Garza, co-founder of the #BlackLivesMatter movement. The statement was articulated in response to an inquiry about the Confederate Flag being removed from South Carolina’s State Capital after the massacre of the “Emanuel 9.” This served as the topic of discussion for Alicia Garza, and other panelists, Bree Newsome, James Ian Tyson, and Katon Dawson as they wrestled with the nature of a flag, frequently articulated, as a symbol of “racial terrorism.” And while, the conversation proved fruitful, the overarching message was clear, “it’s about more than just a flag.”
The panel discussion, titled, “The Flag: Navigating Southern Identity, Race and Symbolism,” was initiated by student organization, Kappa Alpha Order Fraternity, and co-sponsored by Wake Forest’s Pro Humanitate Institute. The event took place in Wait Chapel, on September 2, 2015, with an estimation of over 1,200 people in attendance. Moderated by Melissa Harris-Perry, Executive Director of the Pro Humanitate Institute, the panel allowed a space for many different issues concerning symbolism, racism, racial inequality, power structures, and privilege, to be tackled.
While the Confederate flag acted as the focal point, symbolically, each panelist shed light on the various power structures that caused it to go up and to come down. Bree Newsome, who directly removed the flag in an act of civil disobedience, voiced how her direct action was intended to bring about a moral crisis centered around why the flag was flown on state property. When asked why he acted in solidarity with her, James Tyson spoke of how, given class and socioeconomic frameworks in America, “white people perpetuate indefinitely white supremacy.” Because of this understanding, James decided he wanted to take action.
From a different perspective, Katon Dawson, former chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party, informed listeners of the history of the flag in front of the State Capitol. He gave insight as to when the flag was put up, when it was taken down, and the politics concerning it. In many ways, Katon revealed that, for politicians, the moral debate about the flag was often stifled by the desire to secure elected seats. It is with this in mind, that Alicia verbalized the need to “make black lives matter,” in the face of an unsatisfying state of democracy in the Unites States.
As the discussion continued, questions were taken from the crowd and sifted through by Melissa. Many of the questions revolved around action and what can be and what should be done in response to the issues articulated by the panel. Ultimately, the answer to that question echoed by each panelist was to get involved, to have conversations, and to encourage people to recognize the American issues that they are embedded in everyday. It is through such recognition, that we can move forward together as a nation, and breakdown the issues we have helped create. And in the words of Alicia, it is important that this “happens in practice and not just rhetoric.”
Personally, I found the panelist discussion to be both refreshing and empowering. It was inspiring, as a black woman, to see other women of color advocating for social and political change that combats systemically oppressive dynamics in our nation. Moreover, I was grateful to have witnessed a dialogue about the Confederate Flag that was untainted by media and social media. Not only did I walk away from the discussion with an invigorating sense of agency, but also with a new found comfort in knowing there are multiple leaders working to make a difference in this country.
Demi is a spoken word minister and hip-hop artist from the Washington, DC area. She holds a B.A. in Religion from Pepperdine University. Her passionate talent has led her to minister at various churches, conferences, and events across the nation. Additionally, Demi’s first album, “Maybe I Could,” was released in 2012 and is available online.
A recording of the panel discussion is available online at go.wfu.edu/flagevent.