The Robert E. Lee Problem

The Robert E. Lee Problem

This photo shows a carving depicting confederates Stonewall Jackson, Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis, Tuesday, June 23, 2015, in Stone Mountain, Georgia. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
This photo shows a carving depicting confederates Stonewall Jackson, Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis, Tuesday, June 23, 2015, in Stone Mountain, Georgia. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

(New York Times) – The debate about the Charleston Bible study shooting has morphed into a debate about the Confederate battle flag and other symbols of the Confederacy. This is not a trivial sideshow. Racism is not just a personal prejudice and an evolutionary byproduct. It resurfaces year after year because it’s been woven by historical events into the fabric of American culture.

That culture is transmitted through the generations by the things we honor or don’t honor, by the symbols and names we celebrate and don’t celebrate. If we want to reduce racism we have to elevate the symbols that signify the struggle against racism and devalue the symbols that signify its acceptance.

Lowering the Confederate flag from public properties is thus an easy call. There are plenty of ways to celebrate Southern heritage and Southern life without choosing one so enmeshed in the fight to preserve slavery.