In a widely circulated photo, Dylann Roof, an avowed white supremacist, was seen waving a small Confederate flag. It’s unleashed, predictably, one of our nation’s perennial awkward reconsiderations of the Confederate flag’s place in public life. This week, GOP presidential aspirants stumbled through tortured nonanswers about their positions on the flag. South Carolina’s governor pledged to debate removing the flag from the state’s Capitol building. Otherstates and cities around the country went ahead and did it. Several major retailerspledged to remove merchandise bearing the flag from their stores.
For a lot of non-Southerners, the flag removals have inspired a lot of eye-rolling —what the hell took so long? But when I went to Twitter earlier this week to take people’s temperature on all this, I was surprised at the spectrum of black Southerners’ sentiments. It wasn’t that they thought the flag was kosher — no one was arguing to keep it — but they didn’t seem to think its presence was all that remarkable, either. To be sure, a few folks told me they steered clear of places that displayed the flag, that they found it extremely painful, that they were involved in efforts to remove it from their schools and community centers.
But a lot of others were giving the flag side-eye but not much else. In fact, a few people expressed a sort of begrudging, complicated appreciation for the clear signal sent by bearers of the flag. Basically, that it lets you know where someone stands. “My relationship with the Confederate flag has always been twofold,” says @phontigallo. “I see it as a symbol of bigotry, but I also respect the honesty.” “It wasn’t particularly distressing so much as it was (still is) a reminder of who not to associate with,” says @snarkyspice.
Photo: Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post/Getty Images