And this is how history gets told.
South Carolina Representative Jenny Horne – who revealed that she’s a descendant of Jefferson Davis – made an impassioned plea to her peers to tear down the Confederate Flag. Her speech was appreciated and great to watch. She didn’t seem to have any condescension or anything. So what I’m going to say here shouldn’t come off as any criticism of her attempt to facilitate a removal of one of America’s symbols of racism and hatred:
Jenny Horne isn’t the reason the Confederate flag came down. In fact, she’s not even remotely close to the top of the list of influencers that caused the flag’s removal. I’m pretty sure that the South Carolina government would be signing the bill to remove the flag even if Horne had played Doodle Jump on her phone during the hearing instead of standing up to speak.
Civil disobedience took down the Confederate flag. Protests took down the Confederate flag. Social media mobilization took down the Confederate flag. America’s habit of waiting for Black people to die before deciding to consider affecting change took that flag down.
Bree Newsome took down that flag.
But none of that will matter anymore. As I’m typing this, I’m watching CNN highlight Horne’s speech, talking about how there shouldn’t be a dry eye in America after hearing her talk. There’s an attempt to make this story about Horne, now. So we know what happens next: Horne becomes a political hero who will be played by Sandra Bullock in an Oscar-winning movie about White people’s compassion for change in America. The only nine Black people in the movie will die soon after the opening credits roll. This is how America’s stories get told. Just look at Mississippi Burning – a movie about the Goodman, Chaney, Schwerner murders from the Civil Rights Movement and how heroic White people solved the crime (in actuality it was Civil Rights workers and Dick Gregory putting pressure on the government to find the bodies but who cares, right?).
Pivoting the narrative of the Confederate flag’s removal to be about Horne’s speech serves White privilege in at least two distinct ways:
1) By pretending that Horne’s speech is the impetus for the Confederate flag’s removal, the narrative can demean the impact of Bree Newsome and civilized disorder. By reporting that civil disobedience caused any sort of legislative change only encourages more civil disobedience. And nobody wants that, right?
2) The story of taking the Confederate Flag now becomes about the White journey to retribution. America only feels comfortable facing its history of racism and oppression through the lens of self-gratification. Horne and her peers can embrace their racist roots only as they are “overcoming” them. This story is about the White privilege of forgiving themselves for their history. They can reach back to their past only as they are patting themselves on the back. Now we can forget about their history of racism because they’ve redeemed themselves and every can feel better. Horne can confront her past and be forgiven and by extension, the rest of White America can rejoice in their act of progressiveness that allowed them to sleep better at night.
But let’s get it straight: for decades, Black America has demanded that the Confederate flag come down. It wasn’t until nine Black people were killed that most state governments even considered its removal – because legislated change is either prologue or epilogue to the loss of subjugated life in America. Then, people marched. Again. Then #BlackLivesMatter mobilized in Charleston. The uproar caused by the movement led businesses to pull Confederate memorabilia from shelves and remove endorsements to the hate-filled image.
And Bree Newsome took down that damn flag.
I appreciate Jenny Horne. But this isn’t about her. This is about the perseverance of Blackness in the face of White supremacy. This is about movement. And this is about Black Lives Mattering. I just hope that we’re one step closer to Black lives mattering enough that we won’t have to lose any next time we want to make significant changes in America.