Why Taking Down the Confederate Flag is Not Enough

Why Taking Down the Confederate Flag is Not Enough June 24, 2015

Sally Kohn has a column on CNN.com that points out something really important, that while taking down the Confederate flag from state capitols and other public property is a good thing, it isn’t nearly enough. The racism that it represents goes far deeper, both in terms of institutional biases and our own cognitive biases.

While the Confederate flag is a powerful and problematic symbol, one that should completely be dismantled, taking down the flag is just the first step. What we must do is take down racism…

It’s easy to take down a flag. But dismantling the shameful system of racial bias is far more difficult.

Today, black Americans fare worse than white Americans by many measures.

Researcher Kathleen Geier notes, “Blacks are nearly three times as likely to be poor as whites and more than twice as likely to be unemployed. Compared to whites with the same qualifications, blacks remain less likely to be hired and more likely to earn lower wages, to be charged higher prices for consumer goods, to be excluded from housing in white neighborhoods and to be denied mortgages or steered into the subprime mortgage market.

And as we’ve witnessed time after time, black Americans are disproportionately likely to be ensnared by — and killed by — the criminal “justice” system. There is evidence of structural bias in almost every facet of our society. To blame any of these statistics on individual black people’s behavior, or the “culture” of the black community, only reinforces racism by blaming oppressed communities for their own suffering…

Racial equality won’t come just from white people condemning the actions of overt racists like Dylann Roof or calling for the removal of the Confederate flag. Nothing will change if we turn a blind eye to the more subtle and pervasive systems of bias that perpetuate such inequality.

Whether it’s our educational system, our banking policies, our hiring practices, our social behaviors, our health care system or our criminal justice system, racism and bias permeate through our structures. But we can’t take these structures down until we see them.

Take down the damn flag. And then take down the systems of bias that helped create it.

Hear, hear. Taking down the Confederate flag is great, but it won’t change the fact that blacks and whites use and sell drugs at the same rate but blacks are many times more likely to be arrested, charged and jailed for it. The result is the breakup of families, with all the attendant bad results for children, and lives being destroyed. It won’t change the fact that white people inherently find black people more threatening and more frightening, with all of the bias that results from that.

We have a lot of work to do to fix both systemic and implicit racism. And here’s the thing, folks: Only white people can do this. We’re the ones who built this system and we’re the ones who have to tear it down. We’re the ones who have to work to overcome our cognitive biases — and that does take work. It requires listening and learning from the experiences of racial minorities, to really hear them and understand what they go through. And then it requires doing what it takes to make sure it doesn’t continue in the future.


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