Images and symbols matter. Remants and reminders of racism, Jim Crow segregation, and slavery matter. That is why it is hard to fathom why the state of South Carolina would continue to tolerate, defend and proudly display the Confederate flag. It continues to fly despite the fact that nine Black community members were murdered in an act of domestic terrorism by Dylann Roof on June 17th at a historic Charleston church. It continues to fly despite the fact that Roof’s hateful actions were premised on his own words which reflect the hundreds of years of White supremacist thought that have plagued our nation: “You rape our women and you’re taking over our country. And you have got to go.” As Ta-Nehisi Coates writes, “Roof’s crime cannot be divorced from the ideology of white supremacy which long animated his state nor from its potent symbol—the Confederate flag.”
Still, the Confederate flag continues to fly above the Confederate Soldiers Monument on the grounds of the Capitol building in Columbia, South Carolina. And one of its staunch defenders has been South Carolina’s governor, Nikki Haley. Governor Haley has even used her own ethnicity (she is Indian American) to try and dispel any doubts that racial problems continue to exist in South Carolina. In an October 2014 debate, she stated: “But we really kind of fixed all that when you elected the first Indian-American female governor.” (Video clip here; Governor Haley’s comments begin around the 1:15 mark).
Really, Governor Haley? Clearly, the hate violence in Charleston this past week demonstrates that racism in the most violent of forms exists in South Carolina. It also shows up in other ways, including the cycles of multigenerational poverty that lead to disparate educational and economic outcomes for Black children and youth in the state – and that are not being adequately addressed by state policies.
South Asians in particular must send Governor Haley a message. Our ethnicity should not be trotted out to justify racist symbols or actions. Governor Haley also misses the point about being elected to office as an Indian American. Just because Indian Americans are elected to political office, just because the halls of political power look more diverse, does not mean that racial injustice simply disappears. It doesn’t work that way. Instead, when Indian Americans and South Asians are elected into office, they have a responsibility and duty to understand the role of structural racism, to call it out, and to “fix” it through equitable policies and practices.
Send a message to Governor Haley. Tell her: “I’m an Indian American/South Asian and I am saddened and outraged by the shootings in Charleston. I understand that you have defended the display of the Confederate flag on the grounds of the statehouse in Columbia. Please take down the flag which is a symbol of racist ideology and actions targeting Black communities. As an Indian American/South Asian, I stand against racism and inequity. I hope you will too.”