In the ongoing conversation about racial injustice in this country, public discourse is moving at a breakneck speed, with daily occurrences adding layers of complexity to what is already a contentious debate. The latest hot-button issue is the Confederate flag and its history, role, and purpose. Opinions on the issue vary, with some arguing the flag is a symbol of white supremacy and racism while others tout its status as an emblem of Southern pride and the self-governing attitude represented by the Confederacy in the 1860s. While there have been movements throughout history to remove the Confederate flag from places like State Capitol buildings and other government outposts, last week’s racially motivated massacre of nine Black Americans at the hands of a White assailant in Charleston, South Carolina, have caused strong feelings about the tempestuous history of the flag to resurface in very public ways. South Carolina’s governor, Nikki Haley, has now launched a campaign to remove the flag from the state’s Capitol and earlier today, Alabama’s governor did the same. However, politicians are not the only ones making powerful statements; social media and late-night television are just two places where Americans can be found arguing both sides of this increasingly painful battle.
On June 22, Larry Wilmore addressed Governor Haley’s announcement on “The Nightly Show,” and in a segment titled “For the Record,” he shared some historical background about the flag and the context in which it is currently being debated. Amongst other facts, he shared that the Confederacy was founded on “the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man,” a quote drawn from the Cornerstone Speech, named so because it served as the cornerstone for the founding principles of the Confederate States of America. “You don’t get clearer than that,” he quipped. And, in a direct lead-in to last night’s episode, he went on to say “now, some people say the Southern states should fly the Confederate flag because it’s a symbol of their heritage, but if we flew every flag from our past, then why aren’t we flying the Union Jack outside of the White House?” And, in an effort to end the heritage argument once and for all, he shared the fact that the Confederate flag has only been flying over South Carolina’s State House since 1961.
The issue of Southern pride was brought up again on last night’s episode, in which Willmore hosted a 3-guest panel featuring actor Joe Morton (“Scandal”), “The Nightly Show” executive producer Rory Albanese, and “Broad City” writer Naomi Ekperigin. When asked why it is so hard for supporters of the flag to let go of it, despite evidence to the contrary that it remains a symbol of racism, Morton responded “when you have a systemized sort of way that you’re going to run your life, and part of that is pride…then what you do is hold on to all the symbols that represent that.” Ekperigin expanded on that point by saying “I think it’s also because if you have to think about, you know, what that flag has meant, now you got a lotta questions you gotta answer.” Check out the whole conversation below.
The issues raised in the panel are not unfamiliar to the Hip-Hop community. Artists like Kanye West and Yelawolf have come under fire for wearing the flag’s design on clothing. In regards to Yelawolf, Lord Jamar shared his thoughts in a VladTV interview last year. “This is Hip-Hop, and that’s offensive,” he argued. “If a Black man decided to wear a fuckin’ Nazi fuckin’ sweatshirt with a swastika on it, even though they jacked that fuckin’ symbol, um, how would white people….feel about that?”
So, does the right to Free Speech supersede the movement to remove the flag?