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Historian debunks the Confederate Flag debate: it’s not racism vs. heritage, but racist heritage

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Early Saturday filmmaker and activist Bree Newsome scaled the poll in front of the South Carolina Statehouse and took down the Confederate Flag that continues to fly. But don’t worry guys: within the hour, the Flag had been replaced, just in time for an 11AM White Supremacist rally, and Newsome was arrested.

The flag continues to fly despite the calls for its removal, in light of the Charleston shooting, from Republican Gov. Nikki Haley and a group of the state’s top lawmakers.  But the the move requires approval by two-thirds majorities in both chambers of the South Carolina Legislature.

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In a statement Newsome said, “It’s time for a new chapter where we are sincere about dismantling white supremacy and building toward true racial justice and equality.”

And yet, the idea that the Confederate Flag represents anything but racism persists. Historian Claire Potter, a professor at the New School, joined me on my new radio show and she spoke about the false dichotomy, which presents the flag as a symbol of (A) racism or (B) heritage. She referred to a New York Times article which read,

… many say it is a symbol of the South’s heritage, culture and military pride and can be displayed without any sense of racism.

Does displaying the flag show historic appreciation, or is it a symbol of a reviled era, that breeds racism and should not be officially approved?

“Is racism and heritage a different thing?” Potter reflected. “And when we call something heritage, is that a way of obfuscating what we’re really talking about?” Potter puts this manipulation of history in a larger context: “People use history to take the positions they want to take, to justify what they want to justify. And, of course, there’s nothing that’s been more abused, really, in American History, than the History of The Civil War, slavery and the Civil Rights Movement.”

Listen to my full interview with Claire Potter, who joins comedian Gabe Pacheco and me, on episode two of The Katie Halper Show below. Found out about the time one of the Confederate flags “had too much White,” something I didn’t think was possible. The episode also has an excerpt from an interview I did with Mariangeles Borghini, the woman who organized the Take Down The Flag South Carolina Facebook Page, petition and rally.  You can listen to The Katie Halper Show every Wednesday at 6pm on WBAI.org or 99.5 FM in New York City.

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