July 2, 2015

Scott Walker’s flip flop on the Confederate flag

By Senator Lena C. Taylor

Hate surrounds us. It’s in people’s hearts, and in their actions.

The Confederate flag has and will always be a symbol of hate targeted at the millions of African-Americans that call America their home. It is a constant reminder that we are somehow inferior and that our white neighbors are in a sense, proud of the institution of slavery.

Which is exactly why elected officials and community leaders regardless of race must rise up and take a stand against hate.

On June 17, a man spent an hour praying with people at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown Charleston, South Carolina. The church, which is one of our nation’s oldest black churches, and a church with deep roots in the fight for racial equality, became the scene of a tragedy when Dylann Roof shot and killed nine people that day. Roof wrote a hateful manifesto on his blog and was frequently pictured with symbols of hate, including the Confederate Flag.  

As this hateful mass murder reignited a national debate over the symbolism of the Confederate flag, a different kind of igniting began happening throughout the south. As of this writing, there’ve been 8 churches set ablaze in 10 days.

These acts of hate show that the discussion on race is long from over in America and must continue. When the lives of Americans are threatened because of the color of their skin, anything short than a full condemnation of the causes of hate is unacceptable and wrong. As a presidential contender, as a Governor and as a man who represents a significant population of people of color in Wisconsin, Governor Walker needed to immediately oppose states flying the Confederate battle flag.

This is about more than just a flag. This debate embodies the equality and freedom African Americans fought for and still fight for today. The Confederate battle flag serves as a rallying banner for hate groups like the Ku Klux Klan to terrorize minority communities. In fact, Mount Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church, which was burned to the ground recently, was torched by the KKK just 20 years ago. History repeats itself because hatred lives on in this flag. Removing this flag from public buildings shows that we as nation can leave the past where it belongs and move forward.

This issue is too important for Walker to play politics. In case Walker has forgotten, represents a large Black population here in Wisconsin. Walker as a State Representative voted to call on South Carolina to “immediately stop flying the confederate battle flag in an official capacity.” Yet now, as a presidential hopeful, he calls the placement of the flag a “state issue.” People are dying in the south as a result of racism and Walker should stop playing presidential politics. We are no longer property, and we shouldn’t be political pawns, either.

While this June has been rough, we also celebrated the 150th Anniversary of Juneteenth Day, also known as “Emancipation” or ‘Freedom Day” for African-Americans. When President Lincoln issued his Emancipation Proclamation in 1862 to end slavery, the country did not change overnight – it took almost two and a half years for the news that the war had ended to reach Union soldiers in Galveston, Texas and to set the last slaves free.

When Congress enacted the 15th Amendment to grant African-Americans the right to vote, that promise was not realized until almost a century later with the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

Action is needed in order to make change happen and although change takes time, it has been for the better. We must always seek to improve the human condition and remove barriers that separate citizens from each other. The status quo is not so pleasant; the social consequences of slavery still remain in our communities in the form of poverty, injustice, and racial hatred.

As long as this trend of church burnings persists and as long as Blacks continue to be targeted, Walker needs to get off the fence and show he wants to lead everyone, not just the people who look like him.