The recent decision to remove the Confederate flag from South Carolina’s statehouse is defensible. Images of the flag were tied to the June 17 church shooting in Charleston, S.C., and the “stars and bars” have been overtly associated with countless other acts of racial violence. As Jasper Johnson points out, the Confederate flag was never used as a national flag; if it flies on government grounds, it always does so as an unnecessary adjunct to the American flag. Its removal from the statehouse is thus not problematic and is in no way an effort to sanitize our collective American history.
What is problematic is Johnson’s — and many petitioner’s — call to rename Lake Calhoun, based on the fact that its namesake, John C. Calhoun, spouted pro-slavery views that would later inform Confederate ideals.
While I agree that such views are “reprehensible,” striking Calhoun’s name from public places is no more than an attempt to sanitize American history. By removing reference to a problematic figure, we conveniently take away that which reminds us of the ugly parts of our nation’s past.
Is this really the best solution to current racial discussions? Sure, as Johnson points out, a name change officially severs ties to Confederate principles (I think you’d be hard pressed to find a current United States legislator who ascribes to these principles, anyway), but it doesn’t alter the record of injustices in our nation’s history and does nothing to combat those injustices that are still occurring.
Furthermore, where does it end?
According to Wikipedia, there are over 60 U.S. cities, counties, roads, parks and schools named after Calhoun. Many, many more places bear the names of other Confederate leaders. If we set out to rename every place with ties to oppressive ideologies, our work would never end.
Instead of spending time and resources sanitizing our history, let’s learn from it. Meanwhile, these resources can be devoted to creating tangible change — like reducing racial disparities in education and employment.