Three years before George Orwell wrote 1984, he published an essay in the London Evening Standard that was not only a recipe for making the perfect cup of English tea but a profound description of society in his day and what the future would hold in other societies. Orwell maintained in A Nice Cup of Tea that among Englishmen, even the brewing of tea was contentious. “Tea,” he said, “is one of the mainstays of the civilization of his country and how it is made could cause violent disputes.”
Now, it does not take an expert in reading tea leaves to see how Orwell used this metaphor for the incessant conflicts that plague mankind. He had just lived through WWII, had participated in the Spanish Civil War, and grew up in the shadow of WWI (the war to end all wars) through his formative years. Somewhere, Orwell must be shuddering at this country’s current debate about the flying of the Confederate flag and why after 160 years since the defeat of the Southern Confederacy it holds prominence in our nation’s dialogue.
Last month, a young and very disturbed individual, Dylan Roof, committed an act of atrocity by killing nine people at a Bible study in the AME church in Charleston. His act was premeditated, and his ability to sit for approximately one hour with his victims before slaughtering them is unimaginable. Contrary to the right-wing sound machine, we as a society can separate underlying issues from an act of cowardly murder. Dylan Roof was responsible for his actions, and he should be punished as prescribed by our system of laws. Still, it would be a case of intelligent negligence to fail to address the root cause of this very poisonous tree.
Racism in America is not only prevalent, it continues to be harbored and protected by a significant portion of the population of this country. White supremacy is not a symptom found only in KKK rallies but remains a chronic illness that ravages the American “body.” Flying a Confederate red flag with an X that signifies division celebrates a diseased image of what the United States stands for. It’s a symbol that represents slavery, led to a breaking of a sacred union between the states, and resulted in a blood bath for white people as well as African Americans in this country.
In his book 1984, Orwell created a vocabulary to illuminate an ideology that had gone terribly awry. One was named crimestop, “the faculty of stopping short of any dangerous (enlightening) thought.” It included not grasping the power of analogies, failing to perceive logical errors, and misunderstanding the simplest of arguments. In essence, “protective stupidity.” Since the tragedy in Charleston several candidates running for president in the Republican primary have given “crimestop” a renewed meaning in their campaigns.
Rick Perry said the shooting was an “accident” caused by drugs, and he blamed President Obama. Rick Santorum maintained it was an attack on Christianity and religious freedom. And even the current frontrunner for the Republican nomination, Jeb Bush, initially said he was not sure this was racially motivated before walking back his remarks this past weekend.
When it comes to racism and the possibility of losing their right-wing base, Republican candidates choose their words carefully as they know some form of prejudice and bigotry have taken shelter in their big tent, just as many right-wing politicians have allowed complacency and convenience to allow racial hatred to permeate the Republican and Tea parties with regard to in Obama’s presidency if it meant more disaffected white people voting. It is not a coincidence that Fox news draws a higher white audience than its competitors as it sinks lower into the fray of apologetic support for white perpetrators in crimes against black victims.
Dylan Roof is not alone. There are groups that embrace white supremacy in this country who not only approve of his actions but would like to see more. Roof and these groups have the Confederate flag in common. They view this symbol as a statement, a judgment of the African-American community, and they raise that flag in their hearts and their minds. By any state building flying this flag, these groups find validation. Our nation should not govern by “protective stupidity” nor should our leaders and those seeking office give life to this ignorance by making the next stop on their campaigns be a “crimestop.”
World War I did not serve to be the war to end all wars. Today’s debate with the help of critical thought could be the debate to end all debates on the flying of the Johnny Reb flag.