Editor’s Note: This analysis was excerpted from the June 12 edition of CNN’s Meanwhile in America, the daily email about US politics for global readers. Click here to read past editions and subscribe.
If you travel in the Southern United States, you will see it everywhere, flying from the antennae of pickup trucks, hanging outside stores and gas stations, and flapping on flagpoles in backyards.
Defenders of the blue and red flag of the breakaway confederacy states in the US Civil War deny that it’s racist, arguing that it is a symbol of Southern heritage that commemorates soldiers who fought with honor.
But to millions of other Americans, the flag is a source of anguish as a symbol of a war ignited by the South’s desire to save slavery and due to its postbellum adoption by the Ku Klux Klan.
It was inevitable that the stars and bars would become a flashpoint in America’s national reckoning on race sparked by the police killing of George Floyd. In a remarkable historic shift, NASCAR, the stock car racing series that heavily identifies with Southern culture, has banned spectators from bringing the flag to its events.
The move, after its only full-time black driver, Bubba Wallace, called for the flag to be banned, risks alienating its core audience. But NASCAR is trying to expand its appeal and says the flag prevented a “welcoming and inclusive environment for all fans, our competitors and our industry.”
Flags are not all that’s banned from races right now – fans are too, because of the pandemic, so we’ll have to wait to see how petrol heads react and how NASCAR polices the ban.
But if Trumpism were a sport, NASCAR would be it – the President was greeted as a hero when he went to the famed Daytona 500 this year – so some viewers may take their cues from the man who stokes racial divides for political gain and is currently refusing calls to rebrand military bases named after Confederate generals.
Several drivers welcomed the move, saying the flag is a sign of racial division and belongs in history books. One, Ray Ciccarelli, hit out at “political BS” and plans to hang up his helmet.
But NASCAR’s decision is another sign that change is coming, almost as fast as the souped-up cars that streak around Southern ovals all summer.
‘Not an eraser of history but a reckoning with it’
Minnesota Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan said in a news conference on Thursday that removing a local Christopher Columbus statue is “not an eraser of history, but a reckoning with it.”
“I wish we had a better process that had been followed. I wish the removal had been different, but I am not sad that it is gone,” she said. “I am not going to perform for folks. I’m not going to feign sadness. I will not shed a tear over the loss of a statue that honored someone who, by of his own admission, sold 9- and 10-year-old girls into sex slavery.”
“There is no honor in the legacy of Christopher Columbus. To remove a statue or choose not to place one there in the first place is not an eraser of history, but a reckoning with it,” Flanagan added.
Monuments to once-revered historical figures are falling like dominoes, as anger over racial injustice spills into streets around the world. While there’s no changing history, beheading and uprooting statues of famous slave traders, colonizers and Confederate leaders is one way to erase their shadows. – Meanwhile Producer Shelby Rose