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South Carolina Removes the Physical Flag: Can It Remove the Spiritual Illness of Racial Discrimination?

Juan Cole

 by Informed Comment

The South Carolina legislature has voted to remove the Confederate flag from the grounds of the statehouse. It was put there in 1961 as a show of defiance against the Civil Rights movement, i.e. against the demand that the system of legally-imposed segregation of African-Americans cease.

But, as I have argued before, the flag is only a symbol. South Carolina needs to address its real racial disparities if this vote is to be more than a gesture born of the heat of the moment.

Nationwide, the unemployment rate for African-Americans is 10.4 percent. The unemployment rate for whites is 5.3 percent.

Nationwide, African-Americans’ real median household income is only $32,500. The general American figure here is $51,939.

The average lifespan of a South Carolina resident is 77.8 years. African-Americans in South Carolina only live to age 74 on average.

Then there are these health disparities:

” African-American women are about 60 percent more likely than white women to die from breast cancer after diagnosis. That is the largest disparity in the nation.

African-American men are almost 80 percent more likely to get prostate cancer than white men, and about two and a half (2.5) times more likely to die from it.

African-American women are far more likely to be diagnosed and die from cervical cancer even though screening rates are similar to those of white women.

African-American men are 44 percent more likely to be diagnosed with oral and pharyngeal cancers, which make up the majority of head and neck cancers; nationally, the disparity is 18 percent.

African-American men and women are significantly more likely to have and die of colorectal cancer than are white men and women.

Incidence and mortality rates from esophageal cancer are twice as high-–and sometimes greater-–among African-Americans.”

The flag is just an outward manifestation of injustice and racial difference. It is the inner reality that needs to change.


© 2021 Juan Cole
Juan Cole

Juan Cole

Juan Cole teaches Middle Eastern and South Asian history at the University of Michigan. His newest book, "Muhammad: Prophet of Peace Amid the Clash of Empires" was published in 2020. He is also the author of  "The New Arabs: How the Millennial Generation Is Changing the Middle East" (2015) and "Napoleon's Egypt: Invading the Middle East" (2008).  He has appeared widely on television, radio, and on op-ed pages as a commentator on Middle East affairs, and has a regular column at Salon.com. He has written, edited, or translated 14 books and has authored 60 journal articles. 

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