The city of Charleston is suffering great loss after a lone gunman opened fire last week on a black congregation and ruthlessly took nine precious lives, devastating families, friends and                      a community.

In the midst of this tragedy, one can only ask, what could motivate a 21-year-old man to commit such a crime?

The shooter himself was reported to have said at the time of the shooting that he was “there to shoot black people,” according to CNN.

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley spoke publicly just days after the shooting and called for the removal of the Confederate flag from the State Capitol.

In response to the governor’s plea, Amazon, Google, eBay and countless other companies and organizations have followed suit by pulling all connections to this iconic American Civil War symbol from shelves and online stores.

But the situation in Charleston has little to do with the Confederate flag.

Yes, the shooter, Dylan Roof, has been seen holding the flag in pictures, and investigators have discovered many indications of the man’s racism.

The debate concerning the flag’s involvement in the shooting at Charleston is only distracting the nation from a larger, more important debate.

In times of chaos and tragedy, it is natural to seek a source, a starting point that sparked such horrific events.

Human nature compels us to find a reason, person or thing to blame.

Many have compared the Confederate flag to the Nazi swastika, declaring both to be symbols of hatred and suffering.

State Rep. Doug Brannon even said the Confederate flag is actually a symbol of pride in one’s hatred.

Looking at history, the swastika was originally a symbol of “good fortune and well-being,” according to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

So, what changed between the original meaning and the adopted meaning associated with the horrific events surrounding World War II?

The symbol didn’t change.

People changed how they used the symbol.

Millions were murdered, and an entire nation was left in shambles, not because of a symbol, but because of people’s choices.

Unfortunately, by calling for the removal of the Confederate flag, Gov. Haley and those who agree are choosing to blame an object for the tragedy at Charleston instead of a person who violently demonstrated his racism.

Removing the Confederate flag does not address the issue of racism. It runs from it.

Holocaust victim Anne Frank said, “The final forming of a person’s character lies in their own hands.”

Dylan Roof chose to use the Confederate flag as a symbol of hatred and formed his character in the mold of racism and violence.

We don’t have to.

Rather than run from the issue of racism by removing the flag, let us actively counter this tragedy by cultivating understanding and unity in the character of America.

Keeping the flag could invoke the courage to change and stand as a reminder to rise above the hostility and violence of the past if we choose to let it.

The choice is ours.