||[Jul. 10th, 2015|12:27 am]
First, congratulations to the South Carolina state legislature for voting to remove the Confederate battle flag from display on the Statehouse grounds. Any moral deed, whenever it occurs, deserves recognition and a pat on the back.
Now we've got that taken care of...on to the larger issue, the one that's been carried like a giant pus-filled abscess in the body politic for a century and a half....a mix of racism and treason that has frustrated repeated attempts to heal the wounds caused by the treason of a region addicted to buying, owning, and selling human beings even after a war they lost, even after a lenient post-war attempt to repatriate the traitors and restore them to a right relation, as citizens, with their country.
A potent, comforting mythology developed--was allowed to develop unchecked--and poured into the ears of the young, a toxic mythology that framed the South as the gallant, brave, victim, slavery as a misunderstood benign institution that might slowly lift "savages" from Africa into civilization, and the real issues of the Civil War a matter of cool, rational "states' rights" rather than the hot desire to own and use other humans, and spread that practice of slavery abroad. A mythology, reinforced in books, in movies, which the young were told justified slavery, segregation, Jim Crow laws, virtual slavery after slavery was illegal, false accuations, physical attacks on African-Americans, including lynchings. A mythology that spread easily from fear into hatred, and from fear and hatred of African Americans to fear and hatred of all persons of color. A myth. A lie. A string of lies, one little dram of poison at a time, until the children grew up believing it all, mouthing the same words in the same tones, including the excuses they used to cover their lies.
That flag was first of all a symbol of treason. "Heroes of the Confederacy" who had been officers in the United States military--such as, for example, Robert E. Lee--educated at West Point, who had taken commissioning oaths in which they swore to uphold the Constitution of the United States (not public opinion in their home state), broke those oaths and accepted service in the army of an enemy--of the Confederacy. That's treason. They were traitors. They may have been--some of them were--brave me, generally honest men, competent men, men who felt they were moved by genuine necessity...but they chose to betray their country, and the foundational ideals of their country, to support slavery and deny the humanity of those who were enslaved. They were wrong to break their oaths, and they were wrong to support such a bad cause.
That flag was second of all a symbol of slavery. The proximate cause of the Civil War was not "states' rights" becuase the only rights the rebel states wanted was the right to own slaves, use slaves however they wished, extend slavery into new territories, and deny African Americans any human rights whatsoever. Andrew Johnson, the Confederate Vice-President, said as much at the beginning of the war. The Texas declaration of secession said it. Others said it. Slavery was the institution to which they were addicted, and slavery required--in the form then used--assuming the inhumanity of African Americans. (It is still assumed by white supremacists, who still say things like "You can take the African out of the jungle but you can't take the jungle out of the African," who still argue that "all black people lie/steal/rape/riot" and so on.)
There was a time, at the end of the Civil War, when slaves had been freed, that the former racist traitors might have changed their minds (some of them probably did) and agreed that they had been wrong to secede, and wrong to hold slaves, and that black people were in fact fully human and deserved the same rights as white people. They might have been grateful that the victors let them keep their guns and their horses because, as Lee said, they would need them to plow the land and shoot snakes and things. They might have given some thought to what they had cost the nation. But that's a hard lump to swallow, when you've grown up in the comfortable belief that you're superior simply by birthright of white skin. The occupation didn't last that long; the Union troops didn't really manage to eliminate reprisals against freed slaves, and it didn't take long at all for the mythology--that melange of lies and wishful thinking--to take form and begin its inexorable work of poisoning Southern minds. It was much more comfortable to blame someone else, much more comfortable to make a villain out of the opponent, and nurture hazy dreams of the South Rising Again while meanwhile treating the African Americans as badly as they could.
It can be argued that the cause of the long-unlanced abscess was the leniency of the Union, which did not make a thorough job of convincing the defeated white South that yes, they'd asked for it, and they'd gotten it, and they'd get it again if they didn't straighten up. But what's done is done, and what we have now to do is tell the truth and shame the racist devil, the secessionist devil, by insisting on that truth over and over and over until everyone's heard it and understood it. No excuses, no coverups. The issue was slavery, pure and simple. And slavery, in this country, was racist--was coupled with a conviction that those who were enslaved weren't really human, didn't need or deserve respect or freedom. And that racism depended on a mix of fear and contempt and hatred for the supposed "lower" race.
This is Southern heritage. This is what Southern pride is about. Pride in the Confederacy is pride in slavery and segregation and racism. Pride in the South as a region is pride in slavery, inequality, and racism. Pride in that flag is pride in slavery and racism. That flag has never stood for freedom for all. That flag has never stood for justice for all. That flag has never stood for civil rights for all. It has been displayed in defiance--a traitor flag displayed in defiance of the nation which has continued--in spite of all--to grant its states a place in national government, to spend federalmoney to build roads, bridges, dams, power generation, airports in those states, to guard the coasts and fisheries and shipping of those states, and much more.
When some person insists that "It's not hatred, it's heritage" (a man in north Texas)...he's factually wrong. Because the heritage IS hatred. When a man in South Carolina said he was brought up to revere the Confederate flag, that it stood for the South...he was factually wrong. It stood for the bad South, the south of traitors, secession, slavery, lynching, injustice. I'm sorry his parents and grandparents taught him lies, but that doesn't make them any less lies. When a guy in Iowa flew Confederate flags from his truck that was pulling the Marion County Republican Party's float in the 4th of July parade, and then tries to argue that he wanted to honor all the Confederate veterans--that not showing that flat was "an insult to all veterans"...he is factually wrong. Confederates soldiers were not US soldiers, were not US veterans. They were enemies, whose bravery and skill can certainly be recognized, and whose deaths can be mourned...but they were not US veterans. I'm a veteran; it's an insult to me, and to all United States veterans, to pretend that the Confederates were not traitors.
Here's a litmus test. Here in Texas, a student proposed changing the name of a holiday dedicated to the memory of Confederate soldiers who died in the Civil War...to the memory of Civil War dead. Someone who is not a racist, a secessionist or addicted to the mythology of the gallant South will have no objection to the same holiday commemorating the deaths of both sides. But someone who insists that the Confederate dead need their own separate day--is caught up in the mythology, intentionally or unintentionally.
What kind of person flies a Confederate flag? A racist. Someone who hangs an effigy of the President from a tree in his front yard because the President is African-American. Someone who makes vile racist jokes about the President's wife because she is African-American. The KKK displays a Confederate flag. White supremacists display that flag. Secessionists display that flag. Quite a few Tea Partyers fly that flag. Traitors. Racists. Bullies. Thugs. Terrorists. Still burning black churches. Still putting burning crosses here and there. Still dressing up in bedsheets and pillow-cases to terrorize anyone who disagrees with them. Still lying about black people (and brown people, and white people who don't agree with them.) The Texas Textbook Committee has once again pushed (and been even more successful) in whitewashing American history to make it conform to the lies of the Southern Mythology--an action clearly approved by those in the state government who appoint members of the Textbook Committee. The goal is to indoctrinate more children--nationwide, since our buying power is enough to slant the textbooks used in other states--with lies. To try to put a pretty dress on that stinking sack of pus and hide it from view.
But it won't work. There is no way to pretty up the heritage or conceal what's under the snowy white sheets. Racism and injustice and cruelty were there from the beginning, and are there now. More and more people see and smell the pus, recognize the infection. People of color always have--they had to; the hatred and fear were aimed at them. We need to get it out, and clean it up. One by one, with every person we meet--confront the lies, counter them with the facts. No shortcuts will work; shortcuts have been tried. You can't teach kids math by slanting the facts--agreeing that pi = three because it makes calculation easier. You can't teach kids geography by making all the political divisions square because squares are easier. And you can't teach the history we don't want to repeat by pretending it was something else that happened. The only possible healing is dragging out all the mythology and exposing it for the tissue of lies that it is, and then conveying the reality until everyone gets it.
For those still living in the myth: Grow up. Open your eyes. Face the facts, accept that 2 + 2 really is 4, that pi is not a whole number and the fraction isn't going to work out nicely...and that your ancestors were wrong (however brave, however charming, however much you loved them) and the myth is just that--a myth, a fantasy, a story made up by people in previous generations to make themselves feel better. If you still choose to fool yourself, if you still think maybe secession and another Civil War would make the world better and confirm you in your superiority as a white guy...well, I'm not going back on my commissioning oath.