Thursday, June 25, 2015

Charleston, Roof and the Confederacy

Lilly Belle, your hair is golden brown / I've seen your black man coming 'round 
Swear by God, I'm gonna cut him down
Southern Man-Neil Young
I was reminded of the above quote from the classic rock song "Southern Man" when it was alleged that an event which evidently pushed killer Dylan Roof into his downwards spiral from garden variety racist to murderous savage was the fact that he lost out romantically to a black man. This sort of hatred based in real or more often perceived sexual rivalry or sexual assault has been the basis for many racist actions, from slavery to Jim Crow to lynchings to police shootings on down through the years. Just as a totem of racial hatred and treason like the Confederate Battle Flag has survived, so have the emotions which the flag embodies. So no one should be surprised that a man who says that he hates and wants to kill black people was drawn to Confederate imagery. Many modern day Confederate Flag supporters either do not want to think about or admit the nature of the state which they are defending. They will blather on at length about their Confederate veteran great-great-great-grandfather veteran and how brave and honorable he was ad nauseaum. Well to paraphrase George Carlin, my great-great-great-grandfather said F*** your great-great-great-grandfather. The Confederacy was created to protect and extend slavery and white supremacy. This is emphatically not a modern day interpretation of historical events and motives. The Confederate military, political, journalistic and philosophical leaders were crystal clear about why they were fighting, what they thought the proper relationship of black and white was, and how long slavery would continue if they won (indefinitely). We've been over this before but it is evidently worth pointing out again. The Confederate states seceded because they believed that President Lincoln in particular and the North in general were both at the very least insufficiently dedicated to and at the worst openly hostile to the twin causes of slavery and white supremacy. Check it out for yourself. The secession declarations put in plain English for posterity's sake just what the drafters thought of black people. Southern politicians appealed directly to racism to motivate their base. Federalism, tariffs and industrialization mattered to them only to the extent that that slavery was threatened.

In the momentous step which our State has taken of dissolving its connection with the government of which we so long formed a part, it is but just that we should declare the prominent reasons which have induced our course. Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery-- the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun. These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization. That blow has been long aimed at the institution, and was at the point of reaching its consummation. There was no choice left us but submission to the mandates of abolition, or a dissolution of the Union, whose principles had been subverted to work out our ruin.


We hold as undeniable truths that the governments of the various States, and of the confederacy itself, were established exclusively by the white race, for themselves and their posterity; that the African race had no agency in their establishment; that they were rightfully held and regarded as an inferior and dependent race, and in that condition only could their existence in this country be rendered beneficial or tolerable.

Alexander Stephens 

Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner- stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition....
Our system commits no such violation of nature’s laws. With us, all of the white race, however high or low, rich or poor, are equal in the eye of the law. Not so with the negro. Subordination is his place. He, by nature, or by the curse against Canaan, is fitted for that condition which he occupies in our system. 

And so on. Slavery was the animating cause of the Civil War. Of course many whites who fought for the south did not own slaves but they, with some notable exceptions previously discussed here, generally did believe wholeheartedly in white supremacy. The idea of black people having citizenship or voting was anathema to the Confederacy, thus the post war ratification of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments. Post war, did white southerners graciously and quickly move to extend citizenship rights to the newly freed Africans? No. No they didn't. Rather, white southerners practiced sullen and violent resistance to any attempt to recognize, much less enforce, basic human rights for Black Americans. After reconciliation with the white North, the gloves came off completely. The South became a terror state for black people. The white southern population zealously enforced Jim Crow laws and customs in which a black person could be murdered for something as innocuous as looking a white person in the eye, refusing to move aside when a white person was walking on the sidewalk, or not letting themselves be cheated in a business transaction. Does any of this sound like the actions of people who went to war for any reason other than white supremacy? Except for the more honest present day racists such as Michael Hill, who wants a white state in the South, most Confederate flag supporters will not look too deeply into the history of the Confederacy and why the Confederacy attempted to secede. There's a denial that has grown up around the Confederacy and the very nature of slavery. Even conservatives who would wax indignant about dead enders in other situations still can't bring themselves to admit that slavery was wrong, a crime against humanity and that resistance to it was morally praiseworthy. Bill Kristol, who has the dubious distinction of being generally wrong about just about everything, thinks that it's problematic for the "left" to be insufficiently respectful of the Confederacy. It's hard for me to wrap my head about how backwards this viewpoint is, even coming from someone like Kristol, who makes a good living being wrong. There were SS men who fought tooth and nail against the Soviet invasion of Germany. Some were even heroic. But if a German today wrapped herself in Nazi regalia claiming she was only honoring the ultimate sacrifice of her brave ancestors, I doubt Kristol would see that as something worthy of respect or recognition. Hmm.

The fundamental issue is that the South never really went under anything approaching de-Nazification. Although they lost the war, for decades afterwards white southern political leaders and citizens adamantly refused to concede that slavery was wrong or that black people had human rights. It's only in the past 50 years that the South was forced,kicking and screaming, grudgingly and slowly, to give up legal segregation and white domination. It's ridiculous that 150 years after the South waved the white flag and ended the bloodiest war this nation ever endured, we as a country might finally be realizing that the regalia of traitor and racists isn't deserving of respect. But unfortunately that's what happens when you don't deal with problems when they first arise. Things fester and get worse. So it's a good thing that in places like Alabama, Mississippi and yes South Carolina, legislators and other political leaders are beginning to question the prevalence of the Confederate Flag on state grounds and insignia. Of course it's fair and accurate to point out that the US flag flew over slavery and other horrific acts. We shouldn't forget that. But unlike the Confederate Flag the US flag now at least theoretically contains the possibility of equal treatment under the law. The Confederate Flag is fixed forever in the belief of slavery and white supremacy. Roof chose exactly the correct flag for his actions. It's silly to pretend otherwise
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