Why must the Confederate banner come down?
Because it is the battle flag of white cowards,
And those angry that white privilege is ending
By Douglas A. Blackmon
When I was a Boy Scout in Leland, Mississippi, my patrol in Troop 42 called itself “the Rebels” during 1976. I still have locked in a trunk somewhere little wooden blocks I painted with the names of each scout imposed over a crude image of the Confederate battle flag–a wall decoration of some sort for the scout hall. I was fascinated by the Confederacy, the Civil War, the rebel monuments on every courthouse lawn, the headstone of my ancestor Morris Foshee, with its inscription of his unit, the 47th Alabama infantry.
For a southern boy raised in the wet hothouse of what I call neo-Confederate, nostalgic triumphalism, it is astonishing to see the swift political moves in South Carolina to lower the Confederate battle emblem in the wake of the massacre at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. All the more so, when compared to the decades of intransigence about Confederate symbols in the South and among a certain lethargic group of white Americans everywhere. How could this change happen in the blink of eye–if it does–when there was such fierce resistance and seeming fealty in the recent past to that striking blue cross and 13 stars on a red field ?
It is a mistake however, to interpret the resilience of the Confederate battle flag as “popularity” among large numbers of people, or as something that triggers outpourings of affection or other positive emotions. It is wrong even to suggest that support for public display of the flag is even closely related–as it was for me in childhood–to some fond remembrance of the past, or even a sentimental connection to soldiers of long ago who sacrificed for a cause they believed in. No, only the tiniest numbers of southerners with an attachment to the emblem of the Confederate revolt have even a vague awareness of their familial connections to the Civil War, or even faintly what life looked like in the sweaty, un-airconditioned, drawling, poverty stricken, overalls bedecked, brutish farmboy landscape of the pre-1960s South. Only the most dedicated sad-sack members of the Sons of the Confederacy or unshaven faux intellectuals at loony fringe groups like the “League of the South,” or naive little boys in the 1970s, can even tell you that the “Rebel flag” began as a symbol of Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia and gradually came to identify in the eyes of all Americans the entire white southern uprising to defend slavery. Even fewer white southerners can tell their own family histories–like that of my great-great-grandfather Foshee, and his years as an obscure private under that banner in the 47th Alabama.
No, the seeming immovability of that symbol over the past half century has been about something very different from an appreciation of actual history. The modern resurrection and defense of the flag was wholly a product of the civil rights struggles since the 1950s, and the need for a rallying point for defenders of segregation and apologists for white discrimination and white privilege. The flag wasn’t even flying in most southern states until the 1960s, and then it was hoisted with the explicit intention of telling the rest of the country, finally emerging from its own racial dark ages, to go to hell. And wherever that flag was invoked, it was accompanied in those days by explicit defenses of the most virulent racism and ethnic hate.
There was no sugar coating what it meant. The legislators and state officials who brought the battle flag out of the closet in the 1960s were the exact same people who openly praised the murders of civil rights workers, openly called Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. a communist ape, openly predicted the “mongrelization” of the white race if segregation ended, publicly said science proved the mental inferiority of African-Americans. The flag was as open a symbol of violent oppression of black people and resistance to democracy, as the German swastika was the symbol of fascism and a desperate desire to murder the Jews of Europe. Mississippi Gov. Ross Barnett, who said ending segregation would be to “drink from the cup of genocide,” knitted together all the imagery, meanings and vile intentions in September 1962, in a 15-word speech at an Ole Miss football game. Standing in a Nuremberg-esque sea of Confederate battle banners, Barnett declared: “I love Mississippi. I love her people, our customs. I love and respect our heritage.” The next day, thousands of white men attacked federal marshals protecting the first black student to enroll at the university. It took 30,000 federal troops to restore calm.
The private letters among carriers of the Confederate battle flag back then are most remarkable in one way: those men actually believed the heinous things they were saying in public. And they acted under a misguided belief that most of the rest of white America, actually shared those views deep down. They honestly believed the Civil Rights Movement was an aberration–a course deviation caused by one spectacularly gifted black orator, his weak-bellied liberal supporters, and, it surely must be, his secret controllers in the Soviet Union. They truly believed all that for a good reason: just 15 or 20 years earlier, they would have been right. In the 1940s, white Americans in every part of the country–including Franklin Delano Roosevelt, most members of his cabinet and the majority of the Supreme Court–agreed that almost all black people were naturally inferior to white people. When southern politicians resurrected Confederate emblems in the 1960s, it was part of a genuine, if gigantically mistaken, belief that white Americans everywhere could be led or inspired back to their own past racist instincts.
Fortunately, that effort failed. Spectacularly.
The refusal to take the flag back down over the 50 years since then has been simply this: an effort to falsely obscure the explicitly racist nature of those leaders–and white southerners and lots of other white Americans generally–in that two-decade long extended moment of national decision when white southern men, women, teachers, preachers, politicians, police, judges, doctors, lawyers, mechanics and every other stripe overwhelmingly failed. Faced with the greatest question of social conscious they would ever confront, they failed as Americans. They failed as Christians. They failed as believers in freedom. They failed as parents and grandparents. And for the next two generations or more, it became important among white southerners to conceal or excuse that abject failure.
As it became apparent that the nation collectively rejected the immoral, backward views of the white South, it became necessary to “window dress” what had happened. The argument hadn’t been about white supremacy, they began to claim, it was about the government getting too big. The objection wasn’t about having black and white kids in school together, it was about violence on campus, they said. They hadn’t meant to suggest that all black boys are inclined to rape, only that teen pregnancy and “welfare queens” are not good. They hadn’t meant to suggest that the people whose labor they had exploited for 300 years were in fact lazy and incompetent. And yes, as Gov. Barnett told you in 1962, the Confederate battle flag wasn’t about suppressing black people, or defending slavery, or endorsing the violence of the Klan. It was about bravery, honor, appreciation of genteel women, limited government and constitutional principles.
It was about “heritage not hate.”
The reason the tide may be turning against this long misuse of the Confederate flag is because, thankfully, enough time and generations have passed that the number of Americans who know anything about the flag or have any legitimate interest in it is getting smaller and smaller. The architects of the flag propaganda of another time have, presumably in the wisdom of god, been taken from the earth, and those of us who remain didn’t listen well. It’s not just young African-Americans who don’t know as much as they should about the abuses suffered by their forebears; hardly any young Americans are interested in all that unpleasant past–especially now that so many of them are dating or coveting members of the other race, listening to Hip Hop and seeing a black man in the White House. One way or another, it has been absorbed that black people achieving some semblance of equality did not in fact cause the earth to consume itself in fire.
So the only people today who exhibit the Confederate flag–other than state governments, ironically, and a few holdout private schools–are in fact white supremacists, loutish rednecks, a has-been country music singer or two, neo-Nazis, and pathetically undereducated fools. Oh, and yes, people who make meth in broken down trailer houses.
That wasn’t the case as recently as the debate in Georgia 20 years ago that led to the removal of the battle emblem from that state flag, or the statewide vote on changing the flag in Mississippi at about the same time. (It failed–with even African-American voters supporting the flag in a twisted expression of home state “loyalty.”) Even as late as those events in the 1990s, there were still a lot of aging white southern males around who had grown up feeling, even after the dust had settled, that the civil rights movement had been at a minimum “unfair” to whites and wrongly impugned them and their fathers before them.
Even if polite about race in public, they were still offended by and quietly seething at the suggestion that poverty and other difficulties of African-Americans were the fault of past and present white racism–instead of laziness as they had always believed. They still needed to believe their teachers were truthful when they taught the historical hoax that enslaved people actually liked slavery in the 1850s, and were happy to have been brought to America–saved from cannibalism, paganism and bestiality. That generation of southern men were not generally supporters of the Ku Klux Klan or racial violence, but at their core they enjoyed the idea that the continued use of the flag bothered the people who so bothered them. They didn’t care a whit–or generally even know a whit–about the true history of the flag or their own connections to the slave-holders rebellion, but they relished how this antiseptic and increasingly invoked “heritage” propaganda innocently explained the battle flag and could be used to goad the critics they so despised.
But time marched on those gentlemen. Those aging white males are no longer the overwhelmingly dominant cohort in the southern states–just as those white voters are declining in political control of the South. Hence Virginia, Florida and North Carolina are presidential battleground states. Georgia is in play. Not many people are so obtuse still to believe that the declining performance educationally and economically of white males in rural America, especially the South, is because of affirmative action or because black people today are allowed to go to high school, and to vote.
We all understand pretty clearly now that a Dylann Roof actually has to stand on his own two feet. He can’t depend on an entrenched system of silent abuse and unspoken conspiracy to prevent women or African-Americans from seeking the same entry level job that Dylann might have desired. He can’t count on “heritage” and tradition to make sure that the majority of the black kids in his town can’t get an education sufficient to seek upwardly mobile employment–as heritage and customs guaranteed for 150 years. The Dylann Roofs of the world have to actually compete now. And for the first time in at least a century, they actually have to be men now–not just members of cowardly mobs protecting themselves with violence and intimidation, and always anonymously. We all understand that now, at least on some level. The government isn’t going to ensure your success by openly harming black people for you anymore, white man. You’re actually on your own now. The petty complaints and invented aggrievements of that generation–blaming black people for all their woes–make sense to a smaller and smaller group of other people now. Even the sons of the men who still feverishly insisted on that pitiful, self-emasculating logic 20 and 30 years ago increasingly don’t get their own dads anymore.
It’s not dissimilar to what happened with gay marriage: at some point the hollow nature of ridiculously inflexible positions simply begins to be obvious–especially when confronted by some event so clearly horrifying and indefensible as what happened in Charleston.
That’s the reality that Dylann Roof–and the rest of his scraggly, stupid ilk–are truly reeling from. Their own inadequacy. Their own failures. The slow disappearance of the certainty that all the white men will look out for all the other white men first–and somehow still save some kind of place even for the broken, intellectual runts like him. The Dylann Roofs of American today instinctively realize that their day is past. He never even had that day. They see white girls at school making the very rational choice to prefer over them black boys who are actually going somewhere. They discover that the police are willing to arrest them too for their petty drug schemes–and that harsh sentencing laws will wreck their misbegotten lives too.
Even the people that the Dylann Roofs once imagined might be allies now profess politics in which white losers like him–along with everyone else–are on their own. The government isn’t here to help anymore. There is no certainty. Just being white isn’t good enough, Dylann.
So a Dylann Roof lashes out in the perverse way that such an inadequate, violence-intoxicated mind can invent, swathed in the ideas and imagery so intertwined with the Confederate battle flag today. Yet, his rampage becomes a renunciation of whatever little honorable character attached to that symbol long ago. When my great-great grandfather and the rebels fighting with him to dismantle the United States charged up the hill called Little Round Top on July 2, 1863, in a decisive moment of the Battle of Gettysburg, they and their flag made clear who they were and the wrongs they were fighting for. We can at least give them that. And a third of the regiment of 1,500 fell on the battlefield that day, repulsed, thankfully, by soldiers defending the America we live in now.
Perhaps the Confederate battle flag did represent some sort of misguided valor back then. But no more.
Today, it stands for Dylann Roof, a wretch unable even to meaningfully articulate his anger at being required to take responsibility for himself, enraged at being forced to compete and survive in a world finally glimmering with at least a potential for equality. It stands for a coward like him, stripped of the protection of the lynching mobs that would have carried his flag. It stands for a loser without the spine to tell the people he found at Emanuel church who he truly was or what he truly believed–until he already had his gun trained on them. It stands for people like him who lie–by omission or commission–about their intentions. It stands for a murderer who could only savage the defenseless–who was so blind and terrified by his own emptiness that he would assault the only people who actually wanted to help him.
What bloodless shell of a person would choose to fly such a flag now? Finally, all who are willing can see that.
The Confederate flag is also a banner of treason. Traitors to the United States followed that flag and murdered American soldiers who were defending the Constitution. The Confederate flag is not only a banner of racism and cowardice, it is a banner of treason.
I just finished listening to Slavery By Another Name on Audible. I purchase it on 10 August 2015 but only finished it on 5 Passover/27 April 2016, because the content was pretty heavy as you are obviously overtly aware. I listened to Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson and Darkwater by W.E.B. DuBois in the mean time. Before that I had just finished Inhumane Bondage by David Brion Davis.
It was especially impacting, I think, to have finished your book during Passover because of the suggested nostalgia of Jewish Slavery in Egypt like forty five hundred years ago. The reference to Egypt Alabama and the brick kilns requiring greater production out of forced than more modern mechanical facilities could produce were especially poignant. Thank you so much for your epic contribution to the memorial of this otherwise whitewashed era of “neo-slavery.”
So. then I came and read this blog, and a few of the comments. Had I even owned your book when this was published I certainly would have been looking to find out what you had to say when the rebel flag was all the rage. You said it very well without coddling the old guard. Very well done. Please keep up your good work, which is just as vital to “a future to believe in” as the Vermont Senator’s. Thank you!
“It is a mistake however, to interpret the resilience of the Confederate battle flag as “popularity” among large numbers of people, or as something that triggers outpourings of affection or other positive emotions.”
Isn’t almost the entirety of the resilience of the Confederate battle flag about affection or other positive emotions?
I happened upon this thread because I had been perusing your book. ‘Perusing’ is operative because I found ‘reading’ it too painful; for me at least, it is best taken in doses to digest so I don’t grind my teeth to powder.
As a Caucasian man raised in the north (Detroit), I have always wrestled with judgment when contemplating the Southern attachment to history, as if my reflexive revulsion at America’s 500 year exploitation (to put it mildly) of ‘color’ – red, black, yellow, brown – was oblivious of the social pressures that I would have experienced growing up in the Delta or Black Belt.
The veracity and unvarnished honesty that imbues your work is therefore hugely appreciated because it springs from an understanding of place and culture that goes beyond intellectual and into the realm of boned-deep.
Thank you for this labor, which, after your children, may arguably be the most important work you do in this life.
I’m coming to the discussion rather late, but let me say that I concur wholeheartedly with the thesis and tone of your essay. I also applaud your willingness to engage at length in the ongoing discussion with those who responded.
Since this website is the title of your OUTSTANDING book, I am wondering how so many respondents to your essay got here without having read it or, if they have, not being moved by the gross injustices you document.
I have only read the first five chapters to this point, but I am embarrassed at my ignorance on the subject you so forcefully address. I just finished, since November, Taylor Branch’s America in the King Year’s trilogy, Michael K Honey’s book on the Memphis Garbage Strike, and David Garrow’s book on MLK and the FBI. I had previously read Garrow’s Bearing the Cross. My point being that I thought I knew something about the struggle of African-Americans to lead the United States further toward the self evident , but still to be realized, truth of the Declaration of Independence. (Out of space)
Thank you for a very well written and reasoned article. I enjoyed reading it very much. I live in Atlanta, Georgia and was born and raised in Alabama. I have been a Christian since I was 16 years old. I do have a college education and was thankful for the opportunity to go to school and learn as much as I could. I served as an officer in the United States Navy.
My family connection to the civil war is that one of my relatives was a senator in the State of Georgia when the state decided to rebel. Others of my relatives built ships for the Confederate Navy on the Chattahoochee River. I have reasons to feel some affinity with with those who see the Confederate Flag as a symbol of their family heritage. This may explain why the notion that the flag represented something far more noble, such as defending states rights, was appealing to me because I never considered my family members as evil. And the individual stories of heroism during that war also helped me to believe it all represented an honorable heritage. Who wants to believe that their family was dishonorable?
But, your article makes it quite clear that the Confederate flag itself is not a symbol of an honorable heritage. It is indeed a symbol of my heritage but not a proud heritage. Nevertheless, while I should not want to display it with pride neither should I deny its realty nor am I responsible for it. But love of truth demands that I accept the truth, admit it and live in harmony with it. Your article has given me accurate information that helps me to see how even Christians can be deceived into supporting evil which we are dedicated to oppose.
For the first time I am beginning to understand the concept of “White Privilege” even though I have never actually thought of myself as having a privilege that was based solely upon the fact that my skin has not specific color. My father worked in a cotton mill and we were not wealthy but I did have the privilege to go to school.
I like the way your article explains the fear that some feel because they will now have to compete for what they have in life. I have no such fear because I believe that there is plenty of opportunity in this world for all of us if we will just look for it and use our talents and abilities to take advantage of them. The removal of restrictions upon anyone to pursue their happiness is not a hindrance to me enjoying mine.
I agree with you entirely that the Confederate flag was all about rebelling against the United States in order to maintain a system of slavery. I do, however, believe that it can be a modern symbol of rebellion for other reasons not even remotely connected to the Civil War other than the courage to rebel. As a Christian, it does not appeal to me as a symbol of rebellion because rebellion is definitely not a Christian virtue. So, I do not personally choose to use the Confederate Flag as a symbol of anything that I believe in. The symbol of the Cross of Christ is the only symbol that I wear to express my beliefs.
I agree that this flag should not be on our government property because it is dismissive of the feelings of a large portion of our fellow countrymen and it does not represent the truth about the Civil War. That war was anything but “Civil”. I also believe that we should oppose all forms of hatred of which racism is only one. Symbols that promote love, harmony, unity and peace are worthy of consideration. While I will not fly this flag, I believe that individuals, however ignorant or misguided they may be, should be allowed to express their views by having such emblems on their trucks and property that they own. I presume that you would agree while arguing, as you have masterfully done, that those who do so are ignorant of the truth about the meaning of this symbol or they are still full of the racism that is indicative of an underlying hatred for their fellow man.
Thanks for the you excellent writing. It has been very beneficial for me to read it.
E. Lee Saffold
Your 2009 book and the related 2012 PBS television show are great. I waited until 2015 to get familiar with them, though. PBS (Moyers & Company, Frontline) led me to the 2010 book The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander, and to the 2014 book Dog Whistle Politics by Ian Haney-López.
The Guardian presented an excellent article (http://wapo.st/1GtgOkA) explaining the Confederate connection to 7 state flags, Mississippi being the most unpleasant. I agree that all such monuments and celebrations must be moved to private property. The burial places are a new option, new to me. What about public parks? I see that Sam Houston Park in Houston Texas presents a big statue since 1908, Spirit of the Confederacy. (http://www.houstontx.gov/parks/artinparks/spiritoftheconfederacy.html) A government website links to information about that! Legacy? As we quickly move these to their new homes, we might speak of another legacy. A few years ago, before my enlightenment, I was bothered by the state flag of Mississippi on a diagonal wire on a federal ship, a NOAA ship, docked at Galveston, in my sight as we ate on a restaurant’s terrace.
I’m a resident of Atlanta, a native Georgian, and lifelong southerner. Your essay was exactly how I have felt (for years) about the paradox of living in the south.
Since you wrote this, there was a recent article in the NY Times about how the confederate flag has come to represent “rebels” in every form in our country- and that it is most certainly not just a southern phenomenon. I’m wondering if you could comment on that?
Thanks for your comment on my post. There’s no doubt that the Confederate battle symbol has also been adopted by many groups opposed to whatever the dominant authority or institution which that group resists. That was part of the appeal at one time, I suspect, of the southern rock phenomenon of the 1970s that was its own kind of resistance to pop music, and the battle flag appeared in that circumstance in ways that were not always overtly racist. But on the whole, the use of the battle flag as a symbol of “rebellion” has almost always been by groups that ultimately were rooted in racism and white supremacy. There’s a reason that neo-Nazis in Eastern Europe, neo-Nazis in America, violent skin-head biker gangs and all manner of their cousins are still the folks who fly it most enthusiastically.
A friend whose family are South Carolinians going back for generations memorably said that unless the Southerners who still uphold prejudices and practices against African Americans can admit that their own ancestors and families were wrong to enslave people and perpetrate terrible injustices and murderous atrocities, they will not be able to forgive themselves and, thus, will continue to try to keep this sad, achingly long, collateral damage of the Civil War going.
My hope comes from all that is now written and continues to be said about this terrible part of our nation’s history and current injustices so that the denial of what has been done and is being done to our fellow Americans of color will be exposed to light so brilliant that actions going forward cleans this suppurating wound so it can heal and make right the suffering of African American victims, and–yes the forgiving people of Charleston AME are right–for the oppressors who are so diminished by perpetuating these untruths.
I am a retired school teacher and I have lived in the South all my life. I completely agree that the Confederate flag should not be seen on any government building….and I think that is what all of this is about…but everybody keeps getting off track…making it mean more than it is meant to be. Anyone can use the flag on a personal level. What bothers me is this: I live each day with the black people in my town…I respect those who deserve respect & I do the same with those of any race, including my own. I try to be kind and loving toward all people …I am not a prejudiced person. Then all of a sudden something like this flag thing comes up and I’m thrown into a group that is labeled those uneducated, dumb, prejudiced Southerners. Most people are prejudiced against The South. I guess we innocent Southerners will never live down the horrible things our ancestors did. I realize that hate groups still exist….but they exist all over the United States and the world…..but here is the U.S., Southerners get the blame for most prejudice activities. When a racial crime is committed by one person, then we all are racists.
Anne I haven’t heard anyone saying that all southerners are racists. Or that all southerners are dumb. I’m sure not saying it, since I am one. And there is nothing in my essay that suggests anything like that. What I have seen since the massacre in Charleston has been some white southerners–a fairly small number in fact–putting themselves in the company of racists by defending the flag.
MY essay says a) the Confederate flag stood for something in 1863–a military unit and a rebellion to break up the United States; b) that it was then hijacked first by southern terrorist groups, and then in 1960s by white supremacists; c) that the defense of the flag for the past 50 years has been solely to avoid confronting the conduct of white southerners in the 1950s and 1960s; and finally d) that the flag now stands for white men and others like Dylann Roof who live in horror that U.S. society is finally demanding in a way that it never has before that white men finally be truly competitive, work hard, stop depending on handouts from the government and the work of other people and pull their own weight. Nowhere in those ideas do I suggest that all southerners are racist.
“Solely on the basis of that one transgression, the concept of “white privilege” is demonstrable, undeniable historical fact.”
While that has an element of literal truth, it’s bad, incomplete reasoning. The history of humanity is filled with wars, conquests, subjugations and oppression, sadly. To promote this concept of “privilege”, especially limiting it to this one particular context alone, is to adopt the fanaticism of the ultra-pc SJWs.
And if you insist on this concept, how about, in the interests of justice and fairness, condemning “soviet/Russian privilege”, and “Chinese privilege”, which in fact resulted in far more murders.
“ultra-pc SJWs” Say what? This is a conversation among grown-ups, if you don’t mind.
And what exactly is the logic that you are arguing? It would appear you are saying that no one should care about or acknowledge any bad thing that has ever happened in human history, since a lot of other bad things also happened. Fine, but then why are you engaged in this conversation at all? If no one should care about the past, then why care about the present?
Your logic–like that of a few other commenters here–is the equivalent of saying there was nothing remarkable about South African apartheid, since other human societies oppressed identifiable groups of humans. You apparently would say the genocide of Native Americans doesn’t matter because so many native peoples were also slaughtered in South America. So you would say the Holocaust isn’t important because Stalin and Mao murdered and starved even more millions. And by the same logic, there is nothing relevant today in the fact that Stalin and Mao murdered so many–because there were millions murdered in the Holocaust. This is a specious circular logic that only makes sense if you are intent on denying the relevance of all events in the past. I doubt you really want to do that, because if we deny the importance of every bad thing in history, then the same logic says none of the good things in history mattered either: The ideals of the founding fathers are irrelevant; the enlightenment didn’t matter; the Bible is unremarkable; the defeat of Naziism was just another dustup; the collapse of Soviet communism was just another pointless political change. You don’t believe that. You just don’t want to confront that almost certainly you are a great beneficiary of white privilege. Just like me.
It is lunacy for you to suggest, in the midst of a debate like the one currently going on in the United States, that it is irrelevant to note that for 100 years, American society–through the government–transformed itself by investing hundreds of billions of dollars to educate hundreds of millions of white people, while simultaneously denying ALL education to millions of black children and providing only the most meager education to millions of others. If you cannot see the relevance of that, then you are simply blind. And would also be unable to comprehend the long list of other such proofs of white privilege–in housing, lending, higher education, the justice system, political representation, private work places, and on and on.
To that you bring up “soviet/Russian privilege”?
What planet are you on?
Your inferences are unreal. You misread my post to create strawmen that don’t exist, and then ferociously combat them. Suggest you re-read, then perhaps drop the planet SJW cant, and pay attention to ALL the tragedies of mankind.
One more supporting point: you mention native people as victims of genocide. Are you aware that various southwest Indian tribes owned black slaves before the Civil War. Does that not mean there is some kind of “red/native privilege” too?
Alex, it is commendable that you use your full name. You have enough conviction to be identified with your reasoning, and I applaud that.
But I still cannot make any sense of what you’re saying.
Your understanding of history and the reality of how human events unfold is staggeringly confused.
Au contraire,your view of history is blinkered and biased. Serious historians do not use terms like “white privilege” – that’s hashtag history.
And we’ll just have to disagree.
I don’t mean to be unkind. But you neither know the history, nor have a grasp of the larger moral issues here.
So yes, I concur that we are unlikely ever to agree.
Thank you for this essay. It happens to coincide with my own views now, in no small measure due to reading your book, Slavery by Another Name. I’ve purchased several and given them as gifts because it’s a real eye opener and recommended reading!
Thank you. I’m glad to know you found the book.
Mr. Blackmon: My review of your book is one of the most-viewed posts on my blog. I hope some of my readers went on to become your readers. http://weeklysift.com/2014/03/31/slavery-lasted-until-pearl-harbor/
Thank you very much.
Originally I was not going to share this piece on Facebook although I totally agree with everything you say . I have been a vocal proponent of removing the flag in SC for years My dorm at the University of South Carolina was a short walk to the State Capitol. We do need to create dialogue and the headline/title is one of the more provocative I have seen on the topic. I am not sure it does encourage a dialogue. However, after engaging with a local leader today (I now live in NC) who unbelievably said this: ( as well as many other completely crazy things),
: “This wasn’t an issue before the troubled youth did his deed. Before that the southern heritage wasn’t a problem. Why all of a sudden?”
I said the hell with it. I am going to share this and let the chips fall where they may. It’s time for all of us white Southerners to start speaking the truth. Thank you for your insights!
Thank you Chuck. I have had a similar progression of thinking. It is just really, truly TIME to stop pussy footing around with this toxic and immoral issue.
Very well-written and thought provoking. I have one issue with it though. I am from “the North” and have lived in Massachusetts my entire life, which is less than 30 years. We claim to be liberal and educated and open-minded and, yes, even claim at many times to be better than what I’ve heard called “the crooked South.” But I cannot tell you how many of my peers, other young white liberal adults that I also consider educated and intelligent, openly and forcefully blamed Michael Brown and Eric Garner last year for their fate. And when I tried to explain institutionalized racism and how/why it exists I continuously received the resounding reply, “you can’t prove it.” We cannot just blame people like Dylann Roof for their racism and ignorance. We really also need to examine the rest of the country that claims to be educated and ensure that they know and understand the history as well. Dylann Roof isn’t the only type of person that thinks he is entitled to be given what he now must earn. When I was applying to college ten years ago, some of my white classmates complained that they probably wouldn’t get in to a school because affirmative action would give the spot to a black student instead. These privileged white folks can also hide behind institutionalized racism, claim that they’ve earned what they have from their own and their parents’ hard work, and then blame black Americans for being too lazy or stupid if they don’t have the same things. I think these people are just as dangerous ad Dylann Roof and the other militant racists you write about because the educated racists can use people like Dylann Roof as a scapegoat and continue to benefit from and fight for an unfair system that benefits them without having to confront that racism and its effects on a day-to-day basis. Lets get rid of the Confederate flag, but then let’s not forget that the rest of us had a hand in building and perpetuating this system of racial oppression too.
I completely agree with you Ashley. The history specific to the Confederate battle flag is an overwhelmingly southern thing. But the desperate internal terror that Dylann Roof was running from–the realization that white men are no longer going to be this protected species–is a terror shared by a wide swath of inadequate white males in America. Deep down they recognize that the affirmative action, job guarantees and trillions of dollars in government handouts for white men enjoyed by their fathers, grandfathers and so on are no longer so certain. And that in a society that increasingly embraces the idea that government shouldn’t be looking out for anybody, they are in deep trouble.
Thank you, Mr. Blackmon, for your rage. Coming from a white southerner makes it even more powerful. There’s one more thing I wish you would have said. Whites always accuse blacks of being lazy, as you mentioned a couple of times. Yet wasn’t it laziness all these years that made whites feel they had the right to enslave blacks to do their work for them? It’s ironic, isn’t it?
I couldn’t agree more. The people who have been taking advantage of an unfair, unjustified system of government handouts and government redistribution of the nation’s collective economic output have overwhelmingly been white men. Now faced with the growing reality that those guarantees of protection are no longer certain, we see this rising, self-emasculating, pathetic rage.
Yes, taking advantage of workers in the workforce is one thing but the outright stealing of someone’s labor is something akin to evil. And that’s what the confederate flag represents to most of us, a time when it was genteel to steal another man’s (and woman’s and child’s) labor, not to mention their right to their own bodies, their privacy, and their dignity. Thanks again. I wish someone could read your whole post at Dylann Roof’s trial.
Everything that the white people have done to EVERYONE else they blame the victims for it. Ie.. dylann roof says that the black community was raping the white woman when the US actually had a law on the books to allow uncontrollable rape of a black female male and child. I have always hated this flag, I’m from the north and now raise my children in Mississippi. That flag flies as an intimidation tactic on my children’s school and it is the most disgusting thing that I have been subjected too. Imagine having to send your baby’s to a school that flies a flag that was meant to enslave rape torture lynch them. Just imagine that you are the parent of a 6 year old LITTLE GIRL and you know that slavery meant massa could rape her every day of her life
Thanks for an in-depth perspective. People I know get tired of hearing about this issue, but with our white privilege, we don’t have to live it every day. We need to hear it. As far as the flag goes, why not create a new flag representing worthwhile southern pride and tradition? Feature classic southern authors, musicians or artists. Maybe the new generation of southerners will rethink what is pride worthy.
I’m proud to know a Delta native — Greenville is my hometown — wrote this powerful piece. Thank you very much, Douglas Blackmon.
I’m glad you saw it Penny. Thank you very much.
Doug- Have you seen much change in how the Civil War is taught in Southern schools? In my online exchanges on the subject, I have found Southerners who try to explain the war by discussing Union war aims, rather than Southern. They seem unaware of the Cornerstone speech or the secession ordinances and resolutions of the seceeding states, which make explicit the Southern war aims – defending slavery. I don’t understand how any American history course that covers the Civil War can not include these documents, and I wonder what you have found, especially in the context of your essay.
Hello Steven, You’re right on target. What I have found is that the blatantly false narrative of neo-Confederate fantasy–the whole “War of Northern Aggression” delusion–is NOT being taught anymore in schools. But what is being taught is a kind of “no harm/no foul” narrative. An approach that boils down to: “some say the war was about this; others say the war was about that.” It’s not unlike the way so much American journalism has been ruined by this idea that no side of a struggle should ever be labeled as wrong. So widely used high school textbooks say the cause of the Civil War was disagreement over “slavery and states rights”–which of course is blatantly incorrect. As you note, the declarations of the seceding states and the leaders of the revolt said clearly at the time that the United States had to be dismantled and democracy had to be crushed to “preserve slavery.” That was the one and only, paramount, entire, complete reason for the Civil War. Without the disagreement over slavery it is beyond absurd–it is lunatic–to suggest the Civil War would ever have commenced. That fact is being obscured in our schools through a weak-kneed impulse toward avoiding all dissent–and avoiding conflict with entities like the one in Texas that selects all texts for state schools.
Important essay, the responses to which are equally important and illuminating.
Anyone who thinks that black Americans have been given a fair chance to succeed in this country, should read Isabel Wilkerson’s Pulitzer Prize winning book, The Warmth of Other Suns. It is a life changer for aging, privileged Baby Boomers like me.
Mr Blackmon: Thanks for the in-depth look at this sometimes puzzling phenomenon of American society. I am a Yankee, from New York City, but I’ve lived in the Southwest for most of my 67 years. I’ve also lived down along the Texas coast, and I count Southerners among the finest people I’ve known. They have a depth of character others from, say, the West, seem to lack. I am hoping someday to return there.
I wanted to say it was quite helpful to learn the Confederate flag made a widespread reappearance only after Brown v Board of Education in 1954. In martial terms, I guess that can be pegged as the beginning of a second American civil war.
I have three grown sons. The oldest, when he was at college here in Arizona, had a fixation with the flag. Somewhere he had been taught about the nobility of the Southern resistance and the notion of honor embodied in the flag. He was at an age where father-son discussions were, um, difficult sometimes, and it took all my powers of persuasion to convince him he was wrongly informed and was going to get himself hurt if he displayed the flag around town. For once he took my advice, thank God. Today he is a decorated police officer, giving good advice of his own.
Thank you Mr. Blackmon for this essay. You have made me think, grow and learn. That is hard work, but I will continue to follow the comment stream and continue to learn.
Thank you. I appreciate your attention and concern.
So I enjoyed your essay. However, it does imply those with a love of the battle flag are either uneducated and/or racist (those usually go together, right?). I firmly disagree with this: Being a young white male, the “rebel flag” symbolizes Southern heritage in a more broad sense. Strong family ties, doing what’s right even if people disagree, “Southern hospitality”, etc.
Now, I understand these positive traits stem from immoral practices. Ex: The Confederacy truly thought they were in the right, fighting against oppressive forces wanting to strip their “God Given” right to slave ownership. The ideal of “doing what’s right, even against massive opposition” is admirable, even if it’s ultimately misguided.
These pure moral ideals are the real reason so many people cling to the flag. We see it as a symbol of our identity, of what makes us unique. Most of the outrage isn’t that the flag is being brought down from public buildings; It’s that it seems like “Yankees” are using a horrible event by a misguided youth to do it. Instead of us going, “This shouldn’t be here anymore because it does offend others, even if we don’t see it as offensive.” we see people from the outside telling us what to do, and our elected officials doing it in the face of these orders.
Understandably, this makes us feel persecuted. Which in turn will spur animosity in some of our more uneducated colleagues. I feel this was a bad move, because many of people who have zero hatred, animosity, or perceived superiority towards men and women of color see themselves as attacked for being who they are: Proud Southerners. It’s being taken on par with being denied a job based on our accent.
Also, I just want to touch on something: Going to school, I was taught that the “War Against the States” (Or even “The War of Northern Aggression”) was about States Rights. When I went to college, I was taught this again. You cannot be upset at a generation of young men and women who “know” this. I’m 28 with a college degree. Most people will assume if they’re taught something at a place of higher learning during the 21st century regarding 19th century history, it’s likely accurate by now.
I appreciate the evenhanded tone of your comment-and especially that you seem to realize that white southerners should long ago have realized, as you put it so well: “This shouldn’t be here anymore because it does offend others, even if we don’t see it as offensive.” But this is the problem: White southerners should have realized exactly that a full 50 years ago. There have been hundreds of people attacked or murdered under color of what that flag stands for since it was dragged out of the closet after the Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954. There have been endless opportunities for white southerners to make the recognition that you appear to have made. But over all those decades, the white southerners who defended the flag said over and over again: “Hold on now, that’s not what it stands for….” or “Well why should we care if black people are offended. Maybe I’m offended by the NAACP.” Or even more often, what they said was: “I can’t stand it when those damn n—— act like they are as good as white people.” It’s been 60 years now. There’s no more “give us some time to figure it out” excuse making left to be done.
I did very deliberately suggest that there is something wrong with those who still support flying the flag–especially those who think it should fly above a state capitol or in any other way represent our government. You associate some positive things with the battle flag, and I guess that’s fine. But I can’t say I understand. As so many Confederate apologists are anxious to lecture everyone about: It is a “battle” flag, from the very beginning. It NEVER represented hospitality or any of the other supposed pleasant qualities of white southerners. It was designed as a way of soldiers identifying their fellow soldiers on the battle field as they fought to destroy the United States. And then 100 years later, it was revived as a symbol of white supremacy, lynchings, the Ku Klux Klan, defiance against ending segregation, politicians who swore black people would never be allowed to be citizens, terrorist rapes and killings. I can’t comprehend how a rational person could see that symbol as being associated with any of the friendly virtues of pecan pie and waving at strangers when they drive by the farm.
I also can’t agree with you that there is something admirable about a struggle as long as the people involved THINK they are right. By that standard, the NAZI SS officers who operated the gas chambers at Auschwitz were somewhat admirable because they so believed in the importance of murdering all Jews. By that standard, Osama bin Laden and al-Queda are to be admired for 9/11 because they worked so hard in their struggle to murder Americans and so wholly believe that America is the great Satan. I can’t imagine that you actually believe such a thing. Perhaps what you really mean is that you agree with what I have said in other replies–that every mother should be allowed to grieve the death of her child, even one who dies in pursuit of a dishonorable cause. So, yes, it was fine for white southerners to mourn their dead, and it is fine to remember the dead today if it could be done without this pathetic, desperate need of some Confederate apologists to ALSO perpetuate these invented gigantic lies about that the south was fighting for states rights, that huge numbers of enslaved black people fought for the Confederacy, that slavery was benign, and that the war was about valor and honor and protecting the precious white women of the South. That is all nonsensical claptrap ginned up by propagandists. The truth is that the Confederacy was a desperate and immoral attempt to preserve the institution of slavery–and all of the rape and physical exploitation that white men enjoyed from it–long after it was dying out in every other civilized place in the world. There is nothing defensible or even vaguely admirable about that rebellion against the United States, beyond the remarkable efforts of individual soldiers and commanders on the battlefield. The same can be said for the discipline of the Wehrmacht or the savagery of the Red Army, the armies of Imperial Japan and Ho Chi Minh himself. But that is as far as it goes. It was no more redeeming a moral force than when David Koresh defiantly declared himself and his followers free of oversight by the United States government and then, to defy the FBI, set fire to his own pedophile cult–murdering his own followers and killing himself. They believed very strongly that what they were doing was “right,” and stood up against massive odds. But there was nothing to admire about that cause.
As far as the phrase “War Against the States,” I think you are misremembering. The phrase is “War Between the States,” which is not a completely inaccurate label, even if evasive. Regardless, you must have gone to schools that were using textbooks and curricular materials from the 1960s or earlier. Because even as early as the mid 1970s, students were generally not being taught the phrase “War of Northern Aggression,” unless they were taking classes at a white-flight academy specifically set up to preserve segregation, or being taught that at home from propaganda pieces published by the Sons of Confederate Veterans or other reactionary organizations. There are still schools and textbooks that are not fully accurate about what the key issues of the Civil War were. There is still obfuscation of the crystal clear fact that the war was about preserving slavery, and nothing more. But there are not legitimate textbooks or professional teachers of history who would still teach the phrase “War of Northern Aggression.” To be totally honest, that particular phrase has never been used by anyone except southern apologists and white supremacist groups. You sound as if you are genuinely interested in the history of the Civil War era, and I hope you’ll take the time to read some legitimate historical writing about that period.
So, I’m overjoyed you replied to my Comment sir. Thank you!
I am going to be quite frank, so please don’t take it as being purposely offensive or inflammatory in nature. However, the message I want to convey most likely cannot be done so in any other sort of language. (Nothing unprofessional, I assure you. Foul language isn’t classy.)
I will give a little background, albeit vague, of myself. I have lived in many places of this great country. Raised near the Texas, Louisiana, and Arkansas border, I was steeped in Dixie culture. We moved around a bit during my childhood, so I got to see and meet many a middle class family in this region. My family was very fond of having others over for Sunday dinner, so it happened very often that friends or potential girlfriends families ended up over, sometimes embarrassing every child in attendance almost evenly across the board. After graduating from UT, I explored a little bit. Strong work ethic, a deep southern drawl, and genuine joy of meeting others can make you successful at anything anywhere. Seen bother coasts of this country, moved to Utah for a girl, etc. You get the idea.
In all honesty, most whites I’ve run into really don’t like black people. I picked up on this early on, when my grandmother would refer to the one black family at church as “some of the ‘good ones’ “. Now, many won’t articulate it that way. My grandmother, rest her soul, named one of my uncles Bedford, if you get my drift. However, most have a genuinely negative view of the negro as a race.
Most will say it as “Black culture is the real racism keeping the black race down”. Kind of echos some prominent conservative news personalities, doesn’t it? It’s a comforting sort of racism – The idea that blacks could rise above their family upbringing and reach cultural whiteness. The people who will vocally rail against those using the word “nigger” will say to themselves, “They didn’t deserve that. They’re one of the good ones.” It’s laughable, really.
So, I ask you to accept this axiomatically: Many of the outwardly “non-racist” whites in America, Southern and Yankee alike, are racist in their own backward way. My experiences and dialogue in different areas is limited, to be sure, but seems congruent with other commentary.
Accepting that, you have the backdrop for the anger and animosity for the Battle Flag being assaulted. Combined with your own lack of understanding of the emotional (wish I could bold or italicize on here. Pretend emotional looks different, okay?) attachment many people have with the flag’s distilled positive characteristics, this subversive sort of white supremacy is being challenged. How many people in my life have reached out, asking why “they” think they can take it away from “us”? (Being the only college educated family member is fun.)
The problem is this: You, and others, are making a very valid argument for the flag being taken down from taxpayer-funded sites. However, you cannot overcome an emotional reaction with logic. Just how it is. So you’re assaulting our beloved symbol of antebellum Dixie heritage while those ‘animals’ can riot without check over some criminal being hurt while in a police van? You’re getting a “Hell no” from those who lack the common sense to understand that pushing back against this is no different than our grandfather’s lynching ‘uppity blacks’ who tried to move in.
This won’t dispel racism. It will only do what the Civil Rights Movement did: Drive racism even more into seclusion. I am not sure if this is such a positive thing. As it is now, many whites don’t grasp their instinctive thoughts are racist in origination. The fact that we can gloss over these feelings with rational aphorisms such as “If they would only work harder, they would make a name for themselves too.” and “If their heroes weren’t all athletes, they would have role models worth looking up to” show we truly don’t understand we do more damage with these thoughts than lynchings.
I could be wrong though: Paul O’Neill caused major positive change in Alcoa in all areas during the 80s & 90s by focusing on employee safety. One improvement caused a ripple effect. Maybe this will too?
Oh! As for myself, I really don’t care enough to act either way. I like the romanticism of the battle flag, and have a special place in my heart for it from my childhood. It’s an emotional attachment though, so I can understand logically it symbolized the Klan murdering a little girl’s father fifty years ago in front of her on the lawn. Having attended a Klan rally myself, I think they’re rather dull affairs full of equally dull individuals. I am an Atheist who enjoys having fun and making money. Black people have green money too, last I checked.
My apathy in seeing the cultural racism permeating our society is itself racism, I’m aware. However, I don’t feel the moral outrage necessary to drive action. Until we sit down and actually discuss the real driving force for this underlying hate, on both the black and white sides, I’ll keep to myself.
Mathew, I honestly make much sense out of what you are saying. You try to give yourself cover by admitting your racism, and then try to make it even smaller by claiming that all people are some kind of benign racist like you. And then you claim you don’t care. And that really black people are the problem. You may be a decent person and a superficially intelligent guy, but it’s hogwash. You’re clearly smart enough to see how ridiculous are the things you say, but you choose not too.
I happen to have a lot more confidence in all Americans than you do. I don’t believe all white people are racist. My family happens to be from the same tri-state corner you say you hail from, and it’s clear to me that you are locked in a set of views you downloaded around 1972. The real misfortune in your being the only college educated person in the family is that there hasn’t been anyone else to prompt you to keep growing intellectually.
But the vast majority of Americans have made tremendous progress since your die was cast. And continue to make progress. That’s what makes these backward holdout views that you are struggling to defend so absurd, and thankfully, so destined for extinction.
I believe in America. I believe we can continue to grow and become better as a people. I believe that far more than you do. Your claim that really nothing has changed and nothing will is not just provincial. It is un-American.
I think this has been a fruitful exchange between you and Matthew, and I commend both of you for staying with it. I also hope he is chewing hard on what you have said in this last response.
There’s a lot of polite language here, both from Matthew L and Douglas Blackmon, but I find myself wondering how polite it can be to pre-judge people by the color of their skin. Xenophobia, the irrational fear of people who are different from ourselves, might have some biological basis, perhaps, but what separates humans from animals is that we can chose to set aside that fear and behave differently; moreover, as Bill Nye publicly admonished all of us, race is a social construct, not something based in biology. In other words, get over it. Use that verbal brain of yours and choose to make another choice.
Matthew L talks a lot about heritage and family. He doesn’t say it, but what I hear is something my sister-in-law once said to defend her own racist views: “I can’t help it; that’s how I was raised.” To that, I simply must call bullshit. No matter what you were raised to believe, you can choose to make a different choice as an adult. Indeed, I’ll go further: to be accepted as a thinking adult, you are *required* to examine the views instilled in you and make your own choice. If you fail to do so and simply accept what you were taught, you’re not worthy of the college degree you hold. You’ve already chosen to reject, I presume, the religious upbringing instilled in you by declaring yourself an atheist; so you are familiar with the concept. As I see it, you’re making a conscious choice not to reject the “benign racism” (honestly, I can’t imagine a more misleading and offensive term) you were taught growing up in LA and TX.
As for your view that “everyone” harbors racist views deep in their souls, even if I were to accept that premise, many choose to catch – and reject – those thoughts when they bubble up in our brains. (My own experience: realizing I was more afraid of the black guy at the mostly empty subway platform than the white guy, I smiled at the black guy; guess who quietly let me know he had my back when the white guy turned out to be crazy and dangerous? The black guy.) So, again, we come back to choice: you can choose to reject those stray thoughts until you have them less and less.
More on insidious racism, though not really the point of this post, so I’ll make it brief: Why do you think so many people HATE – and I mean with a passion that’s waaaaay out of proportion to reality – President Obama? Racism, pure and simple. “How dare that black man act all uppity and take a job of a white man?” The haters are indignant and foaming at the mouth with invective, even if they are careful enough to stay away from racist comments (although you can see enough of the “nigger baiting” on anonymous social media; I feel for our president having to endure these awful words).
Let’s get to another point you mention: intent. Even if your *intent* is to celebrate heritage, not hatred (a point I find patently false since the Confederate flag is both a symbol of treason and a symbol of a group of people who fought to preserve the right to enslave others, but I digress), how can you claim to be a socially conscious person when you know the flag has been co-opted by the KKK and others to murder black people and instill fear in others? If an entire segment of the population – blacks *and* whites – are telling you they receive a message of fear, hatred and intimidation from the Confederate flag, yet you choose to fly it still, well, that tells me you are choosing to be immune to these broadly held concerns. Again, that’s your choice, but you must know that I and others will judge you by your actions, not your intent, for the truth is the same for us all – we can only be truly known by our actions.
So, Matthew, examine your heart. Are you a racist – benign or otherwise? Or are you merely an apologist for racists? Do you want to display a flag that many people find a symbol of race hatred? Is that who you want to be? You can weave all the historical, familial and logical arguments you want, sir, but at the end of the day, you are making that choice.
Matthew L makes a good point: you can’t overcome an emotional reaction with logic — unless we can first set aside that emotional reaction so we become open to logic. Matthew, your cogent writing suggests you’ve clearly been able to do the former, yet you resist the logical argument still. At this point, it’s hard to argue further. What passes for “deeply held beliefs” becomes stubbornness and unwillingness to consider your alternatives or the feelings of others.
I come down firmly on the side of Douglas Blackmon’s argument: I, too, have faith that we can be and become better people – regardless of how we were raised, what we were taught in school, however biology influences our brains – simply by choosing to do so. We can understand that our actions speak louder than our intentions. We can choose to be different, better people who don’t judge anyone on the color of their skin (gender, religion, sexual orientation, etc.), but on the content of their character. All that stands between us and “that more perfect union” contemplated in our Constitution is each of us making our own choice to reject racism in all its overt, “benign,” or symbolic forms. What will YOU choose?
Powerfully, perfectly stated. Thank you, Betty.
Hi AGAIN! =D
I’m frankly overjoyed and honored at the discussion that sprawled from my comment.
It would appear we are at an impasse, however. It’s very clear that I have views which, are not compatible with the views of others. And that’s alright – Still ecstatic by the responses. That being said, I will concede a few points.
1. *The Confederate flag represents racism and a desire for white supremacy among a fairly large portion of our country’s population.* No one **really** will argue this. Most of the back-and-forth on the subject is coming from emotional reactions.
—I believe it’s representing an outlying discussion we, as a people, are avoiding: “Is institutional racism against people of color still around?”. Those defending the flag are saying, “No, it is not. We’re struggling/struggled too!” Those pushing for it’s removal are saying, “Yes it is! You don’t hear car doors lock in unison when I walk down the street past a red light!”. Fairly certain if you polled people on either side of the argument, the majority wouldn’t be able to articulate a real reason for the defense of their respective sides. Emotions are funny thing like that, aren’t they?
2. *Institutional racism still exists.* Kind of a no-brainer. I’ve seen it in my own life, sheltered it may be. Example: Had a direct report of mine throw out a resume because the guy had an obviously ethnic name. Results matter to me more, and I ended up hiring him after an interview. Made me a lot of money, actually. But I digress – It’s there. I know I’m born with advantages: White skin, being male, able to speak clearly and intelligently with a Bill Clinton-like Arkansan accent.
—Pretty sure racism has become “benign racism” as Ms. Betty put it. (I think that’s an oxymoron. =P) That insidious type that isn’t seen by anyone on the surface. Referring back to my previous example, I recall a study they did (last year?) where they took almost identical resumes and changed the names to show this. Pretty telling, actually. Don’t recall seeing that on the news.
3. *My assumption on the underlying racism permeating most people is based on my limited life experience, and thus could not be accurate.* That being said, I believe you underestimate the number of people who are racist without realizing it. The mom who hurries up loading her kids up before a group of outwardly appearing street-oriented black males walks makes their way across a parking lot to her area. The young couple that makes snide remarks on a middle-aged black woman paying for “junk food” with an EBT card. These are realities, and are more prevalent than your responses seem to imply.
—Now, many of us, as Ms. Betty pointed out, catch our instinctive racist reactions and do not act on them, at least in public. However, they are there. When I saw the riots at Ferguson and Baltimore, my reaction was: “More race riots. Fun. Way to stimulate economic growth in your community guys.”. Even though I understand there is a system in place, through poverty traps via public assistance and systematic incarceration of young black males (among many others), to keep them down and rage is a pretty natural way for oppressed to express themselves, still that thought that popped up at first is the heart of what I axiomatically assume among my Caucasian peers.
4. *Lack of action against the oppression of the colored community is racism.* Yup, I’m a well-meaning racist. I read to cancer kids at Children’s every so often, volunteer regularly, and treat everyone in my limited sphere of influence equally based on their results generated and actions. However, I don’t have the moral outrage necessary to prompt action. Definitely could: Could volunteer to help the Amnesty Project instead of the homeless shelters, for example. But I don’t, because I lack the real desire to help. The system, in it’s present form, errs in my favor. Despite having a little too much fun in my youth, I avoided jail and thus could succeed. I’ve never been passed up on a promotion because of my skin color, or been followed at an upscale store for no apparent reason. Moreover, becoming extremely vocal could harm my personal or professional life. So I have no emotional reason to act, and a few logical reasons not to… I keep pretty quiet when I see my peers, who cannot even tell me what “Antebellum” means, claim the Battle Flag isn’t about hate. For a large portion of Americans, it is and we should acknowledge that.
—Many, myself included, have an attachment based purely on the emotional imprint made during my youth. (Read: Sixteen year olds drinking, impressing girls, white-smoking tires on our new trucks, etc.). We’ve Romanticized the flag to represent those times. We didn’t care about the atrocities of slavery – We remember our uncles who flew it giving us our first taste of whiskey, or kissing a girl for the first time at some State Fair where it was openly displayed. That kind of scratches the surface of where the love of the flag comes from. And just as adulthood took away the simplicity of youth, some people who “don’t get it” are trying to take away the flag. I hope you can empathize with this, at least. Not even defending it – More explaining how some pretty good-natured people can defend a symbol of white supremacy.
5. *We are definitely progressing, albeit slower than many think.* Do not assume my cynicism about my fellow man is the equivalent of thinking we are stagnate. But all things are not equal, and there will be growing pains. That being said, I acknowledge that my own apathy and the apathy of those like me is the major reason for progress going slow. And it truly is apathy – It does not affect me one way or another if black people are treated more fairly, because I’m treated pretty fairly as it is. There’s an emotional element needed, and it’s just not there. The black friends I have are fairly well off, and came from the same background so they grew up in suburbia. Not Oakcliff, TX. Mostly sharing this to acknowledge that yes, I understand I am part of the problem, and no, I don’t plan on changing. There are a lot of folks like me as well. At least I acknowledge that it is, indeed, a moral failing.
—I’ll share a story: Growing up, my parents were somewhat vocal about their racism until this happened. We went out to eat, and my mom said, “Excuse me” when she was getting up and her chair hit a chair with a black man sitting there. Perfectly natural reaction. It was a nice family doing the same thing we were. My younger brother, being maybe five, said, “Why are you being nice mom? Thought you didn’t like black people?” I still remember the look of fear, in both my parents and the black adults. It was as if my parents were afraid their blatant racism was on display, and the black parents were afraid they would react emotionally & get caught up in trouble in front of their children. I don’t believe this happens anymore – Progress!
Sorry if this seems kind of haphazardly put together. Doing other things while typing this – Getting up and coming back kind of throws off my groove. =D
As stated before, thank you all for the responses. Also, as was pointed out, the polite language. Many times these sorts of discussions turn ugly.
I’d appreciate hearing your views on whether, in addition to banishing the flag, we should dismantle Confederate monuments (the one in Arlington, for example), rename U.S. Army bases, etc. On a somewhat related note, do you think it’s fair to compare individual leaders of the Confederacy (Lee, for example) to Nazi leaders when making an argument in favor of expunging them?
Unequivocally, no collective expression of the people through the state, through government, should endorse Confederate symbols or use them as symbols of the government. That is obvious and clear. Your question raises more complicated issues. I do not advocate dismantling every Confederate monument, or removing the headstone from my great-great grandfather’s grave. Just as I would not advocate for the removal of memorials in Germany that list the war dead from World War II. Every mother must be permitted to grieve the death of her child–even if that death occurred in pursuit of a misguided purpose. At the same time, there would nothing wrong with a community deciding that a monument to the Confederate dead is best positioned in a cemetery, with the dead it honors. To move such a monument off a town square, where it might be interpreted as an ongoing expression of a community’s allegiance to a failed rebellion or to bigotry and slavery, and relocate it in a cemetery where soldiers are buried, or to a battlefield where they died, would be a completely appropriate action. In fact, some southern towns and communities–most notably Atlanta–did exactly that at the time monuments were being erected–placing the memorial at the center of a military burial ground.
It is also true that Civil War monuments are representations of history, and have a value as such. To remove them all would in effect conceal the truth that for generations, millions of white Americans–including legions of them in the North–chose to believe an utterly false propaganda about the nature of the war, largely because it fit with the rampant racism shared for so long by almost all white Americans. So to erase all evidence of that campaign would be wrong for many reasons. At the same time, we should not simply ignore Confederate monuments that contain inscriptions that inaccurately and offensively describe slavery as benign, or the South as a passive victim of the war, or assert that the slaveocracy of the South was the “most perfect and pure society in the history man.” Where monuments go beyond memorialization of the sorrow surrounding those who died, they should be appropriately curated. Additional signs and explanations should be erected to make clear that those offensive messages no longer represent the will of the community or government that preserves those monuments.
As far as generals are concerned, they should be remembered with historical accuracy. Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest was a war criminal, a bigot and founder of the Ku Klux Klan. Statuary or any other honor of him is a flagrant offense to modern sensibilities. I would applaud a community’s decision to remove such a monument from a place of honor, and put it, or some part of it, in a museum where an accurate accounting of his venality would be presented and the history of the monument would be seen as evidence of how desperately southerners worked to conceal that treacherous, sadistic aspect of that era. But I would not go so far as to say that every monument to a Confederate officer must be destroyed. Historical figures should be assessed for who and what they were, their memorializations should be appropriately curated with contemporary wisdom, and this should be the approach taken to all such figures from the past–Confederate or Union, American or German.
Thank you for this essay. You helped a dumb Yankee have a much better understanding of the South and the horrific act of Mr. Roof.
Excellent post. I’ll have to read it again to pick up some more of the nuance, but overall, you make some points often overlooked.
That’s one helluva a well written and more importantly insightful piece, Mr Blackmon. I’m particularly taken by how usefully you distill the issue down to focus on the generational attempt to re-brand the failure of backwards hate as nobility and gentility. You’ve managed to wrap your fingers tightly around the heart of that hogwash. So thank you.
The only place where I might differ with you is in your taking the license to stretch Dylann Roof into something of an all-purpose representation of a broader class of everyday folks. I understand what you’re trying to achieve when you say something like “the Dylann Roofs of the world.” You’ve expressed that. But there’s substantial danger in that stereotype of the feeble-witted rebellious southern deviant.
To me, it’s possible or even likely that Roof’s make-up includes some of the extra ingredients that it takes to turn the garden-variety socially inept alienated young man into a mass murderer. For me, the “Dylan Roofs of the world” are all the young men who fit the personality type most prone to do as he did: poor social tools, alienation, slippage through various constructive social safety nets, belligerent adoption of a hostile philosophy casting one’s self as a heroic warrior.
That’s a troubling common thread which crosses the bounds of racial politics. And as a culture we’re bound to face more young men with such tendencies as the quality of opportunities for unskilled entry-level workers continues to decay. I’d enjoy it if you have time to share your thoughts on this, even if only briefly.
I don’t completely disagree with you, Brian. But don’t forget that Dylann Roof told his victims what he was doing and why before he murdered them. And his “manifesto” fills in the blanks. So I’m comfortable offering this as a full-square contradiction to the endless numbers of apologists who initially rushed to say: “We’ll never know what’s in the mind of a crazy man….” We know quite precisely what was in the mind of this crazy man. And as a good friend said to me yesterday: It’s quite plausible for someone to be BOTH crazy and evil at the same time.
I’m not suggesting, just to be clear, that everyone who supports the flag, or hangs it out the window of their trashy meth-lab trailer, is a likely homicidal sociopath. But I am suggesting that their affinity to the Confederate flag is rooted in the same antisocial, backward instincts, inadequacy and well-founded self doubt that motivated Dylann Roof.
Mr Blackmon , you display your own prejudice by smearing everyone who lives in a trailer .The Emperor has no cloths .
Mr. Gardner, I expressed contempt for people who “make meth” in trailers. Perhaps you are under the impression that all people who live in trailers make meth, but being a person who has lived in a trailer myself, I can assure you that is not the case. It’s not surprising that you are uninformed about this or anything else, given your lack of knowledge about ISIS, or American history, or southern history. It’s also not surprising that you don’t understand the story of the emperor with no clothes.
Perhaps my contempt for those who make meth strikes you as a personal insult. If so, know that I was unaware of any activities along those lines on your part. But as I understand it, the thinking of meth users can clear significantly when they break such habits. You should consider it, and perhaps begin to make more sense.
I completely agree about the things that poisoned his mind. We know. And yeah, it’s still iffy as to just how mentally compromised he was. I remember reading the writings of that redhead who slaughtered the school kids . It was plain that he was at least dissociative, with barely any connection to a cohering moment-to-moment world. Not what we’re seeing here.
My concern is really restricted to your usage “the Dylann Ruffs of the world.” Other than that it’s spot on. IOW, I 99.99% agree with you. I only say that it’s not quite fair that Dylann Ruff, a racist mass murderer become emblematic of the southern version of early adult male alienation.
And I do hope that soon more people become aware of and concerned by this broader pattern of socially awkward young men without skills getting disconnected from parents, schools and other institutions and adopting whatever twisted ideology panders to their need to blame some external scapegoat. We’re failing badly at the mission of keeping young adults productively engaged in the matter of building a healthy, fulfilling, and sustainable adult life. That’s not unique to places where sweet tea counts as heritage.
Thanks for answering. Hoping to try one of your books, which was highly recommended to me.
Thank you. Well said and spot on. I’ll be digesting this for days. I’m sure I’ll come back to read and re-read.
Thank you so much for this piece. It means so much to hear the voice of a white Southerner speaking about our countries “heritage” of hate. We won’t be able to move on as a nation to become what we aspire to be until we are able to acknowledge our failures and speak plainly about our true American heritage. Racial injustice is not a “black problem” it’s an American problem. We won’t see true change in our country until white folks add their voices to the collective conversation about how to right the wrongs of the past. Your voice gives me hope.
Douglas, I wish you could run for office! This is the essay on the Confederate flag that I have been waiting for. Now, a question: You say “The government isn’t going to ensure your success by openly harming black people for you anymore, white man.” How do you reconcile that with the disproportionate incarceration of and police violence against blacks? — Kelly
That’s a great observation, Kelly. There’s no doubt that the events of the past year make it clear that the government and the entrenched patterns of our society continue to do harm to African-Americans. But as strange as it may be to say, it still pales in comparison to the vast injuries that were being done–that were mandated by government–to so many millions for so many years, until the 1970s. What we’re all reeling from right now is less about a new depth of depravity against African-Americans, but our astonishment that the path toward equity that we once seemed to be well upon has disappeared back into the forest. We thought the justice system could gradually heal itself after 100 years of rank abuse–and finally embody the word “Justice.” We thought no one could possibly suggest REVERSING voting rights for all, and yet we see it happening. So our frustration about what happened to Walter Scott and so many others is about how the country seems to be losing its way.
But it is still true that the organized butchering of opportunity for black Americans that was endemic and celebrated for so long has changed. And at the same time, the other point I was trying to make was that when this false narrative was invented saying that the founders believed government had no role in fighting poverty or ensuring a level playing field–even though doing this for white people was the primary purpose of American government for 200 years–has had an unintended effect. It not only denies African-Americans the kind of remedies that can address that disparate history, it also vaporized the mechanisms of our society that might have helped Dylann Roof and others like him find a productive place in society. By withdrawing our collective efforts (through government) to create opportunity and independence through public education, poverty relief, and compassion, not only do poor minority citizens suffer. But broken white people people like Dylann also face a world that is harshly unsympathetic.
This is great Doug!
In seeing that states are pulling down the rebel flag, it is my thought that elites were waiting for such an event to give them the opportunity to shed this symbol with all its cultural baggage. They know that it’s presence give many a well justified basis for labeling them as ass-backwards.
Those who still fly such a symbol of repression, do it primarily out of spite for those who would drag them out of the past and into the present where white men do not rule with unquestioned authority.
I agree that it is a small step in the right direction to further isolate the hard core racists and delegitimize their cause.
Well done, sir.
This ties some threads together that needed connecting. It also puts a few other things I’ve noticed into context. The deterioration of race relations of late is apparently real, driven by economic changes, and not just something we’re noticing more because Barack Obama’s presidency has drawn all the racists from their spider holes.
The Sons of Confederate Veterans apparently had a purge of late, ridding itself of its more moderate members who wanted to focus on historical re-enactment and preservation instead of the politics of white pride. I think that’s part of this thread.
Just another effort by progressives to erase American history prior to FDR when progressivism was born in America. They won’t rest until all vestiges of america’s greatness are erased and furthering a socialist state.
Jim, you’re not making any sense.
Blackmon , your response and whole letter reeks of what ISIS is doing to monument of the past in the mid East.
Redd, I have to presume that you know nothing about ISIS, because there is no similarity whatsoever between anything ISIS is doing and my essay and other responses. Where there is GREAT similarity is between the white supremacist traditions of murder, lawlessness, anti-democracy and oppression toward anyone different that the Confederate battle flag today so clearly represents and the murderous fanatical insistence of ISIS that all people within its reach slavishly adopt its antiquated, bigoted, inept and immoral ideology. The hard truth is that white supremacists who you apparently have some sympathy for engaged across generations in the kind of sociopathic terrorism that ISIS pursues today. That’s what your cherished flag stands for. It is the battle-flag of white cowards who, it would appear like you, and certainly like ISIS, are unable or unwilling to face modernity. Redd, it’s not 1864 anymore. And it’s not 1964 anymore. The things that flag represented 150 years ago were utterly defeated–by democracy and the true ideals of our founding fathers. The fascist, racialist, anti-democratic ideology of white laziness and white male dependence that your flag represented in 1964 was defeated as well. It’s time for you to absorb a bit of reality.
I’ve actually been in Nuremberg this week as all of this debate has raged back at home. My daughter’s school in Atlanta is in a partnership with a school in Nuremberg and the students have been working on human rights issues. We have commented on how similar are the positions of Atlanta and the south to Nuremberg and Bavaria. It’s a bewildering parallel and I can’t help but think that Nuremberg has done a better job of distancing themselves from their dark symbology.
I just came back from Bavaria too, and couldn’t agree more. Germans are imperfect on these questions–all humans are. But they have a profoundly better understanding of the danger of papering over the venality of the past.
A very well written perspective, educated, understanding, unapologetic. What really needs to be said and it is said so well here, is this is not about the “glorious south” this is about white men during the civil rights movement trying to remind the blacks of the south and indeed everywhere in America “we owned you, you are less than us”.
I’ve a few friends who were taught about the “heritage”.of this flag and not what it truly represents, I’m having a hard time convincing them and these are people who have mix raced grandchildren whom they love with all their heart. They are in no way racists yet still think of the flag as a symbol of pride.
I hope that this trend of acceptance and understanding continues and we can again make great strides towards a more equal society for us today and tomorrow.
I’m not trying to offend you but if your friends view the confederate flag as a symbol of pride, saying that they are in no way racist is a contradiction. They. like so many “whites” are simply unaware that they are. The sad part is that it is actually not their fault. Blame does fall on them however if their unintended racism is pointed out and they do nothing about it or dismiss it as hogwash. I say it’s not their fault because we are all brought up in an institutionally racist society. It’s maddening when the moment comes and one realizes that they are part of a racist system with seemingly no escape. Personally, I recall a time when I would say “I’m definitely not a racist,” and felt that I was a well-intentioned person, only to have a lot of my views and behaviors exposed as institutionally racist in nature. I’m glad the moment came when I realized I had to go further in my understanding of what racism is and what I had to do to address it, but it wasn’t easy and I was initially, deeply offended to be seen as racist in some of my thoughts and behaviors.
First, Doug, I admire not only what you said but how you said it. You description of your Boy Scout troupe really made me reflect on my “connection” to the this issue. I spent the second half of my childhood on the very extreme western border of the states of the old Confederacy in Fort Smith, Arkansas. Not the deep south, but the deep fried south, nevertheless. The high school I eventually entered there was/is called Southside High. It must have seemed like a clever idea to someone at the time the school was founded years before to make the sports teams into the Southside Rebels. So, the second year we lived in Fort Smith, my eldest brother became a student at the conveniently all-white Southside High. (Only the older Northside High was for African American students.) Suddenly that star-spangled Andrian-crossed banner was on EVERYTHING in my world and would remain so for another 7 years as I followed two older brothers through the local school system. Bumpers, motorcycle helmets, book covers, pickups, everything. Can you imagine? This was high school spirit, you must understand, you didn’t just not participate. We had Rebel rallies even. I was a sixth grader at the time I was first introduced into faux Reb culture, and at first, I had this vague notion, “…but didn’t the South, um, lose?” Well, that spirit of inquiry was very quickly smothered by a new kid’s desire to fit in. Nevertheless, everything was rebel this, rebel that. “The South shall rise again!” bumper stickers were sold at the concession stands. One just became completely inured to symbolism, or didn’t really connect the semiotics at all. Most participation was conventional and reflexive. Rebellion, in reality, did not work well in the classroom, and not many other places either. So I got the point. It was just currency for a new identity. Looking back, I find it bizarre. It was not heritage, it was just sad residue from the geo-political past, reshaped into a useless, tasteless, thoughtless irony. Did it harm anyone? Not that I could see. But then, you can’t see mercury in ocean water either. I had some really brilliant teachers at Southside. However, what I also learned from Southside, unfortunately, despite having made Honor Roll every semester, was perhaps “don’t inquire too deeply.” This did a deep disservice to the dedicated work of some really good teachers. And so I remained obedient and oblivious. And honored for it. These are not virtues in scholarship. An in-depth high school curriculum about the Civil War is not in my memory, and there’s obvious reason for that. But I remember reflexively prepared to feel “Rebel Pride” every Friday for football games. Later, I eventually even learned to say, goddamn Yankees and so on, having no goddamn idea what I was talking about. Again, I had no substantive connection to the reality, nor a need to know. And yet, my mother was from the north, I was born in Colorado, so I was kind of a Yankee in disguise anyway. (Coloradans nowadays, now THOSE are some true rebels…with all games played at 4:20 I would imagine) Personally, I identified as a swimmer (which was born out of the lakes of Minnesota) not a football player after 9th grade, so I wore Mark Spitz’s version of the Star Spangled Speedo instead, and everything seemed a little more “me” that way. I could leave all the confused identity behind. And so I went to college wlth big plans to swim. And, you know…the “mascot” there was…wait for it…The Warrior, with magnificent eagle feathers attached to his long black braided locks. Same damn thing all over, only from another angle. (And yet, to my college alma mater’s credit, they finally modified that warrior, morphing him into a sword-wielding androgynous, Visigoth or something intellectually fortified.) All this makes me wonder, in light of the turn our country made after 9-11, what will people think of the Star Spangled Banner in 150 years? It is unthinkable that a region of India would want to fly the Union Jack. Or the Republic of Congo would fly the Belgian flag. Or a group of stubborn Algerians would fly the French flag. In all fairness, could we ever blame Iraqis one day objecting to the Star-Spangled Banner being flown? People or land are not flags ultimately. I do not even think it a crime to burn the American flag. People doing this should, however, be fined for unlawful burning. Flags are utilitarian in battles. But as objects of pride and investment of one’s essential value?? I think excessive Flag-Loving of any kind is the problem of the proverbial fellow who confuses the food with the menu, dying of malnutrition for loving the representation instead of the thing itself.
This is a very well thought out article. I am a native of Arkansas and unfortunately
I did not see much of the things that happened in the 1960’s. However, I have seen
cultural shifts in last 30 years as a resident of Mississippi. Very good article.
White privilege is a term developed by privileged white people who have never lived the lives of working class whites. In short it is elitist claptrap.
To be sure Blacks have been at a major disadvantage in the US. That is indisputable. But as working class whites surely know possessing white skin is no guarantee of wealth, status, or even decent health care. It is no protection against rape, assault, theft, or murder. It most certainly is no protection against dying in unjust wars in big numbers. It is none of these things.
Certainly, a select group of whites have benefitted from the social caste system that we had for so long. That too is undeniable. But it’s benefits are far more opaque than Progressives wish to admit.Just look at the racist crowd. Typically lower class, poorly educated, with limited means of escaping the white ghettos of the rural and poorer suburban parts of America. Class is a very real problem in this country. A problem that seemingly has been forgotten in our race-obsessed age.
There is also the issue of Asian privilege. Asians who have somehow managed to leap past Blacks and Hispanics in socially prominent fields and in universities. Asians don’t know profiling, police brutality, or high incarceration rates like Blacks do. It’s interesting that no one mentions this. I wonder why. Political expediency?
Thanks for your comment–though I’m not certain that you actually read my post. In any case, and I don’t say this unkindly though you apparently come to me with unkindness, you could not be more incorrect to suggest that only “a select group of whites” benefitted from the apartheid oppression of African-Americans. To give just one example: Every white child who between 1865 and 1970 attended any public school, of any size or quality, from the best school to the very worst, in any place in America–but most especially in the South–benefitted vastly from the official and deliberate campaign not just to segregate schools by race, but to illegally deny resources to the small numbers of black children allowed to attend school and to entirely deny ALL educational opportunities to millions of other black children. Solely on the basis of that one transgression, the concept of “white privilege” is demonstrable, undeniable historical fact. The “claptrap” is what comes from mouths of deliberate deniers and the uninformed who choose to remain that way. I don’t know if you are either of those, but your knowledge of American history is gravely flawed.
Awesome response and so very true. That’s the insidiousness of white privilege. It wasn’t just the denial of educational equality but the many different exclusions they suffered from on a daily basis. Not allowed in the swimming pools, banned from parks, passed over for employment, never promoted, excluded even from service in the military except as members of a unit designated specifically for blacks, kept out of libraries …
These things were pervasive throughout the South. I remember seeing no black faces in my Northern Virginia neighborhood the whole time I was growing up in the 60s and into the 70s. They weren’t welcome.
White folks who grew up poor and disadvantaged may bridle at the phrase “white privilege”, but they had access black people didn’t have. They had potential which they could develop which equally situated black folks couldn’t dream of. It was all about access.
Spot on. My only concern is that your piece fails to acknowledge the pernicious racism that exists far beyond the Mason-Djxon. Until the nation at large ceases to scapegoat the South as America’s home of bigotry, we will never grow or achieve true equality or peace.
Thanks Kimberly. But my point is really about the continued use of the Confederate flag as part of the official speech of the state–and that is a southern thing, and a southern thing alone, I’m afraid.
I thought the same exact thing as the poster you responded to. And your answer to that post totally contradicts your piece so either you don’t believe what you wrote or someone else wrote this and you put your name on it. Go ahead read your piece again and tell me it’s only about states protecting this flag. You went countless lengths to ensure readers are aware of the many who aren’t in the public field but used the flag as a way to stick it to society. Man up and admit your fault here. You can find the flag flying from more vehicles in souther West Virginia, western PA, and upstate NY than you will in 99% of Florida. I know I own homes in all three areas. These clowns flying it have no idea of its reintroduction as you stated. They are not southern at all. They simply fly it just as those southerns did that you say have died off. To stick it to the man, to be different and to say I am still here. Blasting the South shows you travel little and haven’t really delved in deep to its current usage by region. You used this piece to blast something you had trouble with sometime in your life. Maybe you were not popular because you choose the side of righteousness back then and you’ve felt pain ever since but whatever it is you missed an opportunity to go all in. Instead you choose the weakest link. You get a C for failing to go all in.
I’m not sure I completely follow your logic. In any case, there certainly is no possible way to read my essay as not being a condemnation of the thinking carried by Dylann Roof and all of the intellectually inept people you correctly identify in your response. At that same time, the title of the essay makes clear that I am arguing all of that as to why the “Confederate banner” can no longer be an expression of a government. And it is only in the South that such state expressions occur. But if it clarifies anything for you, I’ll repeat the last line of the essay: “What bloodless shell of a person would choose to fly such a flag now? Finally, all who are willing can see that.”
I’m saying you didn’t mention once how there are many northern fellows who could be Dylan roof. Do you believe there are no racists in the north who fly the flag? I see more in PA then in Florida and for you to ignore that I think is a problem. You’re article is well written and makes so many valid points but again by restricting the usage of the flag to convey a message of we are still here to one geographic area when discussing the general population is an error on your part. You keep saying it’s about states using the flag as a symbol but the bulk of your piece is about regular joe’s. If I haven’t clarified then you can say that’s why I’m not a writer. Good day sir.
Thanks for responding, and for engaging on this whole topic. But you are reading something into my essay that isn’t actually there. The essay says nothing about where a Dylann Roof is more or less likely to live. It says ONLY what terrible thinking the Confederate flag represents–and that applies wherever it is flown. And it says that no flag with that meaning should be embraced by any arm of our government. (And it just so happens that all those arms of government happen to be in the South.)
You are also somehow NOT reading the part of my essay saying that racism has been rampant among all white Americans historically. I wrote that through the 1940s: “white Americans in every part of the country–including Franklin Delano Roosevelt, most members of his cabinet and the majority of the Supreme Court–agreed that almost all black people were naturally inferior to white people.” This is why white southerners were truly so shocked in the 1960s when people in other parts of the country began evolving into modernity.
I don’t know where you live, or if this is the case with you. But I run into a version of this phenomenon a lot, especially with southerners who get frustrated that the world keeps talking about all the bad things that happened in the South. There will be a discussion or a book is written about, say, the the Ku Klux Klan, or the mobs of white people who for decades repeatedly rampaged against black people, murdering and burning and looting and raping with impunity, or about how when black soldiers came home after World War I dozens of them were lynched just for wearing their U.S. uniforms in public, or how there there were no schools at all for millions and millions of black children until long after World War II, or the murder of four little girls at 16th St. church in Birmingham, or when Medgar Evers was gunned down in front of his little children in 1963—or any of the dozens of other similar murderous and immoral terrorist acts committed by thousands and thousands of white southerners long after slavery was over. The reflexive reaction to a discussion of such historical facts is to say: But there was discrimination in the North too! (This is often followed by a child-like pouty face.) For many of these whiners–and I’m not saying you are one of them–they simply refuse to see that yes, there was racism in the North and there still is, and there were riots and acts of violence against black people in the north, but it is delusional to suggest that this somehow reduces the staggering, immeasurable nature of the harm done to black Americans by white southerners. It’s like saying: “Well you know a lot of private clubs in the U.S. didn’t allow Jewish members, sooooo… we shouldn’t beat up on Nazi Germany so much for killing 6 million Jews.” It’s a nauseating kind of rationalization. It’s demented. It’s ignorant. It mocks the dead. Again, I’m not saying that you feel that way or are suggesting something along these lines. But your replies hint in this direction and I would urge you to carefully reconsider. Bottom line: I agree with you that a lot of people who could be Dylann Roof don’t live in the South. And my essay never says anything contrary to that.
Thank you for this essay, Doug. I hadn’t exactly thought of it that way, but you are so right–no matter what it once represented, the Confederate flag these days truly symbolizes that low-life, worthless coward and his ilk.
The passions of the 1950’s 60’s or even today has not one thing to do with the 1860’s and my ancestors that were in the south it is an insult to call them cowards .
Thanks for your comment, but I don’t think you actually read past the headline of my essay. If you actually read what I wrote, you’ll see that I describe my ancestors of the 1860s and say that when my great great grandfather fought under the battle flag, he and those around him did so in a way that has to be credited with some valor. The flag genuinely stood for that in some regards in 1863. But I also acknowledge that they were misguided to show such valor in defense of wrong ideas and wrong causes, and that I’m thankful there was a superior army of the north fighting for the truly noble ideals that fortunately shape the world we live in today. Nowhere in my essay do I say there were any cowards in the South in the 1860s. The cowards are those who misappropriated the flag in the 1950s and 1960s and still do so today. That’s clear if you read the piece.
I agree but the title could leave someone with that impression and cause them not to read a fantastic piece. That would be my only comment is that maybe the title prevented you from getting to a targeted audience that needed to read it.
Having said that its a great piece!
Based on the many pouting emails I’ve gotten, I think it’s been read pretty widely by that group of folks. 🙂
Well said, Doug.
Well said, Doug.
I can understand that you like to go fast…but you need to know…its downhill. Pat yourself on the back tonight before you go to bed. You bravely stood up to a powerless minority of good people. What courage!!
Dylann Roof and others like him are a “powerless minority of good people” ? Truly? I understand why you don’t use your last name online. I would be embarrassed to have such views as well.
If the powerless minority to which you refer is actually poor, working-class and middle-class white folks whom you perceive as having “their” society “taken over” by “others,” I hope that minority will note that no one is kidnapping, repatriating, and enslaving them. They may, however, have to lose some democratically-decided political battles in a society that protects their right to dissent. They may have to compete in a society that moves closer to true meritocracy. I can live with that.
If the powerless minority to which you refer is actually poor, working-class and middle-class white folks whom you perceive as having “their” society “taken over” by “others,” I hope that minority will note that no one is kidnapping, repatriating, and enslaving them. They may, however, have to lose some democratically-decided political battles in a society that protects their right to dissent. They may have to compete in a society that moves closer to true meritocracy. I can live with that.
Thank you for this. Until we can can shed all this “heritage” nonsense, we can’t make positive steps forward. Hopefully the folks who need to read and understand this piece will find it.