Sunday, April 11, 2010

A Confederate History Month Tea Party and My Battle with WRST

I've been trying to avoid responding to the dumb stuff white people with power say and do, which is why I've tried not to waste my time commenting on the Confederate History Month controversy. Avoidance is also part of the reason I've been online less. I'm recovering from WRST, White Racist Speech Trauma.

It's the "I am not a racist speeches" that seem to do the most damage to the psyche. Sometimes they're framed in the context of political leaning. At others under the banner of "Our White Heritage."

Luckily, I don't have to respond immediately to the Confederacy History Month double speak because people like Princeton Professor and Virginia native Melissa Harris-Lacewell will make sure her voice, which has a few things in common with my voice, is heard. I listened to her commentary on "Virginia's split personality about the Confederacy" via National Public Radio a few days ago and related to what she said:
Oh, absolutely. One of my parents, my father, is a Southerner - he's from Virginia. But my mother is a Westerner. She's from the great state of Washington. And I can tell you that when I came home in elementary and middle school having learned the Civil War was, quote, "the war of Northern aggression" or the war between the states, that my Westerner mother was appalled.

And, you know, I'm in my 30s and I learned this language, you know, in middle school. So, we're not talking about something that happened in a period far removed from us. And this is very much how Southerners often, even in public education, represent what the Civil War was about (Listen)
My mother was a school teacher. She was likewise appalled at this kind of thing when she lived.

Also, Roland S. Martin asks at CNN, "Were Confederate Soldiers Terrorists?" He answers yes, and so do I.

Like one young man from Virginia, Divine Shakur, who spoke to NPR last week regarding Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell declaring April as Confederate History Month, Martin likens celebrating Confederate History Month to celebrating a Nazi History Month, and I don't think that's overkill.

This is not a new sentiment for me. I placed people romanticizing the Confederacy on my Top 10 Reasons I am Not a Racist list last year. Furthermore I touched on romanticizing the Confederacy when talking about congressman Joe "You lie!" Wilson last year. It's ludicrous that Confederacy lovers want us to wipe slavery from memory while they glorify the old south. Imagine Germans in Nazi uniforms approaching Jewish people with "We love our heritage!"

When I first heard about McDonnell's proclamation in Virginia on Twitter last week, I tweeted, "I don't want a specific religion promoted w/tax dollars nor do I want the Confederacy romanticized to kids." Bluntly, the people who think they can defend celebration and romanticizing of the Confederacy with tax dollars are either truly crazy or crazy like foxes.

I know some people take this Confederacy issue lightly with almost a "White people need a month too kind of attitude." (A joke?) However, if you know American History, not only the love affair with slavery parts but also its stories of Reconstruction backlash, you may see this controversy in a different light.

Here we are with a black man in the Oval Office whose wife and children are the descendants of American slaves and again some whites, often white southerners, are in an uproar and fearing blacks will take over. If you look at patterns in human behavior that can lead to repeating history, you may also consider how last year this time the Tea Party crowd yelled out to Rick Perry, the governor of Texas, to "Secede!" and further reflect on other ways Tea Party conservatives are channeling Confederacy rhetoric as well as the Palinesque language to "take our America back."

Look at that data, and then consider that conservatives are rewriting American History textbooks with conservative talking points to be taught in public schools. Examining this kind of information, do you think something like the proclamation of Conservative History Month in not only Virginia but other states, including mine, is still an issue to be ignored?

Granted, these declarations are not new. Furthermore, if McDonnell hadn't left out slavery in his declaration, Virginia's CHM may have gone unnoticed. American politicians have tended to let white southerners cling to its Gone With the Wind image of southern history to keep white southern voters happy. But is promoting a romantic understanding of the Confederate cause wise?

Lest anyone think it's only black people who object to Confederate History Month, I share the words of Ed Kilgore writing at the New Republic.
... as a white southerner old enough to remember the final years of Jim Crow, when every month was Confederate History Month, I have a better idea for McDonnell: Let’s have a Neo-Confederate History Month that draws attention to the endless commemorations of the Lost Cause that have wrought nearly as much damage as the Confederacy itself.

It would be immensely useful for Virginians and southerners generally to spend some time reflecting on the century or so of grinding poverty and cultural isolation that fidelity to the Romance in Gray earned for the entire region, regardless of race. Few Americans from any region know much about the actual history of Reconstruction, capped by the shameful consignment of African Americans to the tender mercies of their former masters, or about the systematic disenfranchisement of black citizens (and in some places, particularly McDonnell’s Virginia, of poor whites) that immediately followed.

A Neo-Confederate History Month could be thoroughly bipartisan. Republicans could enjoy greater exposure to the racism of such progressive icons as William Jennings Bryan and Woodrow Wilson, not to mention Democratic New Deal crusaders in the South like Mississippi’s Theodore Bilbo. The capture of the political machinery of Republican and Democratic parties in a number of states, inside and beyond the South, by the revived Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s, would be an interesting subject for further study as well.

Most of all, a Neo-Confederate History Month could remind us of the last great effusion of enthusiasm for Davis and Lee and Jackson and all the other avatars of the Confederacy: the white southern fight to maintain racial segregation in the 1950s and 1960s. That’s when “Dixie” was played as often as the national anthem at most white high school football games in the South; when Confederate regalia were attached to state flags across the region; and when the vast constitutional and political edifice of pre-secession agitprop was brought back to life in the last-ditch effort to make the Second Reconstruction fail like the first. (Kilgore)
As I read this, I recalled that I was a young child in the 60s. Watching the nightly news on TV, I frequently saw the rabid hate in the eyes of white people who did not want their children in school with black children, who hated Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., or who sometimes said very calmly things like, "I've got nothing against the coloreds. I just don't think they should have the same rights as honest, hard-working white people."

I looked for the faces of white people in crowds who did not want to preserve the white Southern way of life, and sometimes I found them. Nevertheless, the angry hate-filled faces left a deeper impression and wound on a child less than 8 years of age. I was traumatized by the images of white people hating black people or softly assuming they were more human and valuable than people like me.

This trauma is probably why I cannot tolerate the rhetoric of people like Dana Loesch, who used to blog at BlogHer.com, or Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck, who paint the Tea Party movement as having no shades of racism. This trauma is probably why after dealing with so much nonsense, I am like a twig morphing to cobra on BlogHer.com sometimes, ready to snap and then bite a clueless person passing through who can't get past my race when I'm not even commenting on race but having a little fun.

Being black and dealing with people spouting racist rhetoric is very much like being female and dealing with an abusive male. Some people believe that unless the man is bloodying your eye with his fists, you should "let it go." Why get upset about a couple of verbal insults or the coded language that implies you're worthless?

Better yet, since he once nearly blinded you in the eye with his fists, you should play dumb and pretend you don't see what he's got planned for you next. Don't complain.

I think that's what some people who romanticize the Confederacy as well as some people who use coded language in the Tea Party movement hope we'll all do: Play dumb. Act like we don't see what they do or hear what they imply regarding race.

I've connected the current controversy to the Tea Party movement because this whole Confederate History Month issue comes in a Tea-Party, take-back-America political climate. In March, before the Virginia governor's declaration, Harris-Lacewell debated Loesch, a Tea Party activist, on MSNBC's Hardball, regarding racist rhetoric in the Tea Party movement. Then the professor said:
Tea Party activists have asked us to see their movement as akin to the movement of Revolutionary War patriots who were throwing off the bonds of an imperial monarchy. I believe their movement looks much more like the behavior of confederates who seceded from the Union prior to the Civil War and to the behavior of those same defeated Confederates who instigated a reign of terror in the South when they lost the Civil War.

After all, President Barack Obama is no monarch sitting on a throne and taxing hapless colonists. He and the Democratic majority in Congress were duly elected in a democratic election that included one of the largest and most diverse voting publics in American history. How exactly is this like the Revolutionary War?

I understand that no one wants to be called a racist. I also believe that we should not use the racism label as a way of refusing to listen to the dissenting interests of political minorities. But let me also say this, if your movement is concentrated in the states of the former confederacy; if your movement uses state's rights language; if members of your movement hurl racial epithets at black office holders; and if your movement is more than 88 percent white in a country that is increasingly racially and ethnically diverse; then you must expect that some people will charge the movement with racism. And you should also be willing to think about how the movement creates racial bias and unrest even if it does so unwittingly. (The Grio)
Harris-Lacewell is right, and I think Tea Party leaders consistently do a disservice to their cause by not denouncing and often denying that none of its proponents tap into racist passions while pushing the Tea Party agenda.

I understand not tossing out the baby--state sovereignty--with the bathwater--the history of racial oppression--but I can't ignore that a significant number of conservative leaders and followers seem to love that bathwater as much as they love the baby. They baptize each other with it, make toasts with it, and get sloppy drunk on it just to stay in power, and then they demand to lead this nation.

5 comments:

le0pard13 said...

Excellent post, Nordette. You've nailed it. Thanks for this.

Lisa Paul said...

Great essay! And, even if Melissa Lacewell-Harrison and now Barack Obama said it -- it needs to be said again and again.

But I disagree that Confederate soldiers were terrorists. Most were poor, rural and non-slave owners who were somehow bamboozled into thinking a fight for the rich privileged minority was their fight. HMMMM. Come to think of it, exactly like what's coming down today where a wealthy elite of Republican leaning plutocrats are convincing a bunch of poor, undereducated Tea Partiers that things like affordable Health Care are NOT in their interest. And that if they just oppose the Black Man they'll come out ahead.

Vérité Parlant is Nordette Adams said...

Lisa, since when is being bamboozled prove you're not a terrorists? Do you think every suicide bomber understands what he or she's doing? They were fighting to overthrow their government, whatever their understanding of that government was, and they were doing it with violence.

ben said...

A national study conducted by Mediacurves.com explored opinions of 600 Americans regarding Virginia’s reinstatement of Confederate History Month. Results found that Among political parties, the majority of Republicans (62%) indicated that confederate history should be honored, while the same proportion of Democrats (62%) reported that confederate history should not be honored. In addition, nearly half of the respondents (48%) reported that celebrating Confederate History Month promotes racist ideals.
More results can be seen at http://www.mediacurves.com/NationalMediaFocus/J7798-ConfederateHistoryMonth/Index.cfm

Lisa Paul said...

I never thought I'd be in the position of defending Confederate soldiers, but I don't see the parallels between them and say Al Queda. iN the mid 1800s, Washington and the Federal government seemed very remote to most people who lived and died within 20 miles of their birthplace. Their "government" was their town and maybe their state. When the governments of the Southern states decided to secede, went to war and called up a draft, the rank and file soldier -- who was typically a poor, non-slave owning farmer -- picked up his gun thinking it was his duty as a Citizen. Largely because a slave-owning elite had bamboozled them into thinking this was a fight that would somehow benefit them. Therefore these people weren't trying to overthrow a government, but thought they were doing their duty to THEIR government.

Okay, that was then, this was now. So anyone TODAY who looks back with nostalgia to those days is just plain stupid, racist or hasn't read the history books.