Confederate monuments and their legacy
December 11, 2018 8:14 PM   Subscribe

 
Confederate monuments are the ultimate participation trophies.

They should be melted down to slag, all of them.
posted by tclark at 8:20 PM on December 11, 2018 [57 favorites]


Something about a wounded, defeated collective creature which lays eggs and plants seeds across generations to ensure that it never dies.

One moment from that radio episode of Reveal is when at Jefferson Davis' plantation one of the tour guides sort of complains that the kids who come on tours there ask to see the whipping post. Like, being asked that offends him.

Actually that entire Reveal episode is pretty astonishing. The alternate reality some people are living in runs a lot deeper than I realized. I don't know how much these are extreme outlier examples (they ARE working at a Confederate memorial site, so perhaps they're self-selecting for their shared worldview), but there is definitely a shared delusion going on which was visceral to experience.
posted by hippybear at 8:30 PM on December 11, 2018 [10 favorites]


The protection of these monuments must, in some way, be in violation of the south's surrender agreement, no? Wouldn't those who insist on maintaining these symbols on public property be guilty of sedition? Charge every last one them.
posted by sexyrobot at 8:44 PM on December 11, 2018 [1 favorite]


A short tweet thread about the student/TA strike at Chapel Hill in 1970 by state goddamn treasure Gerry Cohen. It's short with relevant links and it's very much worth your time.

Here is the text of the Silent Sam dedication speech. A portion of the speech:

It is true that the snows of winter which never melt, crown our temples, and we realize that we are living in the twilight zone; that it requires no unusual strain to hear the sounds of the tides as they roll and break upon the other shore, “The watch-dog’s bark his deep bay mouth welcome as we draw near home”, breaks upon our ears—makes it doubly sweet to know that we have been remembered in the erection of this beautiful memorial. The present generation, I am persuaded, scarcely takes note of what the Confederate soldier meant to the welfare of the Anglo Saxon race during the four years immediately succeeding the war, when the facts are, that their courage and steadfastness saved the very life of the Anglo Saxon race in the South – When “the bottom rail was on top” all over the Southern states, and to-day, as a consequence the purest strain of the Anglo Saxon is to be found in the 13 Southern States – Praise God.

I trust I may be pardoned for one allusion, howbeit it is rather personal. One hundred yards from where we stand, less than ninety days perhaps after my return from Appomattox, I horse-whipped a negro wench until her skirts hung in shreds, because upon the streets of this quiet village she had publicly insulted and maligned a Southern lady, and then rushed for protection to these University buildings where was stationed a garrison of 100 Federal soldiers. I performed the pleasing duty in the immediate presence of the entire garrison, and for thirty nights afterwards slept with a double-barrel shot gun under my head.

posted by NoMich at 8:48 PM on December 11, 2018 [17 favorites]


Unsurprisingly, the "chief of heritage defense" for the Sons of Confederate Veterans has some really messed up ideas about history. I thought this was an interesting read but would've benefited from a widening of scope. "Guy who you'd totally expect to have bonkers views about the Civil War does, in fact, have bonkers views about the Civil War" doesn't really make for the most incisive piece. Telling that he was repeatedly quoting beginning a sentence with "I'm not a racist but," too.
posted by axiom at 9:00 PM on December 11, 2018 [7 favorites]


You don't have to be a racist butt to be racist.
posted by pykrete jungle at 9:04 PM on December 11, 2018 [9 favorites]


Unsurprisingly, the "chief of heritage defense" for the Sons of Confederate Veterans has some really messed up ideas about history.

A hoary chestnut:

South Postpones Rising Again For Yet Another Year [The Onion]

"The way things stand, things in the Deep South almost have to get better. Otherwise, the people who live there will devolve into preverbal, overall-wearing sub-morons within a century," said Professor Dennis Lassiter of Princeton University. "Either Southerners will start improving themselves, or they'll be sold to middle-class Asians as pets." *

* Please note I only personally feel this way about the kind of people putting up Confederate monuments in 2018. Some of the weirdest, most beautiful people I know are from the South.
posted by ryanshepard at 9:31 PM on December 11, 2018 [5 favorites]


The Red Flag podcast goes deep into the history of the Mississippi State flag and gets into a whole bunch of awesome stuff about the civil war, reconstruction, the lost cause, etc. I highly recommend it. I've learned vastly more about southern history than I did in years of school from it.
posted by odinsdream at 9:59 PM on December 11, 2018 [6 favorites]


odinsdream: Can we get the people working at Davis' homestead to listen to that podcast?
posted by hippybear at 10:04 PM on December 11, 2018 [1 favorite]


I didn't have to live long in the South before I ran into cosplay Confederates wandering around some dumbass monument to idiocy. It didn't take much longer for me to realize there were actually quite a lot of them, willing to walk in public in full "regalia" (even fake muskets!) so as to properly pay their respects at the markers that showed where some hateful motherfucker died.

...tbh, I'm still sorta surprised lo these many years later. Also, were the muskets really fake?
posted by aramaic at 10:50 PM on December 11, 2018 [1 favorite]


These monuments are not about the past. They are symbols designed to convey the continued power of white supremacy. Take this Washington Post story about the removal of a plaque honoring Confederate soldiers. The plaque was installed in 1986, 121 years after the end of the war. The plaque was removed after this year's election, making the plaque an actual token of political power.
posted by rdr at 11:13 PM on December 11, 2018 [33 favorites]


I think destroying these memorials is a remarkably bad idea. The should be moved to museums dedicated to the remembrance of america's original sin, the American Holocaust, to remember the treasonous men and women who fought to keep others as property. The soldiers shouldn't be glorified, they should be pitied as victims who were defending an economic system they didn't have anything to do with, which profited from the blood and lives of others. The politicians and officers should be remembered with contempt as traitors to their country.
posted by Marky at 11:24 PM on December 11, 2018 [10 favorites]


I just visited the Munich Documentation Center for the History of National Socialism. It's the new public museum explaining Nazi history, specifically in Munich. It's a lot like Berlin's Topography of Terror museum in presentation; very heavy on text, very sober. And very direct. "This is what happened". The top floor focusing on Bavaria's role in incubating fascism was particularly powerful.

There are no statues of Hitler or Göring or von Epp. There's no statue of an anonymous Nazi soldier looking heroic and weary as he protects Germany from its enemies. In Germany there mere idea of that is ludicrous, or perhaps outrageously offensive. And yet that's what we do in America.

I like Marky's suggestion of keeping the statues of America's slavers and re-contextualizing them. Heck, leave them where they stand in the city capital, surrounded by material on the reality of slavery. My only hesitation is that to counteract the mindless visual impact of a Heroic General Lee statue you have some equally vivid portrayal of, say, a 25 year old man whose flesh has been stripped from his back, bent over in a field. Or maybe a 17 year old girl having her 2 year old child taken from her to be sold. But such portrayals would be continuing injury and outrage. The German memorials are very careful when showing victims of the Nazis to choose images that are honest and yet not humiliating or voyeuristic.

Another choice would be to replace the statues of shame with emancipation memorials.

A key aspect of the German monuments vs Nazism is there is a strong national consensus on what the history means. How horrible it is. We do not have that consensus in America. A fair number of Americans believe slavery was a good thing for the African peoples enslaved. This is America.
posted by Nelson at 11:34 PM on December 11, 2018 [39 favorites]


I think destroying these memorials is a remarkably bad idea. The should be moved to museums dedicated to the remembrance of america's original sin, the American Holocaust, to remember the treasonous men and women who fought to keep others as property.
The SPLC has identified more than seven hundred statues and memorials to Confederate soldiers. Nobody needs that many and no sensible museum would waste its space on them. Besides, from what I understand the statues are mostly cheap mass-replicated things erected long after the war, and are therefore devoid of both artistic and historical significance.

As for "contextualising" the memorials, that's just going to provide a magnet for vandalism and further racialised offense. African-Americans shouldn't have to put up with these continuing insults. Melt the damn things down.
posted by Joe in Australia at 11:46 PM on December 11, 2018 [82 favorites]


The protection of these monuments must, in some way, be in violation of the south's surrender agreement, no? Wouldn't those who insist on maintaining these symbols on public property be guilty of sedition? Charge every last one them.

Many military bases are named after Confederate generals. That wasn't a unilateral decision on the part of the South.
posted by billjings at 11:51 PM on December 11, 2018 [7 favorites]


A statue that's merely pulled down can be put back up, but vinegar (which zinc does not withstand well) is far cheaper than the equivalent amount of statue it could be used to corrode. Just stay away from the fumes as the reaction proceeds.
posted by Jpfed at 12:12 AM on December 12, 2018 [11 favorites]


For a time in the 80's I lived in Richmond, Va. - which has an avenue named, "Monument Avenue" which is literally that, every couple hundred yards a big, impressive monument to some Confederate figure. Now, I'm not much of an American as I wasn't born there and never really understood, fundamentally, the racist foundation. So when I first got to Richmond as an 18 year old I couldn't wrap my brain around what I was seeing. At that time a majority of the people who lived in Richmond were African-American, and yet here was this big, tree-lined street full of big houses and these monuments to slavery that somehow hadn't been ripped down. Seriously, it makes not one lick of sense. I brought a friend there once to visit - friend was from Germany and she couldn't understand what she was seeing either.

From an outsiders perspective, and a hot-head's perspective - they should all be vandalized repeatedly until their repair is not worthwhile. But also their constant destruction would force the debate and the question - do we need these? Really? Why are they even there?

Ultimately I found real comfort in Mayor Mitch Landrieu's remarks on removing statues in New Orleans while he was Mayor.
posted by From Bklyn at 2:19 AM on December 12, 2018 [12 favorites]


In 2017 (!), the NC Legislature passed a law that Confederate monuments cannot be removed, relocated or altered.

We're thinking about moving away, after 30 years here. It's just so disheartening.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 2:59 AM on December 12, 2018 [6 favorites]


So multiple of my direct ancestors were southern slaveholders in North Carolina, including this guy and my reaction has always been embarrassment, not pride. I don't understand being proud of a heritage that represents the subjugation of an entire race of people.
posted by octothorpe at 3:23 AM on December 12, 2018 [9 favorites]


Great book, highly recommend!
When the United States emerged as a world power in the years before the Civil War, the men who presided over the nation’s triumphant territorial and economic expansion were largely southern slaveholders. As presidents, cabinet officers, and diplomats, slaveholding leaders controlled the main levers of foreign policy inside an increasingly powerful American state. This Vast Southern Empire explores the international vision and strategic operations of these southerners at the commanding heights of American politics.
This Vast Southern Empire

posted by robbyrobs at 4:02 AM on December 12, 2018 [1 favorite]


Why do so many people refuse to believe that the Confederacy was built on slavery?

Because they're idiots and/or assholes. Because people have a fathomless ability to believe (or "believe") almost any nonsense that happens to justify their bigotries. It ain't complicated.

Can't say I got much from this piece. And I wish that WaPo wouldn't follow NYT's lead when it comes to the "let's sympathize with a racist" genre.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 4:41 AM on December 12, 2018 [5 favorites]


Why do so many people refuse to believe that the Confederacy was built on slavery?

Is it the same reason that people refuse to believe that the entire United States was built on slavery?
posted by He Is Only The Imposter at 4:57 AM on December 12, 2018 [23 favorites]


"I don't understand being proud of a heritage that represents the subjugation of an entire race of people."

As is my habit, I read that piece with a part of my mind playing devil's advocate: I'd think about my own (strong) regional sentimentalism, or what's left of my American patriotism in light of a full understanding of the US's sins. And I do understand this sense of identity built on the history of a land and its people. I don't understand their particular version of it, but my own, and I'm sympathetic in general ... even in the face of historical atrocities.

But that's just it, isn't it? I can accept some difficult things about myself and my ethnic identity, I can accept that people I like or would have liked have done bad things. I don't need things to be easy.

Because they aren't.

Racists and their ilk are always so sure that people like me think and behave the way we do out of a sort of masochistic, self-martyring performative guilt. Maybe there are people like that -- although I wonder if it's most likely the very same people who are certain this is what motivates everyone else.

But that's not what I think and feel at all. I accept that I'm imperfect and we're all imperfect, that I can do and have done bad things, learn from these mistakes or weaknesses, and therefore not do them again. I know that this is true about the people I love and respect. I don't need everything to be puppies and sunshine to avoid being plagued by guilt and doubt.

Conservatives like to say they're hard-nosed realists, even cynics, that they recognize and account for the wickedness of man. They say it's progressives like me who are foolish, impractical idealists ... which has always seemed very odd because it's self-evidently false. When they say they recognize the inherent wickedness of men, they mean other men, never they or their own. What a comfort this must be.

As I've aged I've become more inclined to believe that this is a social divide between people of very different temperments. Innate or aquired, it doesn't matter -- some people need the simple, comfortable, and self-serving and they will morally tie themselves in knots for it. Others of us don't and won't.

As the author says, there are many people near this guy's age with his education and history who've discarded this mythology. Everyone tells themselves some comforting lies, but some people cling to them wholesale and with desperation.

It's been a strange irony of my life that it's always been the conservatives who portray themselves as the responsible adults when, in contrast, I've always wanted to tell them to just grow the fuck up, already.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 5:17 AM on December 12, 2018 [34 favorites]


I'm just gonna say out loud that that WaPo article is pretty much garbage from its conception. "I spent a bunch of time trying to really understand this racist, and am acting surprised that he's as racist at the core as he appeared from the exterior" is not just a bad article, it's an actively harmful normalization of fuckers like this. The only reasonable response to a person who has made it their life's mission to advocate for the memorialization of a group of people who existed to subjugate others is to treat that person as a pariah. Shame them, shun them, stamp out every vestige of the group they hold so dear. The end.
posted by tocts at 5:30 AM on December 12, 2018 [18 favorites]



I trust I may be pardoned for one allusion, howbeit it is rather personal. One hundred yards from where we stand, less than ninety days perhaps after my return from Appomattox, I horse-whipped a negro wench until her skirts hung in shreds, because upon the streets of this quiet village she had publicly insulted and maligned a Southern lady, and then rushed for protection to these University buildings where was stationed a garrison of 100 Federal soldiers. I performed the pleasing duty in the immediate presence of the entire garrison, and for thirty nights afterwards slept with a double-barrel shot gun under my head.


That should go on a plaque right next to the Silent Sam statue. Watch the neoconfederates squirm when it gets installed.
posted by ocschwar at 5:31 AM on December 12, 2018 [9 favorites]


Watch the neoconfederates squirm when it gets installed.

I think you underestimate their unique combination of bloodlust, desire to make slavery a simple "property rights" issue, and military "hero"-worship. Oh, and the racism of course.
posted by zombieflanders at 5:52 AM on December 12, 2018 [17 favorites]


A statue that's merely pulled down can be put back up, but vinegar (which zinc does not withstand well) is far cheaper than the equivalent amount of statue it could be used to corrode. Just stay away from the fumes as the reaction proceeds.

How about bronze? ASKING FOR AN UNRELATED SCIENCE PROJECT
posted by duffell at 5:53 AM on December 12, 2018 [7 favorites]


No, they'd like it.

What we are dealing with is fear, anger, envy and spite. Driven probably at the base by a deep insecurity because these fuckers know they are wrong, but can't take admitting it. Easier to construct a whole alternate history of lies.

These are powerful emotions that are so resistant to logic and ethics that, as we have seen, logic and ethics themselves become demonized as liberal evils.

So really, our best bets when appeals fail is to overwhelm, swamp, outlast and outfight these fuckers. It's weary work. But we keep at it.
posted by emjaybee at 5:56 AM on December 12, 2018 [4 favorites]


Watch the neoconfederates squirm

In the comments section of the article, in the UNC student newspaper, that covered the statue's toppling, one could observe the apologists' defense to this: Carr was only one of many dedication speakers, and what idiots the libs are to think that he was in any way an official spokesman whose speech fixes the meaning of the statue.
posted by thelonius at 6:10 AM on December 12, 2018 [1 favorite]


Which is why I want th eplaque to fix the meaning of the statue.
posted by ocschwar at 6:32 AM on December 12, 2018 [1 favorite]


The mindset seemed pretty straightforward from the racists I knew of as a youngster in Wisconsin; it all boiled down to might making right, and that if you and your people could be conquered and forced to be slaves, then you and your people weren't shit, and Justice Taney said it best (Black people have no rights that are worthy of white people's respect). Those monuments are supposed to remind us of this.

But without their "lost cause" narrative, these people have no story, they have nothing. That's why they're fighting so hard to keep the monuments. Black people in the US have a narrative of going from strength to strength, hard won at times, yes, but we keep fighting. People like Malcolm X, Shirley Chisholm, Dr. and Mrs. King, Medgar Evers, Fannie Lou Hamer, Michelle Obama, Barack Obama, hell, Meghan Markle, even, must chap their hides.

A people's shared story is what helps them to survive. I know the story of my mother's people. I know how it fits in the larger narrative of this country, and while I'm not some rich person on a hill, I can look with pride to my ancestors who had a pretty good come-up from being slaves in Virginia to the middle class in Alabama and the upper Midwest (even if my little end of the branch didn't end up that way, many of my aunts, uncles and cousins are in a good place).

The story/lie of the "noble Confederate" is being taken away from their descendants, the truth is being laid bare before them and they have to face that they're not good people, that their ancestors were fighting for an evil cause. Without that story, what have they got left? Having to forge a new identity and change their core beings would surely be traumatizing after almost 200 years, but the identity they created, the story they're telling of "graciousness" and whatnot, is bullshit—and that's not my problem. They're too shortsighted, apparently, to try and write a new story that brings them into harmony with everyone else in the South, the country, or even reality. Imagine. But I don't feel sorry for them. If their story means the continued oppression of other people, then fuck 'em. Rip that band-aid off.
posted by droplet at 6:35 AM on December 12, 2018 [27 favorites]


It has been a real eye-opening experience for me to work in a community college in the South. And this is Florida I'm talking about, not even the Really Bad South. Nonetheless, I see multiple students every semester who want to present pro-Confederacy arguments for American History/American Government classes. One professor gives an assignment to her students to write a research-based argument pro/con Confederacy monuments. The defenders usually have a very distorted sense of history, which really shouldn't be a surprise to me as most are products of either the public school system, or Evangelical homeschooling. (The public schools in Florida tend not to go too hard on the Confederates.) One student a couple semesters ago attempted to argue that Confederate monuments were important and should be preserved because they inspired people like Martin Luther King, Jr. In what way, I asked her. Well, the Civil Rights movement came from people standing up for their rights, like the Confederacy did. And what did slavery have to do with this?, I followed up. It wasn't that important. The Confederacy was about states' rights. So in her world, African-Americans subjected to legalized, violent oppression looked to the example of the noble, moral Confederate army to get the idea to ask the descendants of those same memorialized soldiers for their rights. I told her there was no way that argument could be logically consistent with historical facts. BTW, this student was a PoC. All I could think afterward was that someone (probably multiple someones) had horribly mis-educated this kid.

This is probably the most mind-blowingly bad example, but I see dozens more that follow the same version of history. Slavery is strongly downplayed, while the Confederacy is re-contextualized by focusing on individual members. I find the denial of systems and their far-reaching effects a pretty common conservative trope. They love to talk about "personal responsibility," which basically means in this context: "Well my family never had slaves, so racism debunked!"

Tangent: A local politician told me "Well Jefferson had slaves, so was he bad?" Well, yeah. He did some good things, but he also did terrible inhumane things. But, seeing a figure of worship like this as anything but 100% good is incompatible with the conservative worldview. He told me "That was just the way it was back then, we can't judge by today's standards," which, A. Bullshit; B. Ahistorical. There were abolitionists then. There were people who refused to own other people. There were people who saw clearly the evils of slavery; C. How do you let a dude off the hook for writing "All men are created equal" while owning 600 of his equals? That's fucking immoral; and D. Why can't someone have been a significant historical figure without having to be elevated to godhood?

Anyway, the rhetoric of the "Lost Cause" is a deeply embedded brainworm in America that turns up in many unexpected places.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 6:37 AM on December 12, 2018 [40 favorites]


How about bronze? ASKING FOR AN UNRELATED SCIENCE PROJECT

The "white bronze" used in many statues is really mostly zinc. But in case you have some real bronze, it reacts with nitric acid, which you probably don't want to be carting around to any science demonstrations in the public square.
posted by Jpfed at 7:36 AM on December 12, 2018 [2 favorites]


Heavy zinc concentration in the soil would turn the area into a superfund site. Do not recommend.
posted by ocschwar at 7:54 AM on December 12, 2018 [2 favorites]


Actually that entire Reveal episode is pretty astonishing.

It sure is. I almost felt sick after listening to it. That business about comparing the treatment of a slave to the treatment of a car was mind-boggling. (Supposedly, most owners viewed their slaves as property they'd invested a not-insignificant amount of money in so why would they abuse them?) Yeah, no, get back to me when people start raping their cars in order to make more cars.
posted by fuse theorem at 8:44 AM on December 12, 2018 [11 favorites]


I mean, not only is it yeah pretty significantly different between owning an object and owning a human, as MeFi's own Mathowie points out:
The darkness and brutality of slavery was evident from start to finish on the tour. In the “Gold Coast” around New Orleans, slaves lived for only 7-10 years after arriving on plantations in the region, no matter what their starting ages were. Slave owners insured their property (including their slaves) and would get up to 75% of their investment back when slaves died, so plantation owners had every incentive to work everyone to death, making many times over what they paid thanks to their free labor and when their slaves did die, owners were rewarded by recouping most of their original investment. The entire economic system was designed to support it.
Any sentiment that starts with, "Slave owners treated their slaves well because they had invested in them!" is at best delusional fantasy, and more likely the usual reflexive lies of those who know full well what awful things were done, and wish to minimize those acts because they're 100% OK with it but know they're supposed to pretend they're not.
posted by tocts at 9:06 AM on December 12, 2018 [17 favorites]


On this topic, I recommend Jonathan Holloway's book Jim Crow Wisdom: Memory and Identity in Black America since 1940. He's got a chapter on heritage tourism which deals with the lucrative [1] industry around our memory of slavery:

In a program guide for the 2008 conference “What Are We Saying?: Discovering How People of African Descent Are Interpreted at Louisiana Plantation Sites,” a similar sentiment was captured. On the inside cover of the guide, two quotes were placed next to a picture of a gate latch. The implication is that both quotes were in reference to the functional and artfully crafted latch. The first quote was from an unnamed black man: “I wasn’t raised around plantations, but I know what my old family said about them. I’d like to say I like the gate latch, that it’s pretty, but all I can think about that [is that] it was just hard work for nothing.” The second quote was from a white man: “You see? I look at things like that [gate latch] at these plantations I visit and it’s proof to me that the slaves were happy. A sad man couldn’t make something like that.”

[1] From a planning document for the Louisiana African American Heritage Trail, quoted in Holloway's book: "African Americans represent 13 percent of the visitors to Louisiana, making the state the second most popular African-American visitor destination in the United States. Some 3.25 million African American visitors travel to Louisiana annually. Calculating from the average visitor expenditure, the African-American market currently spends approximately $11 billion annually on trips to Louisiana. Combined with a growing interest in heritage and cultural tourism, this initiative has immediate positive impact on Louisiana’s tourist economy."
posted by yaymukund at 9:18 AM on December 12, 2018 [3 favorites]


Lost Cause

They are, indeed. The best we can do is take down the monuments and teach their children the truth so they don’t turn out like their parents.
posted by Revvy at 9:32 AM on December 12, 2018 [3 favorites]


Ok, one thing I was a little curious about:

"Spotlights illuminate [a replica of Lee’s 1862-63 headquarters pennant] in the evenings, which not every neighbor appreciates." -- what do the neighbors think of this guy and his nonsense?
posted by epersonae at 11:08 AM on December 12, 2018


I was born and raised in Louisiana, and I get really pissed at other southerners who use "heritage" to try to excuse their racism. If you look at all the good things there are to be proud of in our history and heritage and you skip over all of that and choose the enslaving other humans part as your personal point of pride -- well that says something about YOU.

It's precisely no different than a German emphasising -- not German engineering and orderliness, not great beer and stick-to-your-ribs food, etc. -- but instead the Nazi part. What you choose to celebrate speaks to who you are.
posted by antinomia at 11:54 AM on December 12, 2018 [7 favorites]


If you look at all the good things there are to be proud of in our history and heritage and you skip over all of that and choose the enslaving other humans part as your personal point of pride -- well that says something about YOU.

It's part and parcel, because a lot of those good things (if not most, if not all) are products of black culture.
posted by rhizome at 12:20 PM on December 12, 2018 [3 favorites]


"It's part and parcel, because a lot of those good things (if not most, if not all) are products of black culture."

For some white people, that makes it impossible. For other white people, it's a lot easier.

In my previous comment, I focused on the profiled guy's deep attachment to his heritage and regional culture identity. I did so because I can relate to that and because I wanted to talk about how this isn't incompatible with acknoweldging and coming to terms with very unpleasant, shameful aspects of that heritage and cultural identity. I do think it's the case, as I argued, that there's a common kind of traditionalist, authoritarian mindset that craves self-serving simplicity, especially with regard to morality.

But in this particular case, that's clearly not the only thing going on. When pressed on Reconstruction, he argues clearly racist bigotry. And there are other indications that his professed lack of racism is false.

And so, of course, insofar as deeply ingrained racist bigotry is involved, it's not possible for that particular white man or other, similar white people, to reconstruct their sense of regional heritage and identity that includes black people. There's simply no question that the South is culturally distinct and that, in my opinion, there's great value in preserving the great diversity of regional culture. But what makes the South what it is, is the totality of that history and its people, a very large number who were slaves and a very large number today who are black.

The desperation with which white southerners cling to the Lost Cause mythology is partly about a self-serving fairy-tale, as I wrote, but it's also very much about the racism that won't allow the available alternative.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 2:46 PM on December 12, 2018



If you look at all the good things there are to be proud of in our history and heritage


Here's an exercise for people who know the south: Point to aspects of Southern culture and heritage that are 1. not repulsive, and 2. not created by or sustained by, specifically black Southerners.

Cuisine is out. We know who cooked. "Southern" cuisine is African American cuisine with pricier ingredients. Music is out. Even the instruments, never mind the styles. What's left? Nothing that I can see.
posted by ocschwar at 2:55 PM on December 12, 2018 [7 favorites]


Why do so many people refuse to believe that the Confederacy was built on slavery?

Because they've either a) never read the various Declarations of Secession (like this one from South Carolina, saying "an increasing hostility on the part of the non-slaveholding States to the institution of slavery," was their primary reason), or b) they don't believe their Secessionist ancestors meant what they said. Which means the Lost Cause is the ultimate form of disrespect to those ancestors, by saying they were liars. But hey.
posted by aurelian at 3:31 PM on December 12, 2018 [1 favorite]


It's part and parcel, because a lot of those good things (if not most, if not all) are products of black culture.

Almost everything. Jazz, the blues, barbecue, Sweet tea. But grits, corn fritters, cornbread and Brunswick stew apparently came from Native Americans.

Here's an exercise for people who know the south: Point to aspects of Southern culture and heritage that are 1. not repulsive, and 2. not created by or sustained by, specifically black Southerners.

Umm...NASCAR? Bourbon?

Music is out. Even the instruments, never mind the styles.

What about country? Bluegrass?

I know the banjo came from African slaves, but guitars and fiddles originated in Europe.
posted by kirkaracha at 5:07 PM on December 12, 2018


duffell: "How about bronze? ASKING FOR AN UNRELATED SCIENCE PROJECT"

Jpfed: "But in case you have some real bronze, it reacts with nitric acid, which you probably don't want to be carting around to any science demonstrations in the public square."

I'll note that thermite is easy to make requiring no controlled substances or precursors, stable as a piece of wood in transport, and when used to melt a piece of brass creates no soluble salts of zinc. Also it's pretty dramatic which can be fairly distracting so might be advantageous for people looking to avoid others during their evening strolls.
posted by Mitheral at 6:42 PM on December 12, 2018 [3 favorites]


Booker T. Washington; Louis Armstrong; Martin Luther King, Jr.; John Lewis; Zora Neale Hurston; Mary McLeod Bethune; Althea Gibson; Dorothy Height; Rosa Parks; Nina Simone: all exemplars of Southern culture.
posted by kirkaracha at 6:55 PM on December 12, 2018 [5 favorites]


oschwar: To reiterate antinomia's point above - I and many other Southerners would state that the best products of our region are those created where different cultures come together and rub shoulders. To deliberately narrow your focus to include (or exclude) only one group would be to miss the pot of gumbo for time spent looking for the roux. I am giving you the benefit of the doubt here. In general, racial supremecy of any sort, and those who espouse it, are given a hefty dose of eye roll by the general populace here, but they do seem to draw in credulous Yankee reporters and ignorant politicians though...
posted by 1f2frfbf at 8:30 PM on December 12, 2018 [3 favorites]


I've lived in NC for 4 years now and it never ceases to amaze me how much southern racism is baked into the landscape and social fabric here. I'm white and I grew up in a mostly white world but damn, the south is just...messed up, honestly.
The PNW has its own very problematic history with race, redlining and segregation but I'd never understood the meaning of "wrong side of the tracks" until living here. One side of town, houses are 400k+, there's trendy shops, all the streets are paved and have sidewalks and trees and lights at night - yet if you cross the main road dividing the city in half, the sidewalks, streetlights, bus service, and even sometimes the paved roads & plumbing disappear. You have Capitol Hill in Seattle 500 feet away from the Mississippi Delta in the same neighborhood, and nobody talks about it or even acknowledges it.
NC has a few good things going for it - mainly the Research Triangle & good universities - but also a lot of bad things that in my mind outweigh the positives. I always wonder why there are so many things memorializing or glorifying the history of, say, tobacco production ("Tobacco Road Historic District", "Brightleaf Square", etc), or slavery (Silent Sam, the former slave market in downtown Fayetteville, etc), or white poverty (moonshine production), etc, etc.
Like, the first impulse in the south always seems to be to blindly defend and glorify, rather than choose the actually-good parts to emphasize. A couple examples I found out about recently are a strain of nearly-extinct & once-prized rice called Carolina Gold, or the pottery and ceramics culture around Asheville, or - as previous comments note - the vast cultural & gastronomic contributions of Native and African-American people.
All these things SHOULD be a license to print tourist and fancy-artisan-products money if properly marketed and supported, but...I guess "because racism" and "because classism" is the default excuse in these parts for ignoring all those positives, to the region's own detriment.
posted by azuresunday at 9:52 PM on December 12, 2018 [5 favorites]


Point to aspects of Southern culture and heritage that are 1. not repulsive, and 2. not created by or sustained by, specifically black Southerners.

The way I count it, it's Black culture + Native American culture + Yankee shit. The Confederate tradition rejects Yankee shit, so that leaves...

Umm...NASCAR?

A product of white people coming back from WWII with fancy mechanic skills and the money and spare time that the GI Bill provided, which allowed them to find a use for those fallow skills as a hobby. The GI Bill was generally not a boon for black veterans due to racial covenants in the new suburbs and mortgage redlining everywhere.

In this way, the whiteness of NASCAR was built on the disadvantages of black people who were not able to participate due to the reasons above and general racism keeping them away from hobbies in general. You think a black person was going to be able to test out their car fixes on the backroads of Mississippi without getting pulled over and murdered by a cop? Which brings up the history of hot-rodding prior to NASCAR, which was a development by moonshiners, a distinctly white industry as well ("getting pulled over on the backroads" as above).

Bourbon?

Hard to get time to tend a still and age your booze when you have to pick your own corn, and if you're picking your own corn you're going to be growing a lot less of it.

What about country? Bluegrass?

Country and bluegrass were very much appropriated. Jimmie "The Singing Brakeman" Rodgers was a white trainman who traveled for work enough that he was exposed to a lot of different music, being taught how to play by black trainmen and hobos. In this tradition, country and bluegrass music has been said to be a hybrid of the blues and yodeling (tell me that's not Black country-blues guitar). [The Carter Family comes from the (post-ragtime) gospel and German immigrant influence (the Carter Scratch comes from German autoharp technique)]
posted by rhizome at 12:31 AM on December 13, 2018 [2 favorites]


The SPLC has identified more than seven hundred statues and memorials to Confederate soldiers.

I saw the same number in the second linked article, and it seems awfully low to me, perhaps by an order of magnitude or more. There are literally dozens in and around the medium sized town where I live, from the memorial to Leonidas Polk on the altar of the church I grew up attending (to be fair, he was buried there for a while) to the large monument the Daughters of the Confederacy (or maybe the Sons of Confederate Veterans) placed outside the Columbia County Library in 2006 (neither of which are on the Wikipedia list). This memorializing the slavers' rebellion really is like a cancer in the South, and I doubt it can ever be completely removed.
posted by TedW at 9:00 AM on December 13, 2018 [1 favorite]


The SPLC report is only counting monuments that are somehow consuming public resources. They variously talk about "in public spaces", "publically sponsored", and "on public property". They may have missed some, and there sure are a lot of harmful Confederate symbols on display privately, too. Just saying the SPLC is narrowing in on public ones presumably because there's then a public right to consider removing them.

(I went to a private school in Texas whose football mascot was literally Johnny Reb, the Confederate soldier. They finally changed in in the 90s.)
posted by Nelson at 9:21 AM on December 13, 2018


If the state legislature forces the restoration of Silent Sam to the original location, perhaps UNC can rename the quadrangle to "Participation Trophy Square".
posted by Surely This at 9:46 AM on December 13, 2018 [1 favorite]


The protection of these monuments must, in some way, be in violation of the south's surrender agreement, no?

There wasn't a surrender agreement by the South as a whole. Most people think the war ended when Robert E. Lee surrendered on April 9, 1865, but Confederate forces surrendered to local Union forces throughout April and May 1865. Cherokee Brigadier General Stand Watie, commander of the last significant Confederate active force, surrendered on June 23, 1865. The CSS Shenandoah surrendered on November 6, 1865.

The Confederate government declared itself to be dissolved on May 5, 1865, and Confederate President Jefferson Davis was captured by Union forces on May 10. (The monument of the Confederate government's dissolution was erected by the United Daughters of the Confederacy and lists people who weren't there.)

Why the Civil War Actually Ended 16 Months After Lee Surrendered
On April 9, 1865, General Robert E. Lee surrendered his Confederate troops to the Union’s Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House, Virginia, marking the beginning of the end of the grinding four-year-long American Civil War. But it would be more than 16 months before President Andrew Johnson would declare a formal end to the conflict in August 1866.
posted by kirkaracha at 10:19 AM on December 13, 2018 [1 favorite]


Here's an exercise for people who know the south: Point to aspects of Southern culture and heritage that are 1. not repulsive, and 2. not created by or sustained by, specifically black Southerners.

Coca-Cola, formerly Dr. Tuggle's Compound Syrup of Globe Flower.
posted by kirkaracha at 10:32 AM on December 13, 2018


The SPLC report is only counting monuments that are somehow consuming public resources. They variously talk about "in public spaces", "publically sponsored", and "on public property". They may have missed some, and there sure are a lot of harmful Confederate symbols on display privately, too. Just saying the SPLC is narrowing in on public ones presumably because there's then a public right to consider removing them.

This seems like a perfect time to turn the weapons of the right against them. If we can't have dollar one of public money go towards things like reproductive health or gender studies, then nothing can go towards these statues either. If the "genteel" white supremacists like the Daughters of the Confederacy use public funds, cut off those funds until they take complete ownership of the statues and their upkeep. And if it makes 'em squeal about going bankrupt...well, gee, that's how the free market works, sorry*.


* NOTE: No one should actually feel sorry for anything bad happening to white supremacy
posted by zombieflanders at 11:16 AM on December 13, 2018


(The public schools in Florida tend not to go too hard on the Confederates.)
I think I've mentioned this on here before, but: I'm a product of Mississippi public schools. I graduated in 1988. That school system was also very easy on the Confederates, and both textbook and teacher painted the war as the product of a number of causes, mostly "states' rights", and definitely not just about slavery.

In other words, they taught a lie.

But it wasn't JUST a lie. It was also a complete Orwellian con job, because the very existence of the various Articles of Secession authored by the Confederate founders was never mentioned, not once.

Why? Because you can't read those and come away with anything but the truth: The war was about slavery. Period.

It would be nice to think the pedagogy and curricula have changed, but I'd bet folding money it hasn't.
I went to a private school in Texas whose football mascot was literally Johnny Reb, the Confederate soldier. They finally changed in in the 90s.
Well, again, I'm from Mississippi. Ole Miss' explicit mascot was Col' Reb until very recently.
posted by uberchet at 5:33 PM on December 13, 2018 [4 favorites]


We signed papers ending hostilities, but the rebellion was never put down like traitors usually are. Losers and traitors and slavers should get shame and ridicule, not beloved monuments.
posted by Revvy at 7:55 PM on December 13, 2018 [1 favorite]


We signed papers ending hostilities, but the rebellion was never put down like traitors usually are. Losers and traitors and slavers should get shame and ridicule, not beloved monuments.

We should have hanged each and every "rebel", and seized and redistributed every acre of their land. Alas, that opportunity has passed.
posted by mikelieman at 8:12 PM on December 13, 2018


Nathan Bedford Forrest would have been a good start, anyway. Could have saved some trouble later on, and it's not like it wasn't clear at the time that he was trouble.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 10:38 PM on December 13, 2018 [3 favorites]


the rebellion was never put down

That's not really true though. Reconstruction did make an honest effort to reform the government in the South. See for example the Ironclad oath; for the first few years supporters of the Confederacy were basically barred from political office in the South. Black people really did get to vote and many Southern states elected significiant numbers of Black government representatives. It's just that Reconstruction all went to shit after a decade for a variety of complicated reasons including a weak federal government. The Redeemers are the rebellion resurgent, but it took them more than a decade to get a foothold.

It's true there weren't hangings and land seizures. The latter was seriously considered as a way to give freed slaves a start economically but there wasn't much support for the idea anywhere.

Reconstruction is a really complicated part of American history. I'm still working my way through Foner's history (been a year+, it's a long book) and it's crazy how many details and lost opportunities are significant.
posted by Nelson at 11:49 PM on December 13, 2018 [6 favorites]


Nathan Bedford Forrest would have been a good start, anyway.
Guess what? The Mississippi town I grew up in was in Forrest county.

Yes, it's named for him. Lost Cause bullshit is *everywhere* in Mississippi and Alabama.
posted by uberchet at 7:13 AM on December 14, 2018 [2 favorites]


To deliberately narrow your focus to include (or exclude) only one group would be to miss the pot of gumbo for time spent looking for the roux. I am giving you the benefit of the doubt here.

No disagreement here. My point is that when these people celebrate "our heritage," they have no ready answer for the challenge "heritage of what?"
posted by ocschwar at 8:36 AM on December 16, 2018



the rebellion was never put down

That's not really true though


I've never waited more than 15 minutes to vote on election day.
When every single black southern voter says the same, we can say the rebellion was put down.
posted by ocschwar at 8:46 AM on December 16, 2018 [7 favorites]


No disagreement here. My point is that when these people celebrate "our heritage," they have no ready answer for the challenge "heritage of what?"

That's fair, but your phrasing came across as fairly antagonistic. As someone who lives down here and interacts with folks who are so steeped in a culture of racism they don't even realize it's there, your challenge would get nowhere. They'd only dig in their heels and close off. That makes nothing better.

I love this place and have lived here all my life, I only want to change it for the better. I want the welcoming and friendly side of my home to come to the fore. So understand that if you barge in and start insulting people, it undermines the work a lot of us are doing to drag the culure forward. The South, inasmuch as it is one place, contains multitudes. And change, when it happens here, happens on a person to person basis.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 1:38 PM on December 16, 2018


That seems like a fairly weird perspective, don't annoy the racists? Change hasn't come from convincing whites to be better people. It's come from organizing, collectively, black people and their allies.
posted by rdr at 3:47 PM on December 16, 2018 [2 favorites]


Change hasn't come from convincing whites to be better people. It's come from organizing, collectively, black people and their allies.

Yes, but every lukewarm racist you scare away turns into a firebrand. I'm all for calling out the Nazis and Klansmen on their backwards-ass bullshit, but alienating people who may not even realize what they are doing is hurtful, doesn't make for another ally.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 7:39 PM on December 16, 2018


When ... we can say the rebellion was put down

You're missing my point. I'm not saying that the South has recovered from its Rebellion. I'm saying the country made a good faith, 10 year effort to eradicate the Rebellion and it came back like a blackberry bush. And strengthened with virulence until the 50s and 60s, when it took national armed intervention to force the South into vaguely pretending to obey some basic national civil rights laws.

Southern racism isn't a "rebellion" you can isolate and put down. It's a deep-seated way of life. At the same time it's also complex and nuanced and not something you can just force to go away. I'm sympathetic to 1f2frfbf's perspective that part of what will bring real change is lots of patient one-on-one re-education.
posted by Nelson at 2:35 AM on December 17, 2018


So try as I might I'm not going to let a thread about the myth of the lost cause end with the assertion that challenging people on their racism turns them into Nazis. I'm not engaging in hyperbole, that's what the comment two comments upthread says. That assertion is ridiculous. Neo nazis and KKK members are at the far end of the curve of american racism. Someone doesn't get there from having to confront the truth about their beliefs. The idea that talking about racism generates racism is a pretty common trope and it is most common usage is to shut down conversations about racism. That idea is false. Racism is baked into American society and it has been with us since before the founding of the nation. Racism is not caused by talking about racism.

The next pernicious idea in the end of thread is that "casual" racism is somehow less problematic than the type of racism exhibited by KKK members. There just aren't that many people in the racist far right. They don't have that much political power but the far right and "casual" racists share a common ideology. The mainstream racists are the people who give white supremacy it's power. In this years senate race in Mississippi 15% of white people voted for Mike Espy, a black man. Espy was, in my admittedly biased opinion, a far better candidate than the race baiting white candidate, Cindy Hyde-Smith. Yet only 15% of white people voted for Espy. That 15% is a little more than half of the 27% crazification factor. That 85% of white people that couldn't vote for Espy. They can claim conservative politics, a proxy for racism. They can claim party loyalty. They can claim ignorance but this is America so you know a good chunk of it was racism. My point is that I doubt very many of that 85% were neo-nazis or KKK members. They are "casual" racists and their votes handed a senate seat to an active promoter of white supremacy. That's the damage that casual racism and that's why majority "common sense" racism is far more dangerous than the it's outlier varieties. Racism is practiced against groups of people by groups of people and at least in the case of racism aimed at African Americans is backed by years of history and the active application of governmental and economic power. Those collective acts are what give racism it's power, not some individual moral failing. The Republican party has been attacking legal remedies for discrimination since Reagan. They've attacked those policies because they work.
posted by rdr at 3:14 AM on December 26, 2018 [11 favorites]


if you barge in and start insulting people
Goddamn outside agitators.
posted by PMdixon at 7:03 AM on December 26, 2018 [1 favorite]


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