On Southern Pride and Northern Liberals

“…know at last why God let us lose the War: that only through the blood of our men and the tears of our women could He stay this demon and efface his name and lineage from the earth.”- William Faulkner, Absalom, Absalom!

This quote was the first thing to come to mind in the past week as I saw the news that New Orleans was removing a statue of the first and only president of the Confederate States of America, Jefferson Davis, in order to place it and 3 other Confederacy-celebrating statues in a location such as a museum, which city officials have deemed more appropriate. This was followed not long after by a huge protest led by white nationalist Richard Spencer in Charlottesville, Virginia, as the statue of another Confederate icon, General Robert E. Lee, is currently planned to be taken down. Similar to the outrage of bringing down the Battle Flag of the Army of Northern Virginia (In case someone cannot resist the temptation to correct me in calling it a “Confederate Flag”) in South Carolina after Dylan Roof’s racially-fueled mass shooting, the same cries are now being rung out across the nation.

“You can’t erase history!”

“This doesn’t mean it never happened!”

“Why are these becoming an issue now, they’ve been up forever!”

What I continually fail to understand is the insistence of the preservation and accurate recording of history from people that call the Civil War “The War of Northern Aggression” when the war was quite literally started by the South, or that the war had no base in the institution of slavery, when essentially all of their leaders, as well as the man they saw fit to call President, all explicitly stated it was. While understanding that most Confederate soldiers never owned slaves, the poor white Southerner being taken advantage of by wealthy planters does not negate the intent of the war waged, regardless of what the poor men who were being thrown into the meat grinders at Shiloh, Gettysburg and Bull Run were being told.

Which begs the question: how appropriate is it to ‘erase’ unpleasant chapters of our history as a nation? The answer lies not necessarily in the scope or who is being honored, but the manner in which we as a nation commemorate. The removal of the statues in New Orleans to be moved to a museum is hardly inappropriate, as no statue is being destroyed or ‘erased’, but rather relocated to a museum, a place designed and chartered to commemorate events such as these, pleasant and unpleasant. That being said, it is hardly appropriate to publicly admonish men who actively tried to destroy this nation, all for the sake of keeping people that look like myself in bondage. (Again: their words, not mine.) Cessation of public celebration of racism and treason in lieu of trying to put it in our past where it belongs is not the same as erasing history. On the contrary, it is solidifying history, by making sure we know and understand our past.

This new ‘understanding’ has been found not because of any breakthrough, but because people of color have essentially just been listened to more in this regard in the past few decades. I would dare to contend that most Black people have never liked seeing statues placed in public spaces by their community, in which the collective values of your home are expressed, that literally celebrate and commemorate white supremacy, or seeing the flag that one essentially associates with exactly that flying over the state house of government. To think Black people enjoy or have ever enjoyed walking and driving on streets or going to schools named after people that thought they were literally animals would be insulting both to Black people’s intelligence and the intelligence of the person who claims this could possibly be the case. Black people certainly had problems with Jim Crow before the mid 50’s, so we can’t confuse not listening to someone with them just speaking up recently. It is over issues such as this that the North seems to just shake their head at the South, unable to reconcile themselves with them.

But quite frankly, that’s on purpose. As a Black person, I can say without a single shred of irony in me that I truly love the South, and while I can most certainly point out the issues it has had in the past and present with race, I am also incredibly aware of white Northern Liberals being more than happy to point out these issues, deriving great pleasure from putting the Southerner down, absolving the North or Liberalism in general (as we simply know Southerners cannot be progressive, right?) from any racism.

As a Pennsylvanian, I occupy a rather unique spot on the map, not New England, not the Midwest, not the Upper South, but a mix of the three, more so in my opinion than the other Mid-Atlantic States. Coupling this with being bi-racial, I have more or less seen and experienced a variety of different people and cultures through my school, church and family life. I find my appreciation for the South in the things they do right: a love for family and community, a love and pride for their home and where one comes from, and an emphasis on unity among each other in many aspects of life. While it would be completely dishonest to say these traditions and values are not often monochromatic or toxic, is it such a crime to say one appreciates the cultures, customs and traditions, especially when I personally can relate to quite a few of them?

The trick that the North has pulled is this: they have equated most things traditionally Southern with racism and white supremacy, and many of them are. However, we reach dangerous territory when we start to equate all things Southern with racism, and declare there is no value to be found in the expressions of anything Southern. My issue with this is not that people point out issues the South has with race, my issue is all the finger points South all the time, and rarely outside of issues of police brutality do we see the finger pointed at the North by Liberals.

Quite frankly, racism was never a foreign concept to me living in the North, I was rather painfully aware of it growing up. I was followed around stores, I was talked down to in many instances by adults in my school, and “Nigger” bounced off my eardrums quite a bit. Even upon entering the work force I was painfully aware of working some places or for some managers that were incredibly racist, but would be quick to tell you about their Black friend from high school or why Niggers and Black people were different. (More than happy to hear it form Chris Rock, but please leave that to him) Quite frankly, the more I understood racism and the nature of it in this country, the more I realized it was both lazy and dishonest to say racism was just for Southern rednecks. Besides, the Klan did hold a rally in my hometown two years after I was born.

But I’m only one story, and I’m rather insignificant as it were, so don’t just take my word for it. Martin Luther King said himself there was never a crowd as angry and hateful in the South as there was in Chicago when he came, but yet and still I find people who are convinced that the North is free from institutional or cultural racism, ignoring the legacies of purposely segregating and economically and socially strangling communities in the North, evidenced literally a block away from the university I study at. And don’t even think about trying to get the kids to go to school together.

More or less, the South is used as a punching bag by the Northern Liberals in particular to absolve themselves from any responsibility, in order to show Black people who their “friends” in American politics really are. Malcolm X had a few insightful and interesting takes on the subject, which are found in his autobiography.

“The white Southerner was always given his due by Mr. Muhammad. The white Southerner, you can say one thing — he is honest. He bares his teeth to the black man; he tells the black man, to his face, that Southern whites never will accept phony “integration.” The Southern white goes further, to tell the black man that he means to fight him every inch of the way-against even the so-called “tokenism.” The advantage of this is the Southern black man never has been under any illusions about the opposition he is dealing with.” (15.34)

“ ‘Conservatism’ in America’s politics means ‘Let’s keep the niggers in their place. And ‘liberalism’ means ‘Let’s keep the knee-grows in their place — but tell them we’ll treat them a little better; let’s fool them more, with more promises.’ With these choices, I felt that the American black man only needed to choose, which one to be eaten by, the ‘liberal’ fox or the ‘conservative’ wolf — because both of them would eat him. [At least] in a wolf’s den, I’d always known exactly where I stood; I’d watch the dangerous wolf closer than I would the smooth, sly fox. The wolf’s very growling would keep me alert and fighting him to survive, whereas I might be lulled and fooled by the tricky fox.” [380]

Both points lead to something incredibly important, in that neither side necessarily cares about Black people or their rights and concerns, but would feign caring about either in order to get votes. This is not to be an indictment of being a member of either party or having political beliefs on either wing, I myself am a registered Democrat. However, I would be foolish to ignore the fact that as a Democrat, my party has had blatant racists such as Andrew Jackson, Woodrow Wilson ad Franklin Roosevelt at the helm of the party. Race has always been an issue in this nation, and no single region and type of people is solely responsible for it, and trying to make it seem that way does great damage to one of the most culturally rich regions of the country. To negate or dismiss the South entirely would be to dismiss the culture and works of some of America’s greatest writers, musicians and academics. To think that only one region of the country has reprehensible history regarding race is both dishonest and dangerous, and feeds into the sympathies that cased the Civil War in the first place. The statues have no place out in the town square, sure, but that begs the question: when are we going to tear down the civic arenas and highways as monuments of racism?