Sunday, April 18, 2010

Confederate History Month and Yankee Bias Against White Southerners

If Yankees would get off this Confederate thing, I would be happy to let it alone. But Frank Rich prompts me to say something more.

I think the reason they go on about it so is that they equate the essence of the Confederacy with pure evil, allowing no room for anything good anywhere on anybody's part, whereas America is regarded as at worst  ambiguous, i. e., containing both good and evil and at best Edenic. I am inclined  to all view all history as ambiguous with some situations being much worse or much better than others.  Southerners historically have had a greater sense that all history  is marked by  tragedy and evil based on their own experience of poverty, defeat, devastation, suffering, and the moral burden of having sponsored and defended slavery.

What Yankees often don't recognize is that the very effort of Southerners to find some glory in the Lost Cause, to focus attention on states rights and the Constitution, along with the  ruses to justify secession, etc. often  have been and are an effort to escape  the memory and guilt of slavery. Such disguises are rationalizations which themselves  acknowledge by implication that slavery was morally reprehensible and indefensible. It is the South working through its own hurting conscience, to expiate its sins through evasion instead of through contrition, confession, and "fruits meet unto repentance."  This is how Confederate History Month should be celebrated.

Southern experience has been more like that of the rest of the world in contrast to the sense of American (Yankee) exceptionalism (not  as prevalent since Vietnam and Iraq) which had viewed America as that new thing in history, free, innocent, and sponsoring high ideals in its founding documents. In this scenario the South has been the exception to American exceptionalism, the other and inferior America, those odd people down there with the funny accent. It has been America's perennial problem because of its cultural backwardness, poverty, and as the primary locus of slavery and racism. As I like to say, prejudice against white Southerners is the only bias white northern liberals allow themselves without guilt, it being in their estimation not a slanted view but a recognition of plain facts.

In the current ranting I see a failure to distinguish between slavery and racism. Racism is pervasive north and south, east and west, even if it is more easily exploited especially in small towns and rural Dixie. Nobody today defends slavery, but racism though widespread is more subtle and often expressed in code and nearly everywhere and always denied by the accused.

As a southerner I pledge that every time the Confederacy is mentioned, I will at once fall on my knees, look heavenward, and wholeheartedly denounce slavery as  ugly and evil if every time Yankees mention America they will denounce the near genocide of Native Americans, the internment of the Japanese in WWII, the witch trials in Salem, the denial of the vote to women until 1922,  and the exploitation of  wage labor in the industrialized states and the violence against unions. All Jews must likewise at the mention of Israel denounce the forced expulsion of Palestinians in 1947-48, the occupation of Palestinian territory since 1967, the apartheid it continues to practice, and the building of settlements in Palestinian territory. A full confession would include repentance for the  appropriation of ancient Canaan and the Jewish jihad of Esther 9.

But I forgot that  all other history is morally ambiguous; only the Confederacy is pure evil with no redeeming features.

PS  Southerners will get an extra star in heaven for putting up with Yankee self-righteousness and condescension. We are--white and black--often not expected to be very bright. I have had more than one Northern white woman confess to me later that the first day in class when she heard my southern accent, she was not sure I could be smart enough to teach her anything. With pride Augustine would appreciate, I can confidently say that it took only three or four days to demolish that illusion.

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