Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Racism in the United States is not an artifact of history, but remains deeply embedded within society

Reprinted and re-dated because of the addition of a link to and quotation from a column by Sally Jenkins of the Washington Post. I meant to include this originally but couldn't remember who wrote the piece and it took me awhile to track down.

Emanuel African Methodist Church, Charleston. CNN photo.

As would be expected, there has been a great deal of media coverage of the tragic hate crime in Charleston, South Carolina, where 9 people were murdered by a 21-year-old racist during their regular bible study class.

This happened at the Emanuel African Methodist Church, a church with 200 years of prominence within within the story of African-Americans and civil rights.

The major reaction and response has focused on states and retailers removing the Confederate battle flag.  I think it is sick that 9 people have to be murdered to get states like South Carolina to reconsider their enamoration of this emblem of the Confederacy.

Separately, many commentators have pointed out the hypocrisy of calling people like Dzhokhar Tsarnaev terrorists, while terming race-motivated killers like Dylann Roof as troubled.  They ask a legitimate question:  Why isn't race-based killing considered terrorism?

I can't think of a better way to avoid addressing racism in our alleged "post-racial" society by excusing race-targeted killings to mental illness.

Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts, Jr., has a great column on the subject, "A racist hate crime, pure and simple."

But in fairness, others have written equally good pieces. For example, the Associated Press story "Confederate, Jim Crow tributes go well beyond battle flag," discusses how deeply embedded in Southern political and social culture are the symbols associated with the Confederacy.

For example, I always write about how Monument Avenue in Richmond is great because of the continued use of asphalt block as a visual, aural, and physical cue for motor vehicles to slow down, but I rarely mention that the majority of the monuments, other than a more recent statue erected to honor Arthur Ashe, highlight Confederate War "heroes."

From the article:
Many of the commemorations were established in the early decades of Jim Crow segregation at the behest of groups such as the United Daughters of the Confederacy, Sons of Confederate Veterans and their forerunners.

Confederate heritage leaders say political leaders' statements this week worry them.

"First it's the flags, then the monuments, then the streets' names, then the holidays. I feel like it's open season on anything Confederate," said Kelly Barrow, commander in chief of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. Barrow says his organization shouldn't be tainted by Roof's actions and apparent racist philosophy.

The Sons organization calls the Civil War "the second American revolution." The United Daughters of the Confederacy states in one of its creeds that "the War Between the States was not a rebellion, nor was its underlying cause to sustain slavery."

Deaton, the Georgia historian, said those views, often reflected in the monuments, are part of how elected officials avoid potential controversies over the displays. He called it "the lost-cause narrative" that obscures the reasons for secession that Southern leaders plainly stated at the time.

"The monuments are never about slavery. They're never about treason," Deaton said. "They're always about noble virtues like honor and valor. They didn't have a problem acknowledging the reasons for the war in 1861. Their descendants have a problem with it today."
The reality is that terming the "War between the states"--the Civil War--as being about "state's rights" in the context of a federal nation, and not solely about preserving the economic, political, and social institutions supporting slavery is a mis-direction.  It war was about slavery and maintaining the structure of racism that was constructed around slavery in order to justify subjugation.

Sally Jenkins, normally writing about sports for the Washington Post, has a great column, "Unraveling the threads of hatred, sewn into a Confederate icon" where this is discussed in artful language.  From the article:
All wars are romanticized by those who have never felt bullets fly through their coats. But there is something deeply pernicious in the continued attempts to soft-focus the causes of the Confederacy, its aftermath and its lingering effects. South Carolina’s part of the Declaration of Causes of Seceding States, also signed by Mississippi, Georgia, Virginia and Texas, stated that secession was the direct result of “an increasing hostility on the part of the non-slaveholding states to the institution of slavery.” The Confederacy’s vice president, Alexander Stephens, said, “Our new government is founded . . . its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery . . . is his natural and normal condition.” ...

We will have truthfully reckoned with our racial history when high school and college students quit going to Heritage Balls wearing butternut military tunics and sashes and understand that Jeff Davis and Bobby Lee should have spent the rest of their natural lives in work camps, breaking rocks with shovels, instead of on their verandas — and the fact that they didn’t was a profound miscarriage. And when they understand that the South was in fact deeply divided along class as well as racial lines.
Even though "the South" "lost" the war, it is still being fought today, and despite the many successes of the Civil Rights agenda, there have been and continue to be many setbacks.  Dylann Roof is just one more soldier of terrorism fighting against racial equality.

P.S.  Maybe 1,000+ people will have to be murdered in a terrible incident before politicians will be willing to take up "the reform" of federal gun control laws.

P.P.S.  in the context of cultural heritage tourism, I have written about the need to update our understanding of history and historiography and interpretation of historic sites, especially around the Civil War ("(Public) History/Historic Preservation Tuesday: Museums and Modern Historiography" and "Parochialism and historiography") and the relationship of the nation's civil rights story to transportation.

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At 8:13 AM, Anonymous lucas said...

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At 2:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

banning flags would not have prevented the massacre nor would it have saved one life. This is a knee jerk witch hunt atmosphere and it is just plain stupid and self serving. There are many worthy art projects that were commissioned in places like Gettysburg to honor the fallen of both sides and it is a shameful thing try to act as though this event never happened.Monuments like these were put up by some of this country's greatest sculptors to help and heal the breech. Moses Ezekiel sculpted the Arlington National Cemetery Confederate memorial- he was a Jewish sculptor who fought for the Confederacy and Robert E Lee subsidized his art school training. This is not the ranting of some mad murderer to do something like this. Are we now to ban sculptures because an artist was Jewish ? It could easily become something like this if allowed to go on. Lee reached out a hand in friendship as did Grant.Monuments like this sought to allieviate the pain and sufferings on both sides. Now they are politically incorrect. We will teach our kids only half truths and not tell the whole story. I for one hate all of this media frenzy. It is disgusting and it does nothing at all for the families that lost loved ones in that beautiful church- it just makes phony loudmouths who seek to glorify themselves try to look good. These monuments have been around a long time and nobody cared about them until this event.

At 2:35 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

are we to censor the art masterpieces of one of this country's greatest sculptors and silence his voice? Who has the right to do this? Isn't there such a thing as freedom of speech?

At 3:33 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

venerating Confederates without acknowledging that they were fighting for racism, segregation, and subjugation is problematic, regardless of the medium in which the icons are produced.


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