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.
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.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.
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."
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.” ...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.
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.
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.