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Over the weekend I tweeted the following:
Dear The South,
Your side didn’t fight for states’ rights. You fought for your states’ rights to own people.
Signed, The Rest of Us
A good friend of mine posted my tweet to his Facebook wall. The ensuing shit-storm was one I had not really anticipated.
I was told by some via my friend’s Facebook page that I was bashing the south. That my comments were gross generalizations that many Southerners do not aggrandize and celebrate the “Confederate Heroes” of that war. My ultimate conclusion there, as it is here, is that once I stop seeing Confederate flags and hearing southerners defiantly decree that the “…South shall rise again!” I’ll stop bashing the people as a whole.
My generalization is completely founded, in that those that disagree with the these terrible celebrations of the symbols of slavery remain quietly on the side lines. If you let someone with a different opinion as your own speak for you, you cannot cry foul when you catch some flak for those opinions.
There would be no need to lump every Southerner together if the loudest voices coming out of there weren’t those that supported the old way of life. Of course there are probably plenty of southerners who don’t support slavery, but I submit that until those voices gain the courage to shout-down those around them that are behaving in a way that all but praises slavery, we should all feel compelled to lump them together and castigate them for this kind of thing. If you don’t want to be guilty by association, don’t associate.
Admittedly, this could be a simple case of Coastitis. That is to say that since I live on a traditionally liberal-minded coast maybe my perspective is clouded. Maybe My view of those living in the South is skewed by my own assumptions of their behavior. In fact, it’s totally possible that were I to live in one of the Southern, “Red” states that perhaps I’d not have made a blanket generalization about those that live below the Mason-Dixon line.
Normally, I’d try to stay out of any argument that was touched off on the Internet by some of my words. Who’d have known less than 140 characters would get some folks very, very riled up? My tweet was in reference to the people in the south that celebrated the inauguration of Jefferson Davis and the South’s secession from the Union over this past weekend.
History is one of my passions. To me, the only real connection we have to our past is through our historical records. Additionally, as cliche as it can sound, if we do not learn from our collective past, we will assuredly repeat the same mistakes. When I heard of large groups of Southerners gathering together to celebrate the losing side in America’s hardest-fought, bloodiest social evolution you could say I was a more than a little perturbed.
Through time and historical re-authoring, the root cause of the Civil War has been muddied and shifted. At one point we all were taught that the war was fought to end slavery. I will agree whole-heartedly that indeed the war was not started in an attempt to abolish the most heinous practice of human slavery. However, it is apparent that the most prolific and important result of the war, and what the war really became about in its concluding days was in fact slavery.
Some argue that Lincoln himself was not fighting the war initially to free the enslaved men, women and children of the South. This too, is true, at least at the start. What no one can deny, however is that Lincoln, in signing the Emancipation Proclamation set in motion the most vital civil liberties change in our country’s history. Did Lincoln free the slaves for more than one reason? Yes. He did. He freed the slaves hoping for a massive slave uprising as well.
At its core though, no one can deny that Lincoln’s signing of that document at least put in place the first blocks of rebuilding race relations in this country. We have a long way yet to go. And as those that were celebrating Davis’ taking of the mantle for the Confederacy prove, much of the challenges lie in the same territories they did a century and a half ago.
To be fair, I’ve seen racist behavior perpetrated by many different people. I’ve seen Hispanic people speak ill of African-Americans. I’ve seen Asian people speak ill of Hispanic people. I’ve been in a very rural town in the most northern parts of California and heard some of the most vile, racist and ignorant filth come out of a teenager’s mouth. So I’m fully aware that racism lives and breathes everywhere.
What set me off about the Sons of the Confederacy, and others like them, however, was this a brazen embrace of what is clearly the Wrong Side, and that it seemed that these folks were speaking for the masses in the South. There is no morality to slavery. The very idea that one man’s life is worth less than another man’s life is about as amoral as you can get. Yet the Three-Fifths compromise, placed in the Constitution at its inception did just that.
In an effort to account for the slave population in tabulating the populations of states and thereby calculating the number of Congressional Representatives the southern states would get, it was agreed and placed into our Constitution that each black man was worth 60% of a white man. I still feel ill when I think about that verbiage actually being in the Constitution.
The Founding Fathers knew slavery was going to be a hot-button issue. In fact abolitionist members of the group that would write this country’s founding papers tried to get it banned even then. Southern leaders however refused to abandon this economic tool they knew their way of life depended on, and the out-right banning of slavery was not put into the Constitution. It wasn’t until we started pushing west, ironically and tragically wiping out another race of people on our way, that the issue of slavery came to a head.
Northern abolitionists wanted to halt slavery’s expansion into the new territory. Admittedly, there were political motivations behind these desires as well ethical motivations for the North to halt slavery in its tracks. If the new states that came on board were Free States, the balance of power in Congress would stay permanently swayed to the North’s favor.
Southern apologists have used this fact to try and show that maybe the Northern power-brokers weren’t interested in abolition for the sake of the slaves, but were pushing for it more for their own sakes. This could be true for some in the North, but clearly the practice of slavery had become much-derided in the North by this time, and mostly it was seen as being a backwards practice at best, and a barbaric one at worst.
In the Missouri Compromise (which sadly was later repealed) it was decreed that slavery would no longer expand west past the state of Missouri. That territory would be the last new place slavery could be practiced. The tides of morality were shifting, and the Southern way of life was under more and more scrutiny.
The bottom line is that war broke out in this country for many reasons. But somewhere along the line its “point” shifted. The great morality issue at its center no longer became about “States’ Rights.” It was then and forever about the ending of one of the most disgusting and shameful practices in America’s history. Further, the only right that the Southern states were truly passionate about keeping was their right to own another human being.
I stand by original tweet, and I think history and time help prove its truth. I also stand by my generalization and believe that it’s okay to do so until those in the South that are truly disgusted by these types of things stand up to them. It may not be fair to those who do not agree with the celebrations and demonstrations, but that kind of collateral damage is necessary.
The sting of truth and reality might be hard to endure, but it doesn’t diminish the importance of acknowledging that work still has to get done on this subject. The light always needs to shine on the darkest places in humanity. I intend to keep mine on as long as I have the ability to do so.
This is President’s Day. I choose to honor and celebrate the true Presidents of our country. Maybe I don’t agree with their politics and policies. None of them though, ever led a segment of our population in a war in support of slavery. Only Jefferson Davis has that distinction. You folks in the South can keep him, thanks.