Monday, April 30, 2007

Confederate "Heritage" Month, April 30: The strange world of neo-Confederacy

Every year when I do this daily series of posts in April, I worry that I won't be able to find material to use. And every year I wind up thinking there was a lot of other stuff I intended to use but now the month's over.

I'll close this year's series with some comments about an article that appeared in the Biloxi Sun-Herald 04/12/01, during the Mississippi Confederate state flag campaign, Our flag was never intended to be a symbol of hate. Fly it proudly and change hearts instead. by Wallace Mason, "commander of Sam Davis Camp 596, Sons of Confederate Veterans". A copy of it is posted at, the far-right Web site. I haven't checked it word for word against my hard copy, but it appears to be the same thing.

That title reminds me. One of the pitches that the partisans of the Confederate-themed flag used was that fighting over the flag was a distraction from more useful ways of promoting racial reconciliation. So after the election, I was expecting to see the Sons of Confederate Veterans, the League of the South and the White Citizens Council all getting together with the NAACP, the Urban League and other civil rights groups to protest police racial profiling, help enforce anti-discrimination laws, campaign for better public services, have meetings across the state to promote better understanding among the races, stuff like that.

But, darn, for some reason I just never heard about any of that stuff happening. I wonder why?

Mason, who called the Civil War the "War for Southern Independence", recites a pretty broad range of neo-Confederate slogans: only black bigots oppose the Confederate flag; slavery was not the cause of the war, oh, no, not at all; slavery would have faded away peacefull if those damnyankees hadn't forced reluctant Southerners into a war; greedy damnyankees wanted to force a tariff on the South and that had something or other to do with the war; the Emancipation Proclamation was no big deal and didn't do much for the slaves; the slaves just luu-uuved their Massas; lots and lots and lots of blacks served in the Confederate armed forces, I mean, they were totally enthusiastic about fighting for the Confederacy; not many Confederate soldiers owned slaves so how could the war have anything to do with slavery?; the South was deeply, passionately committed to the abstract principle of State Rights and so they had to secede from the Union because the damnyankees were threatening that but it had nothing to do with slavery (did I mention that already?); Southerners wanted lower taxes, too; the Confederacy stood for Honor and Duty and other fine Southern stuff like that.

I particularly like this part:

[The Confederate-themed state flag] was there as the 1950s closed and
the 1960s began, ushering in the turmoil of segregation and integration and
people marching for freedom. Our flag represents all people. Flower power and
the hippie generation and free love were all a part of Mississippi. Our flag was
there when its sons and daughters were sent to the jungles of Vietnam, a
political fiasco that would cost the lives of young men and women, white, black
and Indian, before their time.
Yes, folks, the Confederate flag represents hippies and flower power. (I wish I had known about all the free love around when I lived there!) And it represents civil rights marches against integration.

Now, you're probably thinking, how can anyone offer up a steaming pile of horse-poop like this and expect anyone to take it seriously?

Because, except for those few whose brains have been completely fried by OxyContin or other intoxicants, they don't take it seriously. Neo-Confederate hokum isn't history, neo-Confederate routine is not really about history. It's a political ideology, whose main purpose so far as I can see is to sneer at black people and generally promote authoritarian attitudes. The history just serves as window-dressing to provide slogans and symbols. Like with Holocaust denial, at a basic level it's meant to be a sneer rather than anything serious, for all its pretensions at scholarly trappings. Hey, 93,000 black people fought for the Confederacy! Translate that into what comes through to Rush Limbaugh fans after the words are processed through a heavy OxyContin filter, and it means, "Yuck, yuck, even n*****s fought for the Confederacy, haw haw!"

This is the kind of white folks' that is the heart of neo-Confederacy, from Mason's article, with added commentary in brackets:

And what will the new flag represent? Will it represent those [bad black people] who constantly complain of racism and their remembrance of slavery? Will it represent those[white] businessmen who are worried about the dollar bill or image? Will this new flag represent all those [white] Mississippians who have sacrificed so much in order for us to enjoy what we have today? The new flag would represent absolutely nothing [good from the viewpoint of white supremacists].

Our [white people's] state flag and the Confederate battle flag are symbols of our [the white people in our] region and [white] Southern heritage. That heritage is a culture of contributions from white, black, American Indian and an increasing number of races. [Yuck, yuck, yeah, you know we're real mul-ti-cul-tural at the Sons of Confederate Veterans] As [white] Southerners, we are going to have to do a better job of protecting our heritage [heritage of the white race] because tomorrow it will be our [white bigots'] very freedom.

Those [bad black people] who attack our [white people's] state flag are the ones being intolerant and racist. No one is attacking their [worthless black] heritage. Tolerance has to to work both ways [yuck, yuck, we're real tolerant of black folks as long as they know their place], but, for [white bigors in] the South, that is not happening. Southern [white people's] heritage is being removed for the sake of appeasement and compromise [with bad black people] that will lead only to more compromise [with bad black people].
Yesterday, I quoted a neo-Confederate article from the San Francisco Chronicle that referred to "60,000 and 90,000 black men, both free and slave" who allegedly did something vaguely defined as having "served under the banner of the Stars and Bars," by which he means the Confederate flag. Mason's article says:

Black soldiers did serve in the Confederate army and navy. Professor Ed Smith, director of American Studies at American University, calculates that between 60,000 and 93,000 blacks served the Confederacy in some capacity. They served, not to stay as slaves, but so there would be a better future for them.
Another vague formulation, "served the Confederacy in some capacity". Like, what, being a slave cook at a plantation where a few Confederate cavalrymen stopped by to have lunch one day? As I said yesterday, the notion that any significant number of black, free or slave, served as Confederate soldiers is a favorite claim of neo-Confederates, but it's not true. If this figure about black who "served the Confederacy in some capacity" is true in some sense (though I doubt it's true in any sense), both this article and the one in the Chronicle on Sunday use it to imply with technically saying so that these were soldiers. This kind of thing is thought by crackpot writers to be cagey and clever, though it's really just dissembling and slippery.

There is an Edward C. Smith in the American Studies program at American University.  I'll have to follow up on that particular claim later.

Neo-Confederacy: a bottomless pit of nonsense. And of maudlin phrases about "heritage".

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