(Originally posted on CoM in June 2015)
What happened in Charleston a few days ago was horrible. Worse than horrible. An obviously troubled young man, brimming with racial hatred, believing his own superior race to be infringed upon by what he viewed as a lesser race (through the lens of some god-awful stereotypes), gunning down nine innocent, infinitely valuable, beautiful people who had gathered at their church building for a study. The saddest thing I've heard in the aftermath - and at the same time, the most beautiful thing - is the survivors, and even the shooter, speaking to how warmly he, as a stranger, had been welcomed into their midst. Although not enough to ultimately overcome the heinous act he would go on to commit, this welcoming obviously caused some intense cognitive dissonance within the murderer, given the truth of what he was experiencing firsthand compared to the ugly, false truth that had been created and instilled within him.
The thoughts I'm gonna share here aren't necessarily pretty or comfortable. Many are written from a place of frustration and anger, and I'm just gonna pour them out on the keyboard.
There's sooooo much stupid in America. Not common ignorance. Willful ignorance. Hordes of people who bask in it, wallow in it, attempting to spread it like a bacteria. An entire sect of conservatism (and often the fundamentalist Christian side of conservatism) that celebrates being anti-intellectual. To them, being dumb is a good thing. They parade this stupid on social media proudly, usually with practically no real working knowledge of the issues they're so opinionated about, happy to make themselves look like fools. And look like fools they do. I was always taught to not speak on issues I knew nothing about - a lesson I wish for most of my countrymen.
The Charleston incident created a firestorm around the Confederate battle flag and whether it should be flown above government buildings, or on government-sanctioned sites. What this should have done is make people (particularly conservative southerners) take a long, hard, uncomfortable look at themselves and take some serious inventory about the things they, deep down, believe to be true, support as true, and live out as true. As condescending as this may sound, it most likely has caused the more intelligent people to do this. Sadly, the garden variety, talk-radio listening wingnuts, the rednecks, and the generally not-so-smart people have just dug in their heels and refused to leave the 19th century. There have been Confederate battle flags posted all over my social media feed all week long, accompanied by cries of "Heritage not Hate!".
I call bullshit. If I just described you, you're either frighteningly ignorant or a racist on some level that you haven't come to terms with yet. Let's hope you're the former, despite my fears that many of you are the latter.
When I was younger, I was ignorant. My entire family was ignorant. When I was about 10 or 11, I proudly hung a Confederate flag on my wall. I was a southern country boy, stoked in southern, rural, farming culture, and I was proud of it. Still am. I still cherish the things I learned from that culture - honesty, integrity, hospitality, a strong work ethic, and more. I was never taught that any race of people were greater than another, but that God loved all people equally, and so should I - despite there being strains of racist thinking in my extended family. I wasn't a history buff, and until I began studying it in-depth somewhere around 8th grade, a lot of dots had been unconnected. I can say with a straight face and a clear conscience that it was about heritage for me. However, once I knew better, I actedbetter. Once I became aware of all that flag represented, I realized that I didn't want that flag representing me. It came down, and nothing overtly "Confederate" has been a part of my life in over 30 years, although, until the last decade or so, there were traces of the abstract which I was unaware of (and we'll get into that in a little bit). My family has changed, too. Once they knew better, they acted better. My mother and I were talking just a few days ago about the flag issue, and her words, paraphrased, "I'd never let you put that in your bedroom today."
I've seen defenses of the Confederate battle flag ranging from "It doesn't represent racism or slavery" to "The Civil War wasn't about slavery - It was about States' Rights" to the time immemorial "The War of Northern Agression" BS. I'm no longer amazed at the lengths people go to to rationalize away awful, inhumane beliefs and behaviors. I've come to expect it. America seems full of people who want to be good bad people.
The Civil War was about slavery, people. Nothing else.
Sure, you can hide the reasons for the war behind technicalities like States' Rights or the intrusions of the federal government, but all of those States' Rights dealt with slavery (concerning property, ie slaves) and all of those federal intrusions dealt with slavery (concerning property, ie slaves). To say that the Civil War wasn't about slavery is akin to saying that Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby was a poignant look at the life of a man who found success, lost it, and began an introspective journey to reclaim it rather than a movie that made fun of stupid rednecks.
The declarations of secession from the Confederate states read like "you wanna take my slaves away!!!" break-up letters. Pretty near 100% of their content deals with fear of abolitionists within the Republican party of that time putting the brakes on their desired caste system and either taking away their slaves (often by losing property claims to them outside of local or state government) or severely limiting the expansion of slavery. They're also clear that they view the negro as an inferior race. Hell, the freakin' President of the Confederate States of America, Jefferson Davis, was a rabid white supremacist, determined to maintain a caste system where you were, perpetually, what you were born as. And you wanna talk to me about rights? Shove those States' Rights right up your ass.
I've also seen a trend in the responses that's a HUGE tell. Stuff like, "Why are we wasting our time talking about a flag?! Don't you know what's going on in Tunisia/with ISIS/insert-random-tragedy?!!!" In other words, this flag discussion doesn't reflect well on them and what they believe, so they want you to look at something else. "Hey, don't look here! Look there!" Defensive deflection and diversion are sure signs of dishonesty, even if they're only lying to themselves.
How am I supposed to look at someone who proudly flies a Confederate flag as anything other than a traitor to the USA? I mean, isn't it treasonous to fly the flag of a sworn enemy of the United States? Wasn't the US the sworn enemy of the Confederacy? How bout it, 'Murica? How can you be all "proud American" while defending the flag of her enemies? So, how am I supposed to look at the defenders of the Confederate flag as anything other than stupid, ignorant, racist, treasonous, traitor, toothless rednecks?...or some combination thereof?
Generally speaking, and again at the accepted risk of sounding condescending, the vast, vast majority of the Confederate battle flag defenders that I'm seeing on social media aren't the brightest bulbs in the chandelier. That still doesn't make me feel much better, cause these non-thinkers and anti-intellectuals are the most likely to vote. They just need some red meat to chew on and get all emotionally-charged up about. Some of you may remember my post about the origins of "She Thinks My Tractor's Sexy", Dumbing Down. The same kinda thing has a political twist. Anyone remember the Merle Haggard songs "Walkin' on the Fightin' Side of Me" and "Okie From Muskogee"? You know, those tunes that get popular every time our redneck national pride is aroused and we're about to go to war? Yeah, well, ideologically, Merle Haggard couldn't be more removed from those songs if he wanted to be. He knew a stupid, emotionally-charged audience would pounce on the red meat in them. He was right.
Now, to what I spoke about a little earlier - the "abstracts" I remained affected by until the last decade or so. To clarify, affected in the sense that I voted Republican faithfully, all while the GOP was merely forwarding racist policies (things like "tax cuts"), specifically designed to appeal to racism and racist voters (in the southern and rural parts of America) and to keep people of color socially and culturally powerless, all while leaving racial terms out of the discourse and creating the illusion of racial neutrality. You see, the GOP today isn't the GOP of the mid 19th century. Not even close. Hell, it's not even close to the GOP of the mid 20th century. It's more akin to the Confederacy. In fact, it's nearly identical to the Confederacy. Nearly freakin' identical. You wanna know when the GOP began changing for the worse? Right around the dawn of the Civil Rights era and the end of segregation. Don't believe me? Listen to the words of one of the most powerful men in the GOP in the 70s and 80s speak of the purpose behind the "Southern Strategy". As you listen, remember that he was one of the engines behind it, and was the guy who authored the "Reagan Revolution"...
Straight from the horses mouth. You can either believe it or live in denial.
I fear that most of the rural, conservative, white south would rather live in the fantasy that racism is no longer an issue in this country. Most of these are "good" Christian people. It must be fragrant living with your head up your ass.
I'd like to think that we, as a nation, can do better, but I'm not sure we can with all this proud stupidity.