Friday, June 19, 2015

A Slow About-face

It has taken me a long time to get here, but I have finally done a complete 180 with my opinion on getting rid of vestiges of the Confederacy.

Southerners might have lost the war, but we won the PR campaign, I would assume because the North was war weary and probably didn't see the harm.  When the Republican Party bought the 1876 Presidential election in exchange for withdrawing Federal troops from the former Confederate states, it ended Reconstruction and ushered in nearly a century of lynching, Jim Crow, voter suppression (okay, more than a century of that) and other methods of ensuring that the lowest white folks maintained a distinct advantage over most black folks.

I grew up in the South and was raised with the knowledge that Southern generals like Lee and Jackson were far superior to Yankee trash like Grant and Sherman both as tacticians and as gentlemen.  The noble cause of the South (states rights of course - had nothing to do with slavery) was brought down by there being just too damn many damn Yankees.

The view that we never really lost the war led to a South full of buildings named after Southern politicians and generals, statues of Confederate leaders in every town and US military bases named after Southern generals who made their career killing US military personnel.

I long ago lost any interest in the Rebel battle flag or any illusion that secession and the resulting war were about anything other than a burning desire to continue to have the right to own other human beings as personal chattel.  But I accepted the buildings like Saunders Hall at UNC and the military bases named for traitorous generals as pieces of history that we needed to remember.

It was only in the past few months that I've come to realize how incredibly wrong that is.  While Ta-Nehisi Coates maintained yesterday in the aftermath of the terrorist attack on African-American parishioners in Charleston that one doesn't have to compare it to the Holocaust to state the seriousness of racism in America, I think for some of us born and raised in the South that you do.  It wasn't until I started to consider whether I would think a building named for Goebbels or Himmler in a German university would be ok.  And the idea that US soldiers (white or black) would be serving on bases honoring generals who led troops responsible for killing hundreds of thousands of US soldiers suddenly became completely repulsive.

We're not going to forget the Civil War or Reconstruction or Jim Crow or mob violence and terrorism against black people if we don't have buildings named after racist KKK leaders on our university campuses any more than we're going to forget the horrors of WWII even though Germany doesn't still fly a flag with a swastika on it.  The thought of a young African-American student having to take a class in a building named after a KKK leader is completely abhorrent and should not happen anywhere.  

We're not covering up history by doing things like renamed Saunders Hall - we're recognizing that the myths that many of us grew up with were damaging self-serving lies and it's time we grew the fuck up.

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