Wednesday, April 14, 2010

argue that we can't judge people from the past by today's standards

This is a guest post by plastiknoise, who writes by way of introduction,

I am a freshman in college, and although I'm originally from Pakistan, I have lived in the United States for more than 16 years, and in Texas for more than 10. I have also mostly lived around minorities for my entire life. My academic and social justice interests center around anti-colonialism, anti-imperialism, and neo-Marxist theory, as well as resistance to globalization, and domestic efforts to promote peace, tolerance, awareness of privilege, and combating racism. I have a blog, where I post about left-leaning critical theories and high fashion. I'm a lot more fun than this description sounds.

With this post, I'd like to ask swpd readers for tips on dealing with situations such as this, and for advice on how we can foster dialogue about race relations within communities that may be resistant or apathetic to it (for example, college students in a Southern university).



The other day, one of my teachers messaged everyone and linked an editorial on the Virginia governor’s effort to promote a holiday for the Confederacy, or whatever it is that he wants to do. Roland S. Martin, an African American journalist, was defending himself after a lot of backlash for an initial piece that he wrote, in which he equated people who celebrate the legacy of the Confederacy with people who celebrate Nazis.

In this new piece, Martin argues that we cannot turn a blind eye to the action of the Confederates -- who so many are defending as just "doing what they thought was right, and defending their homeland, which is noble. Slavery was not the point of the Civil War, it was not the only issue at hand" -- and yet also maintain that Islamic extremists are terrorists. He says that both parties justify their opinion the same way, and use violence to extend political and moral goals.

Read the article here
, if you’d like.

In class, we discussed whether or not we thought Martin was accurate. As soon as I saw this message, I really dreaded this topic. I attend university in Texas, but in a minority-majority city and college. That specific class is about half minorities and half whites. I was dreading this topic because I knew that all the pocs would be sitting there thinking, "ok, this is kinda wrong. I have XYZ personal experience with racism, and some of it is due to slavery and how we treat foreigners in this country."

But I also knew that few would say anything, and that the white folk in the room would talk about how the Confederates were also defending their state and their interpretation of how a government should work, that they were fighting for their land, and that that is honorable.

I further sensed that I would say something using my background in critical race discourse, and it would go over everyone’s heads. And that of course, I’d get frustrated that people can gloss over the whole, owning HUMAN BEINGS thing, and focus on, "oh they were just doing what they thought was right."

And that’s exactly what happened.

Many of the white folks emphasized cultural relativism, maintaining that although slavery was a horrible thing, the Southerners didn’t know any better, and that we cannot judge them. They were just trying to protect their economy -- look at how the Southern states plummeted when slaves were taken away. They were also defending themselves against invaders, against pillagers, and defending their land. Wouldn’t you do that?

There was a student, who was black, sitting there and waiting to speak. It seemed like the discussion was making him uncomfortable. When he spoke up, he addressed how you could never justify slavery and that states’ rights were well and good, but how come everyone keeps forgetting these Southern folks had slaves?

One white kid said, well racism doesn’t really exist anymore. Neither does slavery. So it’s ok if we honor Confederates. They can’t do any more harm. Another guy said, oh well, you know General Lee was anti-slavery, but he did what he did because that’s what his people wanted.

The professor herself (a real nice gal, and white), started out the discussion on what I thought was a loaded statement. She talked about how anthropologists would study native populations or hunter-gatherer societies, and how if a child was born disabled they would kill it, and how the WHITE EUROPEAN anthropologists thought this was really terrible. She talked about the Nazis, and how some people thought Hitler was doing what was good for Germany. How far, she asked, should we take cultural relativism?

This was a horrible place to start the discussion, I thought. First of all, in regards to the hunter-gatherer societies, she did not even explain why they would kill people who were old, disabled, or unproductive. Many of these communities are acutely aware of the carrying capacity of their land. If every member cannot contribute, or if some member must be taken care of and will consume resources and not output anything, then the entire community is at risk. This is logical, for those societies, because they understand how fragile and scarce resources are for them.

Of course this doesn’t mean Americans should do this, or anyone else, but she didn’t even try to explain these claims. Even though she’s lovely, she once described a process where certain urban populations leave and certain others move in -- she was talking about gentrification. When I asked her, "Is gentrification what you mean?" she answered that gentrification isn’t all bad. Maybe those people don’t want to live there anymore. That’s why they move, not because rich whites come in and mess with the property values because they think poor pocs are "urban blights."

When I spoke up a few times and said, well I think you guys are forgetting that POCs are still really oppressed and face systemic discrimination all the time, and celebrating the folks responsible for promoting this discrimination will not help matters at all -- no one spoke to that. The white folks especially would jump around the issue of race. They did not acknowledge that the South is still facing de facto segregation, or that injustice still exists. They did not acknowledge that ending slavery was a major outcome of the Civil War.

I told them, if it was only about their economy, if they didn’t care about the slaves at all, then why did blacks have to deal with Jim Crow laws? Why are there still segregated proms in Mississippi? Why do people of color still face discrimination if the origins of this country had nothing to do with race?

I also mentioned, and this did indeed go over their heads, that the pattern of European and American conquest, the process of colonization, the idea of slavery, is not just, hey let’s force some people to do our work for us. These things are all about preserving a racial order and hierarchy. The South was operating on an economy that completely depended on Africans being exploited, not just anyone, but Africans specifically. This doesn’t change things, this doesn’t make the oppression any less real. Just because maybe you think white people in the South didn’t know any better doesn’t mean it didn’t hurt people.

Someone mentioned, we cannot judge people from history based on our values. And I said, sure. Morality evolves as humans evolve. But you know what? The subject at hand is, do we celebrate these folks NOW, in states that have large and marginalized populations of POCs? How are they going to feel? What are they going to think? Can I start celebrating Bin Laden because he’s a great event planner, and just say, "oh, those three thousand people that died, that’s pretty bad, but that’s not all that happened!"

But no one spoke to this, or even mentioned that yeah, I guess it is true that whenever Europeans take over, they place themselves at the top, that oh yeah, there are POCs in these areas -- wonder how they feel?

The last thing the professor did was point to a black girl who had not spoken, and was sitting there looking kind of depressed. “What do you think?”

The girl looked a little shocked that the professor had called on her. I don’t know if she was thinking about how the professor was probably only doing this because she's black, and she wants all these white people to know how a real live black person feels.

The girl just muttered the same thing, "no I don’t think its right. We can’t celebrate them…"

While I disagreed that the Confederates should be considered ‘terrorists’ as defined in the status quo, I said there's absolutely no way should they be celebrated, even if they were stupid ignorant folk who don’t know better. This suggested celebration is offensive to the millions of people who worked and still work against white supremacy and the mess that white imperialism has left behind, and to the millions who died and suffered because their exploitation was justified on some political level by whites.

To say that is not to make a personal judgment on the people who were caught up in things they couldn’t control, which is what many white people dwelled on. Instead, it's a judgment against the claims that we should promote things that normalize racism, that we should promote the idea that oppression is acceptable on some level, and that we should promote the idea that colonial powers do not conquer others and establish racial hierarchies.

I don’t think any of the white people understood this. When whites fail to understand how emotional and real oppression is, they cannot blame POCs for always looking at them suspiciously, or for being "radical" in thinking that major change needs to take place, and that whites need to be knocked off their pedestal.

If they don’t understand that we suffer, even if the causes are unintentional at times, if they don’t realize the implications and effects of their legacy on non-whites, then how are we supposed to not feel resentful?

97 comments:

  1. wow.... great post... I'm still shaking my head in disgust about Confederate History Month and what makes me even more sick are these pathetic (white) people trying to defend it.

    I'm also shocked about white people trying to justify white people's actions from the past. That's a new one for me.

    I will always think of plantation owners beating the shit out of slaves when I think of the Confederate flag. Or that black children, women and men were forcibly taken from each other, their families broken up and forced to work as slaves under the hot burning sun for hours. Or that black women were raped, sodomized, beaten and humiliated by white male slave owners. Even little black girls, too.

    Or how about that whenever slaves tried to escape for their lives, they would be re-captured, lashed over and over until their skins start to bleed, and then set on fire while still alive?

    I will always think of violent mob lynchings and I will always be haunted by these disturbing B/W photos from the early 20th century of black men hanging from nooses in trees, because of a white woman's false allegations of rape or just because they looked at a white woman or they were falsely accused of stealing...

    Yeah, the Confederate flag is really fucking "romantic."

    NOT!!!

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  2. I was livid when I read about the Confederate remembrance whatever week. I mean, yeah, we should remember the Civil War. But we should remember it for what it was: messed up. I don't understand how people can argue that the Confederates didn't know any better. You don't have to judge them by today's standards to know that they were wrong. There were plenty of people--white people--who thought they were wrong back then, too. And I'm saying this as someone whose great great great...grandfather was a Confederate soldier. I feel no need to defend my ancestor's actions or honor them, because part of what he was doing was defending slavery. I do often wonder what he'd think of my multiracial immediate and extended family now, though. I expect it would blow his mind.

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  3. By celebrating a person/people, you celebrate their deeds. The deed most memorable of the Confederates is their stance on slavery. So in effect, you celebrate their racist ways. It's unfortunate, (I say this because I'm not well schooled on American history and they may have done other good things) but that's the way it is. Hence no, I do not think celebrating them will be a good idea. The girl's statement of "it can't do anymore harm" is inaccurate and thoughtless. Au contraire, it will reopen old wounds.

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  4. The most frustrating thing to me about this situation is that the teacher was ill-equipped to handle the discussion she started. My first thought about how to start a dialogue of the kind you're looking for is to have someone knowledgeable in critical race theory.

    You're clearly knowledgeable, which is great, and I'm glad you were there to bring up the points you did, but since you are a peer, your influence may be marginal. For a subject that the students are already disinclined to discuss in any depth, that you are their equal and (in their minds) cannot teach them anything, would just be another reason not to listen.

    There's also the fact that you're a POC, which means that anything you say can be dismissed as hypersensitive ravings.

    So in these situations I have a fallback plan - a guy I'm sure you've heard of, Tim Wise. Under the pretext that having an educated white person tell them the same things that they ignore from people of color would, for them, lend the issue more legitimacy.

    I'm not sure if any of his talks address anything of relevance to this particular topic, but in general it might be worth looking into.

    Like this one:
    Tim Wise on the Pathology of Privilege

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  5. A few times I find it morbidly amusing that even when you just standards of the past by standards of the past--through objective facts of history or research, the views of contemporaries and narravities of the effected (in this case, slave narratives)--you're still seen as being in the wrong when it disagrees with them.

    @plastiknoise


    Ever cheerin' you on.

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  6. This was a fantastic post, and it's clear that your understanding of this issues was light-years ahead of your peers. I can imagine how frustrating it is to want to get beyond the racism 101 level with people and get blank looks.

    As for the solicitation for tips, I'm going to stew on that and come back.

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  7. The sad thing is all of these people who want to celebrate/honor the
    Confederacy are the same people who tell blacks to get over slavery and stop living in the past.

    And will get downright irate over it, the stupidity of people knows no bounds.

    Times up! The world has changed and they while they relive the past with costumes and romanticized fakery, the rest of us relive the past in order to educate ourselves and grow stronger.

    Fear not, they are only looking more and more ridiculous as time advances, court jesters to the rest of the world.

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  8. Here's what drives me so crazy about the attempts to celebrate the Confederacy in officially-recognized holidays:

    Even if you completely remove any mention of slavery (which would be so irresponsible it'd be absurd), the Confederacy was a group of states who left the Union. They seceded. They broke up the fucking country, and if they succeeded, the United States as we know them wouldn't exist.

    How the hell does one gloss over a) rebellion and breaking up a country and b) the reprehensible activity (slavery) endorsed by that rebel assembly of states, and then assume that celebrating that situation is okay?

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  9. I will never look at the Confederate Flag and see heroism, states' rights, and so forth. Every time I look at that damn flag, I see KKK, skinheads, Nazis, mass lynchings, slavery, just pure race hate. And no white person can jusify Confederate History Month to me. Ever. The Civil War revolve around a lot of issues, ONE OF THEM being slavery. No, not every Confederate soldier own slaves and many were simply fighting on whatever BS principle was fed to them at the time by very rich white men. Some whites neglect slavery's legacy - which is racism, discrimination - and the hardship black slaves experienced post slavery. There is NO acknowledgment of how systemic racism works or the inception of certain injustices POCs face in present day America. Honestly, it's like beating a dead horse with Civil War, slavery, and proud white arrogance and ignorance. I seriously doubt white Americans would ever celebrate an event or view a moment in history proudly if their race were the target of inhuman forms of labor, discrimination, and murder base on skin color. It's something how POCs are always told to a degree to look over whatever is offensive to us, view it the way whites do, and stop being so damn sensitive about 'nothing.' Ugh.

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  10. With this post, I'd like to ask swpd readers for tips on dealing with situations such as this, and for advice on how we can foster dialogue about race relations within communities that may be resistant or apathetic to it (for example, college students in a Southern university).

    I understand where your white classmates are coming from. I used to feel the same way about the history of white atrocities against people of colour - I was scared of what the implications of recognizing that I currently benefit from those historic acts would be. I didn't want to feel responsible for something so detestable. Unfortunately the common response is to try to minimize the contemporary results of those atrocities, and then to become and apologist for those that committed them. Which ironically makes the white person an active participant in perpetuating the racial oppression he/she would like to disown.

    I would suggest that the best way to get through to such people and foster dialog is through trying to analogize with the white person's own experience/background/a form of discrimination they recognize (even if such analogies are rough). Sexism, antisemitism, historic oppression of certain Europeans by other Europeans.

    I can see that not working with a lot of people, though, and just ending up derailing the conversation.

    The other thing might be calling people out on over-identifying with the oppressors. Like, "You acknowledge that the experience of being a slave, being brutalized, raped, and generally being treated like an animal is horrible? You would not want to go through that yourself or have anyone you love go through that? You acknowledge that African are human beings? And you are a human being? Then why are you defending the enslavers?" Something like that.

    And I would absolutely deconstruct the claim that Southerners were just ignorant and didn't know any better - it ignores the fact that there were plenty of voices speaking out against slavery, and shifts the focus from the experience of the people who were enslaved, which was atrocious regardless of the ignorance of the slave owners. But I suspect that the argument that would hold the most weight with people like your classmates would be that it infantalizes Southerners, and perpetuates the stereotype of Southerners as ignant slack-jawed yokels.

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  11. I'm sorry, but you don't need today's standards to know that slavery was wrong. They should have known it then, and as others have said, some of them did. If we white people want to keep patting ourselves on the back for the "great moral fortitude" that it took to recognize that enslaving other human beings is not a good idea, then we also have to recognize that the people who supported slavery knew exactly what was going on, and supported it. It's a slippery slope to say that racism is ignorance, and therefore we should excuse racists because they just don't know any better. Nobody would celebrate "nazi remembrance month" just because the "average german folk" supposedly didn't know about concentration camps. Give me a break.

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  12. The anti-slavery debate had been going on for 90+ years by the time of the Civil War. It's not as if the Confederates just happened to find out that other people thought that slavery was heinous.

    We are judging the Confederates today by 1861's standards - the standards of the Northern states.

    It is perfectly true that slavery was not the sole issue, but slavery was the basis of the Southern economy and of Southern electoral power (3/5th vote, etc).

    I do agree that Lincoln can't be totally rejected on the basis that he felt that the slaves were inferior but should be free. This was standard for the time - the majority of abolitionists did not regard slaves and free blacks as absolute equals to the white Anglo-dominant middle class from which the abolitionists came. I judge that he made the right, and achievable, choices. He was racist compared with a very few people of his generation and non-racist compared with the majority of white citizens of his generation. Lincoln is considered (rightly) racist by 2010 standards. Still, he was a great man.

    BTW, as a Northerner, I see flying the Confederate flag in state capitol buildings as a celebration of treason. Get over it, already, flag fetishists.

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  13. Lawd have mercy on Moi....

    *stretches, flexes, and breathes in deeply*

    1) Plastiknoise, you kick ass.

    2) As Tim Wise has stated and reposted a million times, the only reason the South honestly articulated at the time they sought to secede from the Union was that they wanted to continue slavery - revisionist history be damned; we cannot skip over this little tidbit right here. Anyone who tries to gloss over this fact should be hung, drawn, and quartered.

    3) Yes, many Confuckerate soldiers were duped into fighting for enslavers even though they themselves were penniless and on the grind. No...they do not deserve honor and sympathy.

    They were grown-ass men who chose to buy into the bullshit and fight. They wanted to feel superior to and be treated better than Africans. Most of them didn't own Africans - true, true - but some of them were in positions of power over them (foremen, overseers, etc.) which allowed them free reign to abuse Africans (read the so-called "Slave Narratives", goddamn it). These men whipped fellow human beings, raped them, pried their children and spouses, from their arms, hauled them to and from the auction block. They sided with "Massa" in all things, and they each hoped to be a "Massa" someday.

    May they burn in hell for all eternity.

    4) Hate speech is not covered by the First Amendment - fuck what you've heard. The Confuckerate flag in itself is a form of hate speech, and a particularly vicious, sociopathic form at that. It is the rallying symbol of those who staunchly supported the torture and exploitation of fellow human beings, so much they were willing to wage a civil war, kill their own people, and even die to protect their right to dehumanize others.

    Where was that dogged determination and resolve when it came to doing their own damn farming, building, hauling, cooking, and cleaning? What's with the intermittent laziness? They had the energy to kill off the original inhabitants of the land. They later had the energy to blow holes into each other... but an honest day of nonviolent work was...what, just too much for them?

    Anyways, I think we should demand a law be passed which will heavily fine drivers and homeowners who openly display Confederate flags. Think of how much money the government would make over the next few months. Talk about fixin' this recession....

    5) Ankhesenology moment: And another thing...why is it that white people repeatedly tell black people to get over slavery because it ended 150 years ago, and yet have the gall to try to honor and celebrate the army which fought to extend slavery?

    And why are these the same people who always say their "ancestors didn't own slaves"?

    *blinks*

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  14. @ R.A., Lhunfindel, & Ju -

    Excellently stated, all of you. Awesome, awesome points!!!

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  15. @ Deaf Indian Muslim Anarchist
    I'm also shocked about white people trying to justify white people's actions from the past. That's a new one for me.

    Sadly it is OOOOH too common. I've dealt with this romanticizing of the civil war my entire life. My uncle is one of the Sons of the Confederacy in VA that pushed for this 'celebration'. I'm not surprised AT ALL that slavery was left out by the governor of VA. It is an almost amazing mental feat that many white people have been able to accomplish... in that they can celebrate the confederacy with absolutely no mention of slavery. It's like an unpleasant afterthought or something, the big elephant in the room that nobody wants to acknowledge. I've heard every explanation in the book for why it was not a war against slavery. I confess to having swallowed some of it myself in the past because my father said it. The civil war (at least here in the south) is the absolute pinnacle of white blindness IMHOP. My mother's pet phrase is 'well they were a man of their time'. It's bizarre. I am not ashamed to be a southerner and we are not all ignorant, but there has been some serious brainwashing going on for the past 150 years. I think part of the problem is all of these movies/books that romanticize the south (beautiful southern belles, gallant men defending their homes) that push the issue of slavery to either a prop in the background or make it seem like the slaves were all treated well and just loved their masters. I think that genre should be put to rest for once and for all. But there are still plenty of romance novels and even mainstream movies (Cold Mountain pretty much ignored slaves) that rehash this stuff over and over. I also believe that we white southerners need to begin to challenge this among ourselves. Because when 'yankees' or 'foreigners' do it many of us get even more willfully stubborn.

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  16. @Xander and Alana Cole-Faber

    I completely agree on not needing to defend your ancestors. I'm the mixed race great-great-great grandchild of Mississippi slaveowners and while I acknowledge my family history and the family my grandfather came from, I feel no need to honor them. Ironically, my Southern grandfather was more accepting of my non-white father than my Nothern grandmother who has said in the past "The Confederate flag stands for state's rights" (ironically her family were Yankees)

    @NancyP
    Exactly. To flag fetishists: You lost a war over 150 years ago. Get over it.

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  17. In total agreement with the comments in this thread. What's interesting about your white classmates' responses is their willingness to "contextualize" slavery with cultural (moral?) relativism arguments but only to the extent that it exculpates white people. Apparently, black people have no context - or frame of reference that matters, really. If white people didn't know slavery was wrong, whipping the flesh off of sentient beings was wrong, etc.,...surely the slave rebellions and abolitionist work were a clue. It's not as if pro-slavery whites lived in a vacuum, sealed off from any knowledge of disapproval. Guess acknowledging many whites knew it was wrong but just didn't care makes white people look bad - and we can't have that! Not when they are the ruler against which all POC must be measured!


    I am not surprised by the willful white ignorance you encountered: a group of white guys at my American school dressed up in white sheets, with flashlights, marched over to a black student's residence and demanded he come out...many other white students argued those guys shouldn't be punished and "they didn't know they looked like the KKK!" Cuzzzz we live in a post-racial world and white guys disguising their identities in white sheets has no context. Ah, the luxury of selective racial memories...how blissful.


    Neither those students nor the ones in your class chose to understand...I'm sure some of them believe we're not fully human, which makes the terrorism conducted by the KKK and the white supremacist structure of slavery "justifiable." That's why I've encountered many non-blacks who believe slavery is incontrovertible proof of inherent black inferiority and that slavery should be the shame of black people ("you were too weak/stupid to avoid it!"). Therefore, WP should be allowed to embrace potent symbols of racial terrorism (cultural relativism FTW!) as a celebration of their culture in that time period (black feelings, then/now, are irrelevant b/c black people = not human, I mean would you consult your livestock about what party frock to don?)...sigh

    How else to explain white Americans holding weddings at plantations? *retch* It's always struck me as ghoulish.

    God bless you for having the endurance to struggle against willful, deliberate ignorance. My experience, as WOC, is that attempts to foster dialogue about racism/race relations within apathetic/resistant communities is an exercise in futility. At times, it's like howling into the void. This is where white allies can step in. I think the suggestion re: Tim Wise is a good one.

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  18. Co-signing Moi's post.

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  19. This is a very good post. Thank you. I'm sorry that I don't have much advice to give in terms of dealing with it; I'm not very silver-tongued and usually just end up frustrated and flabbergasted when people are so ignorant.

    @Moi: Wow, I want to have this stuff down on notecards or something. You articulated so succinctly many thoughts that I've had related to this confederate pride nonsense.

    I don't get why confederate flags aren't seen as just as poisonous and hateful as nazi imagery. I remember the first time I saw someone displaying the confederate flag on their truck (I am from Illinois so it was even more baffling to me at the time). I talked to my history teacher about it and I was told that it was unfortunately permitted (I had assumed it was illegal). It didn't make any sense to me, seeing as it's both an emblem of racism and an attempt to break up the country.

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  20. As Lhunfindel also points out, I'm always intrigued by how white folks want us to quit bringing up slavery but want to celebrate the Confederate Soldiers.

    No, that's not ironic or stupid.

    Makes sense. You celebrate your history, and I'll mourn mine in silence so that it doesn't disturb your parades and shit. Wouldn't wanna do that. Wouldn't want to remind you that you're celebrating, essentially, the torture of humans.

    I'm also...umm...perturbed, maybe, by the assertion that the Southerners were too ignorant to know any better. Really? Honestly? And we wonder why folks think Southerners are stupid. Probably because the white ones like to use it as an excuse for horrible actions.

    Oh and "you can't use today's morals to assess the past" thing? PLEASE stop. First off, yes I can. Secondly, what is with this insistence that we make those Southerners seem so incapable of rational thought? I'm almost insulted that someone would want me to go "oh, yeah, they were too stupid to know you can't beat people."

    @Godheval- I agree with your point on the professor. Which may be a whole other SWPD post in itself. A professor who truly understood the implications would have also understood she needed a better handle on the discussion. That includes not calling out silent POCs... Nothing grinds my gears worse than white professors who want to make POCs speak up in such discussions. You wanted to have this, you have it. I'll be quiet if I want to.

    @Moi- I'm using "Confuckerates" henceforth. I hope you're ok with that.

    As for the authors request for tips...

    Race conversations in an academic setting are SO tricky when it's a class make-up like what you describe. One idiot? You can fix him. Half a room full? They feed off each other and the idiocy only grows exponentially. One thing to keep in mind is that it can be easier (especially when alone -- as in not too many other people in the room can articulate certain ideas) to deconstruct the same idea over and over if you can find the same idea running through a majority of comments. This of course means that other dumb things that are said are left to either only be slightly combated, if at all -- but it will mean you might be able to get one large and good point across rather than seeming all over the place.

    But honestly, having a professor Who doesn't know what she's doing? that's like asking for it to blow up and be a mess almost from jump. You almost can't fix that kind of b.s.

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  21. Moi:

    "Confuckerate" is an awesome word! Imma gonna use that

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  22. Speaking of romanticizing the confederacy just made me think of the song "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down." A song that I have mixed feelings about because I absolutely love the tune, but the lyrics just make me think "well boo f-ing hoo for you. Excuse me while I play the world's smallest violin."

    So I just looked the song up on Wikipedia. And discovered that it was written by a Canadian. Quoting from Wikipedia on how the song-writer got the idea for the lyrics:

    Robertson continued, "When I first went down South, I remember that a quite common expression would be, 'Well don't worry, the South's gonna rise again.' At one point when I heard it I thought it was kind of a funny statement and then I heard it another time and I was really touched by it. I thought, 'God, because I keep hearing this, there's pain here, there is a sadness here.' In Americana land, it's a kind of a beautiful sadness."

    So, yeah. Clearly. not just a Southerner problem. A problem of whites totally forgetting about the experiences of black people who were oppressed and instead identifying with the oppressor.


    Also, I was reminded of the episode of The Simpsons where Apu gets his citizenship, and one of the questions on the exam "what was the cause of the Civil War." Apu starts going on about the complexity of the factors involved, including economic reasons, and the examiner interupts with, "just say 'Slavery'."

    Showing how widespread the myth-making is. (Economic factors? You mean the economy built on slavery?)

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  23. I'm flabbergasted by both the behavior of your professor and your classmates. Unfortunately their opinions are all too common.

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  24. Echoing the points by Godheval and A.Smith, the whole thing sounds like an example of how a "safe space" classroom discussion is entirely unsafe for POC, but the white professor isn't educated enough to see how.

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  25. I think everyone else has covered the things I wanted to say, so I won't repeat.

    I do want to reiterate to the other white teachers or future teachers out there who may be reading this post and get thrown off by the actual discussion that occurred. -- This should be a reminder to all of us to NOT put our students of color in the position plastiknoise's professor did - no matter how well-intentioned and nice we may be. I sat here with my stomach in knots imagining how ganged up on, disrespected, and misunderstood her students of color must have felt during this conversation. That doesn't mean that we shouldn't be talking about race. We just need to be aware of - well, everything this blog is about "stuff white people do (and say).

    I think that if a white teacher is going to lead a discussion on a charged topic such as this one, or any topic of race in general - it is our responsibilities to make sure that we are creating a safe space for our students of color to share their opinions. And not only that - we really need to be on our a-games to take down the BULLSHIT that our other students are going to say which will place our students of color in the position of being on the receiving end of racist comments. It's so important that we read these common responses from WP, and find ways to dismantle those comments so that discussions aren't taken away from their points and unsafe spaces aren't being created.

    plastiknoise, I really appreciated your post. I look forward to more comments on it.

    ReplyDelete
  26. The OP and all the comments have done a great job of the "thing itself": what's wrong with celebrating the Confederacy. I'd like to make several other comments on this.

    One is that the dominant discourse in Germany (as I understand from people who have studied it) is to require people to learn about Nazism and genocide as part of what it means to be German: “we have been capable of evil in the past and we have to take steps to avoid doing it again.” I know things in Germany are a lot more complicated than that simple statement, but I do think there is a way of having an identity that comes to terms with a bad past. Unlike the celebration of the Confederate identity.

    I'm as uncomfortable with "blaming" Confederate enlisted men for slavery as I am with blaming US military personnel for the Iraq War. I'm not disagreeing that everybody knew slavery existed and that it was wrong, just saying that getting swept up in a war is a pretty complicated process. But even saying that, it is still no reason to lift up the Confederate flag and celebrate the Confederacy today given what it was about. It seems to me that the post-Reconstruction rehabilitation of the Confederate soldiers and the rise of the "brother against brother" rhetoric was about "healing" the White nation on the backs of Black people. It was about accepting Black subordination as a general principle of the country.

    Finally, as a professor, I know how easy it is to screw up a discussion like that. So I'm sitting here cringing knowing I'm capable of that kind of mistake. I certainly know enough not to single out a student of color like this professor did or the one did in Gloria's "assimilate" post. But setting up a class discussion on a race-charged issue in a mixed-race (and especially in a white-dominant) classroom in a way that won't blow up or make the students of color uncomfortable -- that's hard. It is very hard to guess in advance how a discussion is going to go, and sometimes you'll be caught off guard by something when things went fine the previous semester. But fear of this kind of blow up leads to avoiding talking about race or engaging controversial issues, and that isn’t good either. I'm going to send the link to this post around to a "teaching race" work group on my campus as an object lesson in what can go wrong if you don't think things through.

    The OP did a great job of dissecting where the set up with the hunter gatherer example was problematic. Although given the topic and setting, the discussion might have blown up anyway.

    ReplyDelete
  27. A.Smith said...

    @Godheval- I agree with your point on the professor. Which may be a whole other SWPD post in itself. A professor who truly understood the implications would have also understood she needed a better handle on the discussion. That includes not calling out silent POCs... Nothing grinds my gears worse than white professors who want to make POCs speak up in such discussions. You wanted to have this, you have it. I'll be quiet if I want to.


    Exactly. It's the perfect example of white privilege: showing up, as the teacher, underprepared for a complex subject and sitting back while the POC students do the work for her - even the silent one(s) got called into service (did she ask any quiet white students what they thought?). Maybe they should fire her and hire Plastiknoise instead. In addition to guiding the class discussion on a more intelligent course, she was obviously better prepared and had a more comprehensive understanding of the issues involved.


    @Moi- I'm using "Confuckerates" henceforth. I hope you're ok with that.


    I'm totally stealing this, too.

    ReplyDelete
  28. "I don't get why confederate flags aren't seen as just as poisonous and hateful as nazi imagery."
    About a century's worth of passed time in part, I think.

    ReplyDelete
  29. @ Macon,

    Look at the recent dialogue in this thread, including your committment to do better, and which actions you specifically committed to doing, and then look at Pambdelurion's comment. What's (not) missing?

    ReplyDelete
  30. @TAB,

    Um, Pambdelurion's comment itself is (not) missing? And you think it should be missing, that is, that it shouldn't have been published?

    If that's what you're driving at, I'll respond further. If not, please do explain what you're driving at . . .

    @ Geneva and Pambdelurion,

    Just who is it that you're saying doesn't see the Confederate flag as poisonous and hateful? Seems like a lot of people, especially a lot of non-white people, do see it as exactly that.

    ReplyDelete
  31. @Macon,

    My point in writing it that way was to say that, according to your newly-pledged dedication to "getting it," you would either screen out a comment like that or, if you let it in, you would provide a brief comment of your own addressing it.

    I saw it here (not missing), without commentary from you (missing).

    ReplyDelete
  32. @TAB,

    I see. I hadn't gotten to commenting on that other comment yet, and so included commentary on it in my reply to you.

    I will strive to comment in reply to such reply-worthy comments more quickly.

    Does my reply to that objectionable comment sufficiently address your objections to it?

    ReplyDelete
  33. By logical extension of Pambdelurion's comment, in a few more decades, swatiskas can become harmless fashion statements, a celebration of cultural pride, perhaps even in emotional solidarity with a once-proud, vanquished people: you know, the non-Jewish Aryans, the true victims (as opposed to the Jews, Slavs, homosexuals, Blacks, and other non-Aryans that were rounded up and killed like so many hogs for slaughter). Maybe they can even hoist Nazi flags from government buildings too. Because the repulsiveness of savagery is apparently time-sensitive.

    ReplyDelete
  34. Pamb's comment was confusing, I read it about five times before I saw the deal. Geneva's comment is (unless I'm mis-reading it too) an assertion that the Confederate flag is offensive. Pamb's question following the quote seems to imply that 100 years is long enough to make it not offensive. So I don't think they should be lumped together.

    So addressing Pamb's comment and not whether Macon should have posted it: the original post and the comments already addressed this question. Short version: a lot of us think slavery and its consequences are bad enough that we are offended by the flag of a movement whose central agenda was to preserve slavery. Passage of time doesn't change that because the divisions in our country arising from slavery are still very real.

    Also, the "passage of time" argument (as other commenters said) also applies to why someone would want to wave the flag. In fact, lots of symbols last a long time as long as there are communities of people for whom they have meaning.

    ReplyDelete
  35. Macon, Geneva's comment to me, sounds like she wonders why people are still flaunting Confederate flags because they are as offensive as Nazi imagery, and it would be socially unacceptable to display that in everyday life. I think Pambdelurion's comment sounds like "it's been 150 years - you should be over it by now" or Oppression Olympics "the wound is newer for Jews." It doesn't further discussion and answers a rhetorical question sarcastically. Maybe I've misinterpreted it. But that's how I took it. But as it stands, I agree that it shouldn't be here.

    ReplyDelete
  36. @ Pambdelurion
    "I don't get why confederate flags aren't seen as just as poisonous and hateful as nazi imagery."About a century's worth of passed time in part, I think.

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but hasn't the Confederate flag been used continuously since the Civil War? By people who took pride not only in their slave-owning past, but also their segregationist society and Jim Crow laws, and white supremacy? Which officially ended much more recently than World War II, and still haven't been entirely eliminated defacto.

    I don't think that another hundred years of history will make it okay for people to start slapping swastika bumper stickers on their trucks. It's still used as a symbol of hatred today, and will continue to be into the forseeable future.* As will the confederate flag.

    The confederate flag is not a charming historical symbol. It's a contemporary symbol of real hatred.




    *with the exception of the specific context of the South-Asian religions from which the nazis appropriated the swastika, obviously. The

    ReplyDelete
  37. Thank you all for your further input on Pambdelurion's comment.

    I initially read it as a reference to (white) America's short historical memory/attention span (a common white tendency that I consider worthy of attention and critique). I also thought that both it and Geneva's comment basically used "people" as a stand-in for all people, when they really meant white people, and so I commented to that effect above.

    Now I see further problematic implications in both posts.

    Do those of you who do as well think that I should now delete those two comments?

    ReplyDelete
  38. A.Smith said:

    "I'm also...umm...perturbed, maybe, by the assertion that the Southerners were too ignorant to know any better. Really? Honestly? And we wonder why folks think Southerners are stupid. Probably because the white ones like to use it as an excuse for horrible actions."

    Yes, yes yes! Exactly. There's a big problem with the way that we use words to address race issues - particularly "ignorance". As human beings we have a tendency to assume, whether rightly or wrongly, that people who don't agree with us are ignorant or less intelligent. Therefore racists, besides being despicable and hateful, are assumed to be less well-educated. This isn't really an incorrect use of the word "ignorant"-after all, prejudice is based on ignorance, and white privilege perpetuates itself by being taken for granted, unconsciously, by white people.

    But lets think about where that leaves us: it's easy to say of a racist classmate that "they were raised by stupid racist parents, therefore they don't know any better", but doesn't that just exonerate the oppressor and justify the suffering of the oppressed?

    It's far, far too easy to let people off the hook for their racism by calling it ignorance because you can't blame someone for something they never knew--but do we honestly believe that anyone in this country doesn't know that the confederacy, and indeed this entire Continent was built by the sweat and blood of PoC? Do we honestly believe that our ELECTED OFFICIALS are so stupid? How can you possibly organize Confederate History Month and then claim that you just "forgot to mention" slavery?!? There it is again, the ignorance argument. Must be pretty great to be able to forget what the Confederate flag really means.

    @ Pambdelurion, it really doesn't matter how much time has passed, because the facts of history will never change. There will never be a time when Nazi imagery is acceptable, just as there will never be a time when the Confederate flag is acceptable. These symbols are still used today, by white supremacist groups, to terrorize PoC and remind them that they live in a white supremacy. So how do you think it makes PoC in VA feel to see their government proudly displaying an image of hatred?!? I'd say that's institutional racism at it's finest, not to mention a pretty clear message about who is and isn't welcome in VA.

    Show me a real post-racial world, and then maybe I'll be okay with being "post-racial". Until then, the Confederate flag will never, ever be okay.

    ReplyDelete
  39. Man, I gotta get out more. I didn't know people actually defended the Confederacy, no matter what the context.

    ReplyDelete
  40. Marissa said...
    Correct me if I'm wrong, but hasn't the Confederate flag been used continuously since the Civil War? By people who took pride not only in their slave-owning past, but also their segregationist society and Jim Crow laws, and white supremacy? Which officially ended much more recently than World War II, and still haven't been entirely eliminated defacto.

    Agreed. And in at least one State, the 13th Amendment wasn't ratified until 1995...and even that's (still) not official. So technically, Mississippi didn't abolish slavery until 15 years ago. So I guess people in Mississippi can either be "reasonably" outraged about Confederacy paraphernalia and proposed month-long commemorations, or at least refrain from celebrating, until 2095. After that, they can join in on the festivities like Virginia has.

    ReplyDelete
  41. Agreed. And in at least one State, the 13th Amendment wasn't ratified until 1995...and even that's (still) not official. So technically, Mississippi didn't abolish slavery until 15 years ago.

    Wow. I had no idea about that.
    Knowing that adds context to the story that a Mississippi school board still needs a court order to get it to comply with Brown v. Board of Education

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  42. Someone mentioned, we cannot judge people from history based on our values. And I said, sure. Morality evolves as humans evolve. But you know what? The subject at hand is, do we celebrate these folks NOW, in states that have large and marginalized populations of POCs? How are they going to feel? What are they going to think?

    I hope this isn't too off-topic, but I think it's related: this is what gets me about people who argue that we can and should watch Gone with the Wind and read Huckleberry Finn and so on without examining them, because they were "fair for their day" and "that's how everyone thought back then" and, again, "you can't impose today's morality on a different time period." As if we got from then to now through some kind of wormhole, and the past and present aren't located on a direct continuum -- and as if today's society isn't still a place where we consume those books and movies and their portrayals of POC and race relations and our own history. It's the same mindset that thinks the Confederate flag only "used to" stand for slavery and lynchings, and time has magically changed its meaning. It's almost paradoxical: They preserve the past as thoroughly as possible, and their justification in doing it is how different things are.

    ReplyDelete
  43. Thank you so much for your input and thoughts, guys. It makes me feel a lot better, because asides from two or three people, no one would understand this experience.

    I even went and talked to a professor I work with, who specializes in postcolonialism and critical race theory.

    He said EXACTLY the things you guys did. He was shocked but not surprised. He thought the professor should have been more sensitive about how this topic would affect students, but also about how most Confederacy defending is just masked racism. I mean why are you even trying to 'expand our minds' or whatever by asking us to consider or justify the root of POC oppression (in the US)?

    I do really think she's a lovely lady, but once more, this is not a 'for fun' kind of a thing to discuss. It has serious implications.

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  44. So what WERE the standards of the past, then? Weren't the Southerners of those times also God-fearing Christian people?

    For anyone to claim Christianity and think it is own slaves is hypocrisy and ignorance of the compassionate and humane spirit of that religion. So even by the standards of the day, which were largely based on Christian morality, you could argue the Confederates were immoral.

    I find it interesting when many Americans (particularly conservative ones) express their reverence for "the Founding Fathers", as if they were saintly figures whose philosophies (on things like gun rights) are beyond reproach and still applicable today. Yet question the same people on slavery and they will argue "but it was a different time..."


    Btw, Macon, no need to delete those posts, let people make up their own mind - there is room for interpretation.

    ReplyDelete
  45. Not to overuse the Hitler comparison, but I think this could actually make a decent argument as far as dealing with that particular argument.

    Realistically, the Nazis did a lot of good things for Germany, if you were a white, non-jewish Nazi supporter. They improved the economy, united German-speaking people under one government, undid (at least temprarily) some of the humiliation Germany suffered at Versailles...But.

    Despite their contributions (temporary ones, of course, since Germany isn't all that proud of them today,) to German unity and national pride, people do not fly the Nazi flag, or hold holidays in their honour, becuase whatever worthwhile stuff they may have done if we over look the whole persecution and genocie thing, the persecution and genocide thing is TOO BIG TO OVERLOOK!!!

    It's a similar point here: Sure the south may have been standing for states' rights, and trying to keep their economy running, and their war may seem very justifiable if we overlook the whole slavery thing...but slavery, like genocide, is too big a crime to overlook.

    The confederate flag may represent honour and independence and southern values to some people, but it is also the flag of a "country" that treated blacks as not really human, undeserving of rights or protection. When you fly a flag you fly all of it, not just the shiny unstained parts.

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  46. @ Olivia

    Agreed. We do need to think critically and judge literature from the past by today's standards.

    Though I would oppose removing books like Huck Finn from the curriculum on the basis of their racism. They need to be read and analyzed so that students can understand that racism has always been an intrinsic part of American history, reflected even in the most beloved works of literature and popular culture. Pretending that racist books/authors didn't exist is not constructive.

    That said, plastiknoise has illustrated pretty clearly what can go wrong when teachers and professors are ill-equipped to deal with discussions of race. I have to wonder whether I'd really want my kids reading something like "Heart of Darkness" without a good professor, well-versed in post-colonial criticism, to analyze all of its complexities.

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  47. Olderwomen said:
    "One is that the dominant discourse in Germany (as I understand from people who have studied it) is to require people to learn about Nazism and genocide as part of what it means to be German: “we have been capable of evil in the past and we have to take steps to avoid doing it again.”
    I have heard this as well from my German friends.In fact all Nazi symbols are banned in Germany.
    Yet in America we want to romanticize the Confederacy.It makes no sense to me.We like Germany should own up to our past and teach this in our schools.
    We have Columbus Day which celebrates the beginning of White supremacy in the Western hemishere ... isn't that enough?

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  48. @Eurasian Sensation
    I agree with what you wrote though I suspect gun control is more about restricting the rights of POC to own guns then white people.

    ReplyDelete
  49. Co-signing TAB and R.A.

    And y'all, thanks for the love on "Confuckerate." By all means...share the wealth.

    As for this..."debate" about imposing today's judgment on yesterday's sins...oh, please. When it comes to whites misbehaving, there's always been a "debate".

    Now...these folks whom we supposedly can't judge, they were Bible-readin' folk, right? I mean, that's what so-proudly-they-hailed, ain't it? So...does "thou shalt not kill" ring a bell to y'all? Does "thou shalt not steal" trigger any memories whatsoever for anyone? How's about a classic: "Do unto others as thou wouldst have done until you" - sound familiar? Anyone?

    You're telling me these shitheads honestly didn't know it was wrong to kill, rape, steal, enslave...and avoid doing an honest day's work like the plague? Seriously?

    No...seriously?

    Have white people gotten that desperate to avoid facing their own history? I'm not even offended, to be honest. In fact, this is seriously starting to border on amusing, and not in that "we'll all laugh about this together" kinda way.

    No, no...this is like watching a history-in-the-makingly epic train wreck...and being unable to turn away.

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  50. One way to deal with this, but from my point of view I certainly can't say you should have handled it this way (due to an obvious range of repercussions), is to pick a strategic time during the class to stand up, make a statement, and walk out. It's probably the sort of response your white asshole classmates haven't witnessed before, and with any luck, they'd find a walkout a lot more memorable (and hopefully worthy of discussion) than the useless blabber that was going on in "class".

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  51. Ya know, those "poor white farmers" who did not own slaves and fought on the side of the confederacy did indeed "know better." It is really too easy to go by the whole "time and place" theory... somehow stating that these folks should not be held accountable for their actions. That is bogus. First it is bogus because slavery really wasn't all that long ago relatively speaking. Secondly, there were Christian abolitionists running around at that time with the good book in hand not only passing out literature saying that slavery was against a Christian God, but they preached it openly too. Those southern Whites knew exactly what was going on and how wrong it was, but as usual they did not care because the institution of slavery kept them feeling superior when they were little more than poor, uneducated plebes that the wealthy plantation owners probably wouldn't spit on.

    I did write to Governor McDonnell (I've lived in south eastern VA now for about 3 years -- can't stand it) to rescind that ridiculous glorification of the Confederacy. I am not against knowing one's history... Confederate history must be taught and relics must be placed in a museum. What I am against is the holding up high of the ridiculous notion that these people did not understand what they were doing and therefore they should be cast in a softer light.

    They just did not care as long as they were on a higher level of the food chain...

    ReplyDelete
  52. Doublethink:
    "The power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one's mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them....To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies — all this is indispensably necessary. Even in using the word doublethink it is necessary to exercise doublethink. For by using the word one admits that one is tampering with reality; by a fresh act of doublethink one erases this knowledge; and so on indefinitely, with the lie always one leap ahead of the truth." George Orwell, 1984

    Politicians in both parties do this every single day. However, white pundits like Pat Buchanan praise and romanticize the south while at the same time condemn certain aspects of the the confederacy, being careful so as not to condemn the whole. Some whites are able to harbor two distinct trains of thought with regard to slavery/racism- denouncing one aspect of the system, while at the same time lauding the treasured traditions and noble spirit as if slavery/racism did not exist. Press them on the matter and some literally trip over themselves trying to keep the two concepts separate as Chris did with Pat Buchanan

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  53. @Eurasian Sensation.
    So what WERE the standards of the past, then? Weren't the Southerners of those times also God-fearing Christian people?

    There was a lot of twisting of the bible and Christian principals. Many of the southern religious leaders did some serious cherry picking to find passages in the bible that justified slavery. If you search around the internet you can find some pretty disturbing 'sermons' from the time. Slaves were required to convert to Christianity for the most part, and slaveholders were very selective about what they were taught. For instance, the story of Moses was not something that slaveholders liked being taught to slaves. Slaves were taught about the great rewards they would see in heaven if they were loyal to their master. A very sad example of twisting religion to fit an economic/political agenda. Not that this excuses any whites who went along with these views. It was a way of assuaging their conscious, trying to justify what they new deep-down was wrong. The very fact that slavery was referred to in the South as the 'peculiar institution', shows that even those who supported it couldn't even name it for what it was. I guess the thought of money/power combined with a twisted view of religion was enough to keep most white southerners from thinking too deeply about the subject.

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  54. "I do really think she's a lovely lady, but once more, this is not a 'for fun' kind of a thing to discuss. It has serious implications."

    Right. And I think white teachers (and I count myself among the guilty) have to be VERY wary of a sort of "let's talk about race because it's so interesting" kind of approach.

    After I phenomenally fucked up in the classroom regarding race, I went to talk to a colleague. The colleague told me that his wife, who is black, had recently said to him in annoyance "all these white teachers talking about race, like they know something about it." Amen.

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  55. Great post. Moral relativism is one thing, but a large number of white people of the time disagreed with slavery. There's no "they didn't know any better" there - they knew better and committed treason against the US because they didn't want to stop owning slaves.

    Whenever someone tells me that the "War of Southern Treason" wasn't about slavery, I point out that in every single state manifesto declaring secession, defending slavery is stated as a reason. No other common subject exists across all the manifestos, only slavery.

    There is no moral relativism in this case, because moral relativism argues that a people do something that is moral in their eyes, like, to use the teacher's horrible example, allowing the elderly and the badly sick to die so that the whole society may survive due to limited resources. The Confederacy knew that slavery was considered morally repugnant by a number of their countrymen, and they didn't care.

    The Confederate History month is a fucking abomination.

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  56. Co-signing Mike & Olderwoman ( whom I'm startin' to fangirl just a lil bit).

    LOVING sewner, M. Gibson, and LolaAnn.

    And agreeing with riche:

    pick a strategic time during the class to stand up, make a statement, and walk out. It's probably the sort of response your white asshole classmates haven't witnessed before, and with any luck, they'd find a walkout a lot more memorable

    I had a lesbian roommate do this in one of her Poli Sci classes while we were still undergrads. Some shithead in her class was using the whole "homosexual marriage will end all marriage" argument. My roommate didn't even say anything. She just stood up and walked out...and hell yes, they remembered that.

    And in case they forgot, the professor dryly reminded them.

    Problem is, how do you get them to remember for the right reasons? You know...so don't they don't clap themselves on the back that they made someone storm out?

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  57. You know, when someone says that the Civil War wasn't about slavery, I sometimes want to ask them what they think would've happened if the South won.

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  58. @ sewner,

    Secondly, there were Christian abolitionists running around at that time with the good book in hand not only passing out literature saying that slavery was against a Christian God, but they preached it openly too.

    B-b-b-but sewner!!!! Darling, you're forgetting that white Christian abolitionists were nothing more than >self-hating race traitors and terrorists, oh my!

    By the way...why is that some WP can't add 1 + 1 and get 2? I mean, some WP will look at those historical figures and say, "Oh, yes, yes...they are heroes. They recognized a moral disorder in their society and they died fighting it." Ah...but they get mad at, say, Tim Wise for doing the same.

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  59. @Ju re: "How the hell does one gloss over a) rebellion and breaking up a country and b) the reprehensible activity (slavery) endorsed by that rebel assembly of states, and then assume that celebrating that situation is okay?"

    Exactly. I think the "states-rights" gambit was always just a way around the subject of slavery, which was the real issue. The Confederate leaders knew full well that they couldn't raise an army with the battle cry of "Let's fight and die to defend slavery!"

    The Northern states agreed at the beginning of the republic in the 1780s or so that slavery could not even be mentioned in Congress, much less debated, a condition of the Southern states for even joining the Union in the first place. "States rights" was the South's dog whistle term for the right to establish legal slavery. Slavery built the South, and because it was morally indefensible, it destroyed it as well. Let's just own that truth before we "move on."

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  60. @ Moi
    Problem is, how do you get them to remember for the right reasons? You know...so don't they don't clap themselves on the back that they made someone storm out?

    Agreed. That's the one reason I'd hesitate to do something like that. Probably a lot of those people would just shake their heads and lament how irrational and dramatic you were being, and if their ideas were so wrong then why couldn't you stay and defeat them in an open, civil debate?

    That rationale is completely twisted and ignorant obviously, but I never walk out in situations like this because I'm afraid they'll be thinking basically those things, and in an infuriatingly complacent/smug way, too. I usually try to stay and "win;" I feel satisfied also exhausted when that's accomplished, but desperately bleak when it isn't.

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  61. *morbid amusement coping mechanism rising*

    @attack laurel
    I rather do love doing that to [white] people. Maybe more so when they excuse themselves from doing so. I also do it when the subject of Texas comes up.

    @RVCBard
    Y'know, I'm gotta remember to try that one of these days. Though it makes me cringe as a former fan of alternate history because (to me) a third of the genre is about the Southern Treason/Civil War (often with the South winning) and the other third is about World War II (often with Germany winning). The last third, mainly white people owning all of history... even when the locus of world power isn't white.

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  62. re: "General Lee was anti-slavery . . ."

    As a specific refutation of this common point, here's a link to a speech at Lee's manor house by historian Elizabeth Brown Pryor in which she debunks this myth and explains why it was promulgated. The relevant passage is at about minute 55:00 to 1:04:00 or so.

    http://www.c-spanarchives.org/program/ID/175482

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  63. @Macon: I didn't make what I wanted to say clear enough. What I meant was "I don't get why confederate flags aren't [universally] seen as just as poisonous and hateful as nazi imagery."

    I know many white people who find the flag repulsive, but those who have found it acceptable have been white Americans.

    There was an implication of whiteness, and I apologize. I should have known to specify.

    As for Pamb, no, that argument doesn't stack up, as Marissa and others have called to attention.

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  64. What KJ said.

    Also, what OlderWoman said.

    Also, Robert E. Lee was absolutely NOT anti-slavery. This canard gets thrown around all the time. Go read this post by the excellent Ta-Nehisi Coates at the Atlantic Monthly for more info on that:


    http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2010/04/the-ghost-of-bobby-lee/38813/

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  65. [shaw, regarding your rejected comment: you need to read this post. ~macon]

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  66. The professor was wrong in several ways:

    1. Setting up the topic of racial oppression as though it is an "interesting" topic with no emotional weight.

    2. Setting up discussion as though a Confederate celebration is a debatable issue (it's not).

    3. Setting up discussion that values all interpretations as equal (they aren't)

    4. Confusing Debate with Discussion (Debate derails, discussion explores)

    5. Setting up an ahistorical debate of a text (the celebration) rather than encouraging exploration of the processes and ideologies that produced it or rhetorical analysis of the supporters discourse.

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  67. It is bad to assume that just because it is "the past" that the standards are different, like being in the future automatically makes them better off....it is a materialistic perspective...judging the barbarism of the past by the lens of the material comfort of today...in reality they have the same modes of behavior and operation...it is just hidden beneath the material comfort....

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  68. The existence of white abolitionists shows that White people in that time did have some sort of recognition of the wrongness of slavery.

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  69. Speaking as a white southerner, I'm horribly ashamed of my state's past and do not understand why other white's want to celebrate it as they do.

    I'm deeply sorry, plastiknoise, that my home state was the setting of this disastrous conversation.

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  70. "I initially read it as a reference to (white) America's short historical memory/attention span."
    That was more or less what I was going for. That and a possible explanation for why some white people might consider the Confederate flag to be less offensive than Nazi symbolism.

    I was not *defending* that viewpoint (though in retrospect it sounds like I was), and I sure as hell wasn't defending the use of the Confederate flag.

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  71. Pambdelurion,

    Your intentions don't matter here -- the effects of your actions (in this case, of your written words) do. There's no good reason here to explain what you MEANT to say.

    Do you have anything to say about the effects of your previous comment?

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  72. RVCBard said...
    "You know, when someone says that the Civil War wasn't about slavery, I sometimes want to ask them what they think would've happened if the South won."

    Someone else wondered that very same thing, hence:
    C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EViGaTSnqRw


    "C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America is a 2004 mockumentary directed by Kevin Willmott. It is a fictional "tongue-in-cheek" account of an alternate history in which the Confederates won the American Civil War and established control over all of the United States. This viewpoint is used to satirize subsequent issues and events in American culture. C.S.A was released on DVD on August 8, 2006."

    One wonders if left unimpeded slavery could have continued to this present day. However, there are some in the tea party and without- who would have us return to this peculiar institution, where things (in their eyes) make sense.

    Now remember, this is a mockumentary; tasteless in some aspects I would venture, but truly, a revelation. When one witnesses the venom spewed across our television screens in the name of freedom and democracy it’s not that hard to acknowledge that something like this could have happened.

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  73. Pambdelurion said...
    "I initially read it as a reference to (white) America's short historical memory/attention span."
    That was more or less what I was going for. That and a possible explanation for why some white people might consider the Confederate flag to be less offensive than Nazi symbolism."

    Considering whites have committed the most egregious of atrocities under the shadow of both the American flag as well as the Swastika its difficult for any reasonable person to make such a distinction. Albeit the German standard seems to be the worse of the two only because it occupies our most recent memory- while slavery it is thought- happened so long long ago- in a galaxy far far away. For some whites, it’s not even worth mentioning.

    The swastika has already been romanticized the same way the confederate flag is- a return to simpler times, when we whites were on top and those considered less desirable were rightly ascribed to the bottom. Just as providence intended.

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  74. I do think that it is legitimate to acknowledge the "Founding Fathers"'contributions leading to the Constitution and Bill of Rights. I can honor Jefferson and Madison and Washington AND acknowledge their defects at the same time, the worst of which was owning slaves. It makes no sense at all to deify them - in fact it misses the whole point. The USA is meant to be a nation of laws, not a nation of personality cult. The Constitution and Bill of Rights was an extraordinary "invention" of and for the European mentality, and has both endured and improved, if slowly.

    History should acknowledge the shameful behavior as well as the achievements. We, as individuals and as members of a society at a particular time, are quite capable of both good and bad behavior. So were our predecessors.

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  75. NancyP: We are all a complex tangle of good and evil. The only path I see is to criticize or laud specific behaviors, actions, policies. Whole people are harder, and I mostly don't think it's helpful to think of whole people as either good or bad. Although I confess there are some people I think of as great despite their flaws. Dr. King comes to mind. And there are some whom I personally classify as evil despite my general philosophy.

    The trouble with the [White] "Founding Fathers" is that what they were founding is a WHITE nation, explicitly excluding the native inhabitants (whose land was being appropriated in a 300-year conflict) and explicitly tolerating slavery. This stuff is imprinted on our nationhood. The whole enterprise was racist/oppressive in its essence. I really don't see any way out except the German solution: we [White folks] are only here at all because of a really awful history. We can't erase history and I'm not volunteering to go back to Europe, but we have to live in the world our ancestors made, and it has some really ugly parts.

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  76. @ plastiknoise

    Really great post. I'm curious, though -- could you elaborate on why you felt it was inappropriate for your prof to mention, in a discussion about the limits of cultural relativisim, ancient civilizations and their treatment of the infirm? It seems like you think she should have acknowledged that it was "logical, for those societies" to kill off PWD. But is that so distinct from slavery? After all, if the South was operating on an economy that completely depended on Africans being exploited, wouldn't it likewise be "logical" for the beneficiaries of that economy to perpetuate that exploitation?

    [I redacted a second half of this post for being off topic. ~macon]

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  77. Yankee: Plastiknoise will probably have a better answer, but as I'm still up: killing your own group's children or elders so that the group can survive under adverse conditions is really quite different from treating other human beings as property so you can run a plantation system. While you could not run a plantation system without slaves (or some form of oppressed labor), you don't have to be a plantation owner to survive - most people are not. There are lots of other ways to use the land and live. By contrast, the H&G societies in the example were nomadic people living in extreme environments who could not carry around too many extra people. It's not a pleasant thing to contemplate, but it is hardly comparable.

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  78. @ NancyP
    I like Jefferson the most. He wrote some pretty profound things for that time even though he had some major character flaws.
    And who could not like Benjamin Franklin. He's like everybody grandad.
    Washington I think as been deified by the Christian right and others as this great Christian leader. Fact was he was one of the largest land owners and had the most to gain or loose from the revolution.He wasn't a merciful fellow. He had no problem having people shot if they disagreed with him.
    I seem to recall a few years back a dispute between Washington's White descendants and his Black descendants but I don't remember the specifics.
    I think what bothers me the most about how I learned American history in school was how slanted it was.I was given the impression that our founding fathers were inspired by God to create this perfect republic of freedom,democracy and equality for all of humanity to enjoy.And then I grew older and realized the genocide and slavery and exploitation that occurred.I traveled to a foreign country and was surprised at how civilized it is was compared to home and wondered why no one had mentioned it before.And at some point my privilege hit me in my face and I woke up and said WTF ?

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  79. @ Mike,

    And who could not like Benjamin Franklin. He's like everybody grandad.

    I never got a chance to talk to my own grandfathers about race, but if I had, I hope that neither would've said something like this:

    [T]he Number of purely white People in the World is proportionably very small. All Africa is black or tawny. Asia chiefly tawny. America (exclusive of the new Comers) wholly so. And in Europe, the Spaniards, Italians, French, Russians and Swedes, are generally of what we call a swarthy Complexion; as are the Germans also, the Saxons only excepted, who with the English, make the principal Body of White People on the Face of the Earth. I could wish their Numbers were increased. And while we are, as I may call it, Scouring our Planet, by clearing America of Woods, and so making this Side of our Globe reflect a brighter Light to the Eyes of Inhabitants in mars or Venus, why should we in the Sight of Superior Beings, darken its People? why increase the Sons of Africa, by Planting them in America, where we have so fair an Opportunity, by excluding all Blacks and Tawneys, of increasing the lovely White and Red? But perhaps I am partial to the complexion of my Country, for such Kind of Partiality is natural to Mankind.

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  80. Yankee,

    Olderwoman made a point I hadn't thought of, but the "survivalist" view of slavery doesn't hold up when you think about who were slaves: Black Africans. If it were just "survival of the fittest", wouldn't poor White people be enslaved as well? Or women? The reasons slaves replaced indentured servants was precisely because IS could escape and "blend in" to society, while most Blacks couldn't, phenotypically. Slavery attempted to ensure they'd never "blend in" socially either.

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  81. @ Macon:
    Thanks for that.
    Thats just the kind of history that I wasn't taught in school. I got the Grand father version full of wisdom and prudence.America's first scientist fying a kite into the clouds to harness the power of the universe...

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  82. 'hasn't the Confederate flag been used continuously since the Civil War?' (Marissa)
    I think it was revived, big time, in the 1950's (Civil Rights and all that). E.g. inserted into the flag of the state of Georgia in 1956. (Changed since.)

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  83. Swedes are swarthy?

    And who could not like Benjamin Franklin. He's like everybody grandad.

    No. No, not at all.

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  84. Well, part of the roots of the War go back as far as who was granted which colony for what crop. So, the North ended up with a more industrious egalitarian (i.e., Puritan) society, and the South ended up with an aristocratic, agricultural one, and ended up basing the economy on labor-intensive crops that required a lot of labor, and thus slavery, to be economically viable.

    The abolitionists weren't a deciding factor in the 1860 election, so it's probably accurate to say that slavery wasn't the primary cause, but rather tariff-related state rights issues. Of course, those tariffs and state rights issues were only really issues because they were based on slavery. So, this is one of those questions where either answer is correct, but really ought to be followed by an explanation.

    I'm sure there were plenty of folks who fought for the South because they felt more Tennesseean than American, or who just saw it as their homeland being invaded, or even who thought slavery wasn't morally wrong. Cannon fodder rarely gets the chance to make moral judgements.

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  85. dersk wrote,

    the North ended up with a more industrious egalitarian (i.e., Puritan) society, and the South ended up with an aristocratic, agricultural one, and ended up basing the economy on labor-intensive crops that required a lot of labor, and thus slavery, to be economically viable.

    "required slavery"? wtf?

    As for your claim that Puritanism was egalitarian -- try telling that to the "Indians":

    New England's first Indian war, the Pequot War of 1636-37, provides a case study of the intensified warfare Europeans brought to America. Allied with the Narragansetts, traditional enemies of the Pequots, the colonists attacked at dawn. Surrounding the Pequot village, whose inhabitants were mostly women, children, and old men, the British set it on fire and shot those who tried to escape the flames. William Bradford described the scene: "It was a fearful sight to see them thus frying in the fire and the streams of blood quenching the same, and horrible was the stink and scent thereof; but the victory seemed a sweet sacrifice, and they gave praise thereof to God, who had wrought so wonderfully for them." The slaughter shocked the Narragansetts, who had wanted merely to subjugate the Pequots, not exterminate them. The Narragansetts reproached the English for their style of warfare, saying, "It is naught, it is naught, because it is too furious, and slays too many men." In turn, Capt. John Underhill scoffed, saying that the Narragansett style of fighting was "more for pastime, than to conquer and subdue enemies." Underhill's analysis of the role of warfare in Narragansett society was correct, and might accurately be applied to other tribes as well. Through the centuries, whites frequently accused their Native allies of not fighting hard enough.

    (source)

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  86. @ olderwoman (& Jasmine),

    Okay, I think you're basically saying the same thing (Jasmine, correct me if I'm wrong -- I'm mostly responding to Olderwoman's post as it seems like you've sort of co-signed it): i.e., you're saying that for ancient civilizations, killing disabled children, the elderly, etc. was necessary for "survival" -- a much more literal and urgent type of survival than the collective economic survival of the Confederate South. Is that accurate?

    I guess my only problem with this is that it really depends whose survival we're talking about. It seems like in both instances, you have a group of people -- black people, PWD -- who are Othered, and their survival suddenly doesn't matter. I mean, I'm not familiar with any of the particular tribes that plastiknoise or her prof might have been envisioning, but I am guessing that even if this practice strongly benefitted the survival of the temporarily able-bodied, it did not exactly bolster the survival of PWD.

    It's also evident that even when resources are extremely limited, it is not simply inevitable that they be divided along lines of ablebodiedness/disability. Sometimes, for example, they're divided according to class or social status (see, e.g., entire country plunged into brutal famine while frail, elderly king feasts).

    I also know that systematic killing of PWD went on in Rome, Athens and Sparta which were hardly nomadic tribes struggling for survival. (Admittedly, though, those examples might be outside the scope of what plastiknoise was objecting to, because she said her prof referred to "hunter-gatherer" populations. If so, then would those of you ITT who reject the hunter-gatherer tribes comparison deem a Rome/Athens/Sparta comparison acceptable?)

    I admit that if I were in the professor's shoes I would have been tempted to make the same comparison, because I would expect that many white southern Confederate apologists would likewise be conservative Family Values types who would leap to condemn anything reminiscent of euthanasia/abortion. But in case I am ever in her shoes, I thank those of you who have pointed out that this comparison is offensive.

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  87. yankee wrote,

    Jasmine, correct me if I'm wrong

    You are wrong, so I'll correct you -- it's Jasmin.

    Have some respect, carpetbagger!

    You also wrote,

    you're saying that for ancient civilizations, killing disabled children, the elderly, etc. was necessary for "survival" -- a much more literal and urgent type of survival than the collective economic survival of the Confederate South. Is that accurate?

    I'm confused that you discern elsewhere in your comment resources that are "divided according to class or social status," but you didn't do so when describing "the collective economic survival of the Confederate South."

    The economy of the Confederate South was also stratified. In other words, it wasn't a "collective" economic survival that was at stake; it was the wealth of a privileged elite, gained through exploitation of lower-order whites and enslaved blacks, that was at stake. A toppling of that economy might have resulted in a bettering of conditions for the subjugated, rather than the end of their "economic survival."

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  88. Yankee,

    I didn't address ancient civilizations, so I'm not sure why you included my name while not speaking to what I did talk about: the fact that there's no logical reason to link "economic survival" to enslaving Black people specifically or attempt to keep them in slavery even if they were no longer at the bottom of the pile, so to speak (i.e., freed Blacks who'd just be snatched at random).

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  89. @me for getting into R.E. Lee's position on slavery and

    @yankee re: "It's also evident that even when resources are extremely limited, it is not simply inevitable that they be divided along lines of ablebodiedness/disability."

    SWPD: Babble intellectually on the fringes of an issue, essentially derailing the discussion and discounting the concerns of PoC.

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  90. @ Yankee

    Even the most egalitarian hunter-gather tribes practiced abandonment. If they didn't everybody would have died. Those they abandoned were not "othered". They were small kin-based groups. They abandoned people who needed to be cared for when they did not have the capacity to care for them.

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  91. 'who fought for the South because they felt more Tennesseean than American' (dersk)
    A poor example, given that East Tennessee tried to secede right back out of the Confederacy and join the Union as a separate state, like West Virginia. How about giving pro-Union Southerners their own month, too?

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  92. @Mike

    As far as Thomas Jefferson is concerned being a child rapist is a bit more than a "character flaw."

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  93. You know, I was actually a bit, well, giddy over that idiotic VA governor's proclamation. What I wouldn't have given to be a teacher in Virginia at that moment. I was practically daring our idiotic governor to follow suit, but I guess even a bag of hair like Perry has to realize that a state that celebrates Juneteenth might have a hard time denying the whole Confederacy-slavery connection.

    But to have a chance to teach kids about the Confederacy? By directive? My pleasure. Because here's the kicker. MCCONNELL might be one of those WP who want to "forget" about slavery, but the fact of the matter is that no one actually involved with the Confederacy ever forgot about it for a second.

    To that end, I think I'd start my lessons with the Cornerstone Speech by Alexander Stephens and go from there, culminating, of course, with the de facto Confederacy "enjoyed" under Jim Crow.

    Let's just say that by the time I was through with my Confederate History Month lesson plans, treason celebrators like McConnell would be thinking long and hard about the wisdom of having teachers dredge up all those pesky facts about the Confederacy year after year.

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  94. I think the reason so many white people can't see the problem here is because they want to think that racism has ended. I say "WANT to think it has ended." White people have learned to be ashamed of racism but they don't know how to stop it so they just want to pretend it's all fixed now so that they can stop feeling uncomfortable about it. Ironically, according to a recent study, the more racially-conscious a white person is, the more likely they are to turn a blind eye to racism.

    As to the Nazis, I think one reason it may be more difficult for some people to see the comparison is that the Nazis didn't start killing so many Jews until after the war had started. By comparison, slavery had already been around for a long time before the American Civil War started which makes it easier for some people to compartmentalize the two.

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  95. Don't go to TCM's messageboards and look at the "Racist Movies" thread. I swear most of the folks there are mad that us uppity niggers ruined their darkie-hatin' fun in the 60s with all that Civil Rights foderol!

    http://forums.tcm.com/jive/tcm/thread.jspa?threadID=151796&start=15&tstart=0

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