I would like to recommend an article published by The Guardian earlier this week. It is a study of the Confederacy, the Confederate flag, and the part each plays in the lives of Mississippians today. You might learn a thing or two. I did.

The piece largely consists of interviews with Mississippians, mostly white, about the symbol of the Confederate army which was then, and certainly is now, symbolic to many of slavery, rape, murder, and treason. Some Mississippians, including some black Mississippians, consider it a historical reflection of their heritage. I don’t understand why one would want to institutionalize a heritage of slavery, rape, murder, and treason, and the Guardian article does shed some light on that. 

“They” say the flag does not represent all that evil. Well, history disagrees with them. They say that the Civil War wasn’t about slavery, and that President Lincoln was not opposed to slavery. They are lying – probably to themselves as well. As for Lincoln, he was an abolitionist since he joined the fledgling Republican Party, which was very abolitionist at the time of its founding. He did offer to negotiate over slavery in those states where such was permitted if that would save the Union. That didn’t happen.

Lynchings continued hard and heavy in Mississippi for about an additional 100 years. Mississippians hardly were alone, but the horrific murder of Emmett Till in 1955 and his mother’s insistence that the photo of his body, beaten to a pulp, be given as much exposure as possible didn’t help the state’s image. However, it did help promote the reasons for the struggle for civil rights, employing the new medium of television news to spread the message. In Till’s memory if no one else’s, the Stars and Bars should not be on anybody’s state flag. There’s right and there’s wrong, and that is simply wrong. Yes, the Stars and Bars is part of Mississippi’s heritage. That’s the best reason for removing it.

This country has not addressed its heritage of violent discrimination – and I hesitate to refer to slavery, rape, murder, and treason as merely “violent discrimination.” We have not. People are defensive, many on both sides aren’t listening, others purposely keep themselves uninformed because the truth is extremely painful. There are way too many folks out there who respond to these issues with “yes, but…”

All of this flies in the face of “American Exceptionalism,” a concept as dangerous as it is mindless. Simply put, if we do not resolve these concerns America will cease to exist. You think that America is a white Christian nation? You’re a bigoted imbecile who, evidently, is incapable of understanding our Constitution.

Let me offer an audacious response to the problem that has torn this nation apart since its founding. To my way of thinking, black folk want to be able to walk down the street without being regarded as a threat and without fear of preemptive violence. White folk want to be thought of as not racist because they find no generic hatred in their hearts toward the black community. In other words, we all want to be seen not for what we look like to others, but for who we are. Yeah, I’m paraphrasing Dr. Martin Luther King here. What of it?

These feelings have calcified over the past three centuries. How do we fix that? Well, we probably can’t – at least not for our generations. But we can walk the walk and talk the talk until we create an environment in which future generations have no cause to be burdened with these feelings.

The time to start was three centuries ago. We can’t do anything about that, but we can start now. And we must start now. All of us.

3 thoughts on “Weird Scenes Inside the Gold Mind #006: Race and Treason

  1. Mike,
    I read that Guardian article you linked to. I agree that the people supporting the continued display of the Confederate flag are being selective in their view of history. Slavery WAS the impetus for the Civil War and to claim that there was some noble stance they took against an intrusive federal government is the definition of denial. The continued display of that flag seems rooted their in own low self-esteem because their ancestors made some really bad decisions.

    The reason I am posting what appears to be nothing more than an agreement with your column, (and when have I ever done that?) is that, coincidentally, I re-watched the concert documentary “The Last Waltz” this weekend because Neil Diamond performed and I hadn’t seen it in a couple of decades. Given your love for music I am sure you have seen Scorcese’s 1978 film about The Band. In one scene when Scorcese asks the band about life on the road, there is a Confederate flag prominently hanging on the wall. Also, one The Band’s hits was “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” famously covered by Joan Baez.

    Some pertinent lyrics:
    “Like my father before me
    I am a working man
    And like my brother above me
    I took a rebel stand
    He was just eighteen
    Proud and brave
    But a Yankee laid him in his grave”

    Pretty sympathetic to the Confederacy. I suspect they would get booed off the stage if they performed that song today. What has changed? Apparently no one cared about the significance of those lyrics during the 1970s. Were we just not as sensitive then and are we too sensitive now?

    1. Let’s also point out the song was written by a Canadian, Robbie Robertson, whose mother happened to be Mohawk. He & Levon researched for the song at a library in upstate New York I believe.
      Tom Petty also displayed the confederate flag early in his career and admitted the ignorance to it’s meaning during his youth in Rolling Stone July 2015 (https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/politics-news/tom-petty-on-past-confederate-flag-use-it-was-downright-stupid-177619/)

      So yeah, people figured out the novelty of the “rebel” was a false narrative and the actual use and history of the symbol was one of hate and terror after it’s use in treason.

  2. George… I was knocked over by your comment, essentially agreeing with my comments. I attribute this to global warming.

    I don’t know how people would react to The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down. The song isn’t really advocating anything, it’s just a person mourning the death of his brother, through the reality of a horrible event. Sort of like Bob Kanigher and Joe Kubert’s Enemy Ace — clearly, neither were advocating on behalf of the Kaiser. And I harbor no grudge against Nick Adams (people who get that one are, like me, older than dirt!).

    But — holy crap! — I agree with you as well. Overall we are remarkably too sensitive, and I think a lot of this comes from people not really knowing how to react. When Dylan wrote The Times They Are A-Changin’, well… things moved a lot more slowly back then.

    Adriane, I also agree with your comments. I do not think Burt Reynolds was, or is, racist. The battle flag still remains, in my worldview, the symbol of treason.

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