Monday, April 15, 2013

Sorry--I just had to do this, to say one last thing on that Brad Paisley song, "Accidental Racist," with that whiny sounding line that says something about not being able to rewrite history. 

Behold, rewritten history. Note the happy slaves in Western attire, greeting their affectionate master-to-be. 

From a textbook used in Virginia public schools in the 1960s, entitled Virginia: History, Government, Geography, published by Charles Scribner's Sons in 1957. (Thanks, Diann.)   

Monday, April 8, 2013

Old Times There HAVE Been Forgotten

I worship at the altar of Johnny Cash, I think Dolly Parton is a genius and as far as I am concerned "Sweet Home Alabama" ought to be our national anthem. But most of what currently passes for country music has always left me cold, which is why I confess I am unfamiliar with the ouevre of Mr. Brad Paisley. He's got me riveted, however, with his latest song, "Accidental Racist." 

It's about a white Southern guy wearing a Lynnard Skynnard t-shirt encountering a black guy who views the shirt's Confederate flag with distrust and dislike. It's a song that sums up everything I find both exasperating and endearing about today's Southern culture: its friendliness, the willingness of blacks and whites to attempt to talk about difficult subjects--and, not least, the abysmal ignorance most Southerners today outside of academia have about their own history. Let us deconstruct.

Just a proud rebel son with an old can of worms--Okay, that's a nice phrase... 

I’m proud of where I’m from but not everything we’ve done/And it ain’t like you and me can re-write history--Wrong! You can rewrite history. We've done it! Robert E. Lee barely had time to re-plant his posterior on the back of ol' Traveler at Appomattox before Southerners got right down to doing just that. What was the war about? Going in, it was slavery ("Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery-- the greatest material interest of the world"--the Mississippi Ordinance of Secession, just one document out of many contemporaneous pieces of evidence); after the war, it was about states' rights. The Sons of Confederate Veterans and the United Daughters of the Confederacy, formidable lobbying groups in their day, devoted the next three or four generations to making sure that this "correct" version of history was the only version taught to schoolchildren in the South, and they worked their will on both public education, Southern universities and educational publishing for the next 75 years or so. It's highly likely that any Southerner who reads this will have been the recipient of some version of the Lost Cause myth. I was. It was a hell of a PR effort, and the damage that it did is with us still. A good place to start to read about this is David Blight's Race and Reunion, which has the single best summation of exactly how the UDC did it in chapter 8. 

Moving on:

They called it Reconstruction, fixed the buildings, dried some tears / We’re still siftin’ through the rubble after a hundred-fifty years

Wrong again! Thanks to the UDC et al., generations of Southerners have grown up with the delusion Mr. Paisley still labors under--that it was a disaster perpetrated on a defeated South by thieving Yankee Carpetbaggers and Southern Scalawags who cynically manipulated those simple-minded darkies to gain money and political power for themselves, destroying civil society in the process. There was corruption during Reconstruction--it was the dawn of the Gilded Age, an era of rampant political corruption everywhere, and come to think of it a lot like today--but Reconstruction was not an unmitigated disaster for the South. The destroyers of civil society were the Ku Klux Klan, which came into being the instant it became clear in 1867 that Congress was going to give former slaves the vote. The record of racial and political violence perpetrated by the Klan and their Southern Democratic allies over the next four years is so vast it takes up 13 volumes of testimony before Congress--which you can find online today at the Internet Archive, a non-profit open source website for scholars, under the ponderous title  Report of the Joint Select Committee to Inquire Into Conditions in the Late Insurrectionary States. Never heard of it? That's because the Lost Cause folks made sure that most of anti-Klan witnesses were discounted as drunks or thieves or "nigger lovers" or any one of a dozen other all-purpose epithets of the day. At the same time, people in the North were getting heartily sick of that pesky "Negro question" and were more than ready to write off the whole thing as a gigantic Redneck Brawl. The result: all the investigations came to nothing, and the testimony fell into more than a century of oblivion.

Mind you, the Klan didn't just intend to put former slaves back in their place. They also hated public education, anybody who voted Republican, anybody who dared to try to teach former slaves their ABCs, and any preacher of the Gospel of Christ who dared to propose that white and blacks were equal in the sight of God. In this they made no distinction whatsoever between white and black. And when I say "hate" I don't mean writing nasty letters; I mean terrorism of the kind that the Taliban is doing in Afghanistan today. They tortured. The burned down schools. They castrated. They killed. They ran law-abiding people off their land and left their children to starve. The only reason they went away (only to come back later, in the early 20th century) was that in the hotly contested Presidential election of 1876, between Samuel Tilden and Rutherford B. Hayes, Southern Democrats made a devil's bargain with the northern Republicans: we'll let you steal this election if you take your soldiers out of the South and let us run things here the way we want to. The result was something we know now as Jim Crow. 

I know Mr. Paisley is busy touring, so I have little hope he will delve into any of this. But before one more white person from the South gets up on his high horse to defend "Southern pride," I wish to God (pausing here, to bang my head against my keyboard) that they would take a look at the actual historical record to make sure they know what they're professing pride in. Southerners do indeed have much to be proud of, chief among them the fact that black and white Southerners are generally on cordial terms these days; moreover, the record of our contributions to American culture, literature and music fill many libraries. But for a people who profess to love history, we have been tragically misled and tragically incurious about which history we choose to love. It is time, for God's sake, to get a clue.

Here endeth the rant--except one last thing, directed to all those snobs out there who delight  in taking such opportunities to start trashing my native region as a land of bigots and hicks. I say this with all sincerity, and in the nicest possible way: Fuck off. 

Monday, April 1, 2013

This just in, from Salon:
The chairwoman of the Georgia Republican Party fears that if same-sex marriage becomes legal, straight people will enter into fake gay marriages in order to fraudulently receive benefits.
“You may be as straight as an arrow, and you may have a friend that is as straight as an arrow,” Sue Everhart told the Marietta Daily Journal. “Say you had a great job with the government where you had this wonderful health plan. I mean, what would prohibit you from saying that you’re gay, and y’all get married and still live as separate, but you get all the benefits? I just see so much abuse in this it’s unreal." 
So, just thinking out loud here, let's say I have this great federal job with the fantastic federal health care benefits, and I have this friend, let's call her Marcia, who needs health insurance--and of course! We'll get married! Because why wouldn't a person enter into a fake but legally binding arrangement with another person that they'd have to get out of in case they ever met somebody they'd actually want to marry, if not for major medical? And who cares if this opens them to potential liability if their spouse gets sued over something, or if they have to decide whose house gets to be the primary residence for income tax purposes? Heck, people are probably queuing up right now to find some same-sex partner with a federal job that they can marry so they can cheat the government. You have to wonder why nobody has tried this with plain old heterosexual marriage before.
Oh, right. It's because the whole idea is as weird as it is possible to get.