History buffs may know that this year marks the 150th anniversary of the start of the American Civil War. There has been a lot of media attention devoted to the anniversary and the vast changes America has undergone in the past 150 years—for example, you may have noticed we have a black president now. Unfortunately, the anniversary also means the apologists come crawling out of the woodwork—people determined to celebrate the War by willfully ignoring its root cause, a phenomenon the New York Times covered in its article “Celebrating Secession Without the Slaves.”
“We in the South, who have been kicked around for an awfully long time and are accused of being racist, we would just like the truth to be known,” said Michael Givens, commander-in-chief of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, explaining the reason for the television ads [about how celebrating secession isn't racist].
You want to know who’s been kicked around for an awfully long time in the South? Black people. Slavery, lynching, Jim Crow…and I’m supposed to feel sorry for a white guy when someone (rightfully) accuses him of being racist? Boo fucking hoo.
As for the truth…the truth is this: the Confederacy’s economy and society were 100 percent based on institutional racism, a particularly ugly kind in which white people owned black people. But that is not the “truth” Mr. Givens wants you to know.
While there were many causes of the war, he said, “our people were only fighting to protect themselves from an invasion and for their independence.”
By which he means, the independence of white people. Not all people–just “our” people. (And for the record: the “many causes” of the Civil War all revolved around the issue of slavery.) Givens would probably consider me one of “our people.” I’m a white Southerner, descended from slave owners, and I have spent way too much time around genteel racists like him who would love to drag our society backwards with their ignorant historical revisionism.
As another apologist (and SCV member) told the NY Times:
“We’re celebrating that those 170 people risked their lives and fortunes to stand for what they believed in, which is self-government,” Mr. Antley said. “Many people in the South still believe that is a just and honorable cause. Do I believe they were right in what they did? Absolutely,” he said, noting that he spoke for himself and not any organization. “There’s no shame or regret over the action those men took.”
Make no mistake: the “self-government” that they wanted to maintain was right of white people to own black people. Anyone who think fighting to defend that is just and honorable is missing the entire goddamn point. Or is a racist. Or both, as is the case here. 100 years after the Civil War, “self-government” was the cry of white Southerners defending the entirely racist policies of segregation. Anytime I hear a good old boy trumpet “self-government’ or “states’ rights”, I am automatically suspicious. Historically, those terms were always invoked to defend something indefensible. It’s shorthand for Why can’t the Feds just stay in Washington and let us be racist assholes in the privacy of our own state legislatures?
These men quoted in the Times article make an excellent case for why Sons of Confederate Veterans and similar organizations that celebrate “Southern pride” are nothing but fronts for old-school racism. Their brand of nostalgic Civil War hoo-ha is nothing but racist apologism topped with a big grey bow. You cannot express support—even of the wistful, nostalgic kind—for a culture founded on racism without expressing support for racism. The nice Southern gentlemen in this article say they think slavery is “an abomination”, but the Glorious Cause whose memory gets them all misty was intended to protect and preserve that abomination.
For obvious reasons, you will not find black Americans participating in “secession balls” like the one described in this article (“a joyous night of music, dancing, food and drink,” says the invitation.”). You will not find them joining organizations like Sons of Confederate Veterans or United Daughters of the Confederacy, although if those organizations truly wanted to integrate, they’d find that many black Americans would technically be eligible. Black Americans simply aren’t fooled by all the moonlight and magnolias and 21st century denial—they’re still living out the consequences of slavery and racism, just as white people are still passively benefiting from them. Frankly, my dear, the fact that so many white people still think a slave-owning society is worth celebrating only proves how racist our society still is.