Thursday, December 16, 2004

Can of worms ...

The whole confederate flag thing came up today at work ... OK, I brought it up because I was mentioning why I hated Big Ed's. Well of course it sparked a bit of discussion--because the Civil War is hands down the single most defining event of American history. I'm often taken aback by the impulse of seemingly civilized, nice and reasonable people to defend the Confederate flag or the Southern "cause" in the Civil War (which many will vehemently deny has anything whatsoever to do with slavery). I hear it all the time: the Civil War (or the "War of Northern Aggression," as many still call it, in fact there is a plaque in the office of the State Farmer's Market--a government building--that refers to it that way) had nothing to do with slavery, it was about "defending a way of life" or "states' rights."

When one points out that the way of life and the entire economy of the antebellum US South would have been impossible without slavery, and that "states' rights" mostly referred to the right to own human beings, then the argument often shifts into slavery defense mode (even people who otherwise would not explicity defend slavery just can't admit that dear Dixie could have been just plain WRONG on the question and maybe deserved to get her ass kicked over such a barbaric system). So then I'll hear "They had slaves in the North!" (Until it was OUTLAWED, you mean. It's called "progress" or more specifically, "civilization triumphing over barbarism." Duh.) Someone today had a new on on me: "Yeah, well slaves had slaves, too" (which, if true, would presumably make chattel slavery A-OK, I suppose). But I'm thinking, slaves weren't even allowed to own property ... I'm sorry, but this was a new one on me, so I of course said "What?" The explanation was that slaves often paid other slaves to do their work for them ... Um, sorry: paying someone who is not your legal property to do something for you is what we call employment. Sure, in Marxist terms it can be "wage slavery" and it often feels like slavery, but it's not the same thing. Nice try though.

I don't hate the South or (most) Southerners--in fact I love the weather, the accents, the peculiar phrases, the practice of being nice to people regardless of what you really think of them (Trotsky called civility "a necessary social lubricant") and even some of the food. But dammit, the Confederacy stood for a shitty cause in the Civil War and its defeat represented progress! The Confederate flag is a symbol of a bad thing and its display is a racist provocation.

(Confidential to M.R.: If that asshole from New Jersey were from South Carolina, he'd be an asshole from South Carolina, see? I mean, just because you're a psycho doesn't mean all Southerners are psychos, right?)


Anonymous said...

It's obvious that you hate America.

Anonymous said...

See... the thing is, the Civil War was about state's rights. State's rights TO OWN SLAVES. You can couch the issue in as many economic terms as you want, but basically, the south needed slavery to uphold their agrarian economy, and the north didn't, because they were industrialized.

So you're both right! Now, Lisa, South, kiss and make up and let's all go out for ice cream.


Anonymous said...

Note: That last bit was a little tongue in cheek. I find the whole defense of slavery thing incomprehensible. People are more important than money. The end.

Anonymous said...

Gah, that was me.


Lisa B. said...

I was all prepared to buy the South an ice cream cone, frm!

Aside from the Confederate flags and slavery apologists, I like living in the South. Mr. Pants, who experienced plenty of racism in Chicago, likes it here as well and surprisingly, finds it less overtly racist (my theory is that politeness wins more often in the South). So far, he's never been followed around a store here just because he's black, and he's not yet been stopped by cops because someone reported a "suspicious" person in the neighborhood, both of which happened in Chicago.

Now if I could just get Leinenkugels and a rapid transit system here I'd be set.

andrew said...

I am not sure how the argument for States' rights works, so could you ask one of the defenders of the South next time you have a conversation with them about it: "So you think it okay for the State to grant the right to allow people to come into the home you are not allowed to own, rape your wife/mother/sister, beat you/your husband/son/daughter etc. to death, and sell your children?"

If they say yes, then you have the measure of them. If they say no, then ask them if they only agree when the people being assaulted in such a way are black.
'Cos that is what the war was about.