Hate, Not Heritage: 'Public' means ALL, not SOME
I'm new to this Substack thing. I'm going to use it to write things about that come to mind, articles I read, or anything that moves me under the theme of Public Things. (check out my book, The Privatization of Everything.) My posts will all be things I can bang out in one sitting when the spirit moves me. (So pardon the typos and errors.)
Here's one about the Civil War—because "public" means "all, not some."
Hate, Not Heritage
I've not spent much time in the deep south (other than Nashville, a decidedly blue island in a red sea). So I don't interact with Southerners who claim that the monuments to Confederate "heroes" are about history and heritage, not slavery.
A few years ago I chatted with a young guy selling CBD oil at a street fair in Chattanooga. I assumed he was a liberal millennial. I asked (as a CA tourist with feigned naivete so as not to threaten and to actually be able to listen and try to understand) if there were debates about confederate statues happening there.
I don't remember the specifics. But he was on the side of "heritage" (assumptions are dangerous!). We didn't talk long enough to know, but I'll bet he doesn't consider himself a racist and it might be possible that he's not (with very obvious blind spots). He did agree that the statue of KKK-founder Nathan Bedford Forrest outside of Nashville should come down, so there's that.
I, like many these days, get Helen Cox Richardson's fantastic daily emails. I don't read every day but I always learn something. The mix of history and commentary on our moment is fascinating and important.
I'm always looking for simple things to cut through the noise of misinformation, conservative beliefs, and lies. I'm sure there are tons of examples for the heritage debate, but here's a good one from her September 17 email:
“On March 21, 1861, the future vice president of the Confederacy, Alexander Stephens, laid out the world he thought white southerners should fight for. He explained that the Founders were wrong to base the government on the principle that humans were inherently equal, and that northerners were behind the times with their adherence to the outdated idea that “the negro is equal, and…entitled to equal privileges and rights with the white man.” Confederate leaders had corrected the Founders’ error. They had rested the Confederacy on the “great truth” that “the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition.”
Case closed. It's hate, not heritage! (Although I can hear my CBD-selling friend responding that Stephens was just one voice and everyone didn't feel the same. Whatever.)
I'm also always on the hunt for music that teaches. Here’s two fantastic songs by artists I admire about how racism is passed down through the generations that you should check out.
Crys Matthews’s song, “One in The Same,” is a journey into an actual family’s genealogical tree that Crys came across. It starts with “ your great-grandpa’s great grandfather,” the slaver at the root of the family tree, then narrates the transference of family viewpoints and traditions through the generations of the antebellum south and down through the family tree to today. Crys shows us how family values, pride, and ultimately hatred are passed from generation to generations in subtle, natural, and almost understandable ways.
Great grandpas great grandfather was a proud Virginian. He might well have a been a good man. But it’s so hard to tell through histories lens with that slave ships wheel in his hand.
Don’t you take down my rebel flag — they say it’s heritage not hate. But what they don’t seem to understand is that sometimes they are one in the same.
“Scars We Keep” by Ordinary Elephant (Crystal and Pete Damore) is a son’s powerful testimony about his struggle through reckoning and rejection (and the scars that remain) of his family heritage handed down by his father’s racist and violent sins:
How can I keep my mind open if my eyes are closed? It’s hard to hide the hate when there’s no love to show. How can I nail a man up for the color of his skin? Knock him down, make him pay; For my father’s sin. And I’m starting to see; We are all the color of the scars we keep.
These times are hard that’s harder to hear but where you were born decides what you feel. It’s time to be a brother not my father’s son. I was born to be a bigot don’t that mean that I’m one.
That’s all for today.
Photo by Brent Moore.