If It Offends You, Sandblast It: the Movement to Erase the Confederacy
It hasn’t been a good month for Southern white guys.
The much-awaited publication of Go Set a Watchman, Harper Lee’s long-hidden, pre-written sequel to her revered classic, To Kill a Mockingbird, revealed that lawyer and liberal icon Atticus Finch was actually a racist curmudgeon who attended Ku Klux Klan rallies and railed against integration. He may have defended an unjustly accused black man in court, but he probably wouldn’t have invited him over for dinner.
Meanwhile, the Memphis city council voted unanimously to dig up the remains of Nathan Bedford Forrest and his wife from their resting place in a public park. Forrest, you see, was not only a Confederate general but a Klan leader during its formative years. No matter that he later advocated racial reconciliation and, in his last public appearance, addressed a group of Southern black representatives in a most un-Klanlike manner:
We were born on the same soil, breathe the same air, and live in the same land. Why, then, can we not live as brothers?… I want to elevate you to take positions in law offices, in stores, on farms, and wherever you are capable of going.
Pretty bold words for a white Southern eminento in 1875. Still, his crumbling bones have to go.
Even lightweight Confederate-friendly entertainment faced the executioner. TV Land, the nostalgia-themed cable channel, announced that it was yanking reruns of The Dukes of Hazzard, the amiably cheesy good-ol’-boy comedy-action series featuring a vintage Dodge Charger named General Lee. No reasonable soul could accuse the show of harboring racist sympathies… but the anti-Confederate tide swept it out to sea, where it would join Walt Disney’s Song of the South, Amos ‘n’ Andy and Al Jolson musicals in the special Davy Jones’ Locker reserved for racially incorrect pop culture artifacts.
The movement to evict Andrew Jackson from the $20 bill continues apace. The Dixie-born general and seventh U.S. president was, of course, a slave-owner and oppressor of Native Americans, so despite having preserved the Union in the face of secessionist legislation in South Carolina, he appears to be headed for the dumpster.
Finally, earlier this week, the Atlanta chapter of the NAACP called for the removal of all Confederate symbols from nearby Stone Mountain Park — including the monumental 90-by-190-foot relief sculpture of Confederate icons Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson and Jefferson Davis carved into the side of the mountain. Said chapter leader Richard Rose:
Those guys need to go… They can be sand-blasted off, or somebody could carefully remove a slab of that and auction it off to the highest bidder… My tax dollars should not be used to commemorate slavery.
No matter that the park isn’t publicly owned or operated… the sentiments are clear: if it offends us, out it goes.
The culture of offended sensibilities is flourishing in twenty-first century America. Right-wing groups are offended by the recent Supreme Court ruling in favor of same-sex marriage — just as they’re offended by abortion, gun control, illegal immigration, welfare, Islam and (of course) Barack Obama.
But despite all the joyless noise emanating from the right, I’m awarding the top prize in the readiness-to-take-offense contest to the enlightened left — those perennial opponents of the capitalistic white racist heterosexual Christian imperialist patriarchy. That’s a lot to be offended by in one fell swoop, and I’m not denying their right to take offense. What alarms me is their collective eagerness to denounce, censor and exile anyone who takes issue with their issues.
Renegade speakers are either banned outright from college campuses or accompanied by “trigger warnings” so that sensitive young progressives can retreat to special rooms equipped with teddy bears and coloring books. Aging conservative blowhards like Rush Limbaugh must be brought down by boycotting their sponsors. (No free marketplace of ideas for these illiberal liberals.) News stories must be cherry-picked to perpetuate pet narratives that agitate the faithful. And of course, the Confederacy and its symbols must be sandblasted from our consciousness.
According to the latest lockstep wisdom, the Confederate rebellion — and its infamous battle flag — began and ended with slavery. Those prematurely dead Confederate soldiers moldering away in military cemeteries for the past 150 years? Traitors and slave-drivers, every one. No other issue (states’ rights, Southern solidarity, defending one’s land and family against Northern invaders) can be admitted into the debate. Anyone who claims that the Civil War was fought for any cause other than slavery is deemed a racist and expelled from polite company. Ditto for anyone who sees no harm in letting Confederate flags adorn the graves of the men who died for their breakaway republic.
I get the impression that, come the revolution, those sorry heretics (including me, and possibly you) would find themselves relocated to remote “re-education camps.” It’s already happening, more subtly, in the endless references to white privilege and patriarchy in the progressive press. The left is constantly telling the rest of us that we need to feel bad about ourselves, and that’s no way to win friends (or influence people).
Do I sound predictably contrarian, wrongheaded… even cynical? Could be. After absorbing a half-century’s worth of anti-white, anti-male rhetoric, with no end in sight, even a confirmed moderate like me has to wonder if the noise assaulting my head from the left will ever stop.
Yes, today’s right-wingers are a noisy lot, too. Of course I recognize that the Confederate battle flag has been appropriated by rabid racists over the years, and that much (if not most) of the irrational hatred directed at President Obama is tied to his African parentage. I’ll never align myself with right-wing fanatics who insist that the Bible should dictate our nation’s laws, or that dark-skinned Americans aren’t American enough, or that we need to arm ourselves against our own government.
So why pick on the left during its campaign to eradicate all traces of a defeated, much-discredited Southern rebellion? Because they insist on zero tolerance for dissenting beliefs. Because they’re generally educated enough to know better. Because, ISIS-like, they seem hellbent on destroying historic icons that offend their sensibilities. Today it’s Nathan Bedford Forrest, tomorrow it’s Robert E. Lee, five years from now it could be George Washington. They love to see those dominoes fall.
Isn’t the radical, gun-toting right at least as dangerous as the revisionist left? Of course it is… but what we’re witnessing is a desperate backlash against half a century of radical social change. Much of that change has been for the good, some of it is questionable, but nearly all of it (the recent concentration of wealth being a notable exception) has favored the social left at the expense of the social right.
Bible Belt conservatives — those latter-day heirs to the lost Confederacy — are smart enough to sense that their salad days are over. They represent the last generation of America’s white Christian old guard. They’re scared and angry. By constantly poking them, ridiculing their beliefs and destroying their icons, we just make them angrier.
By contrast, the progressive left represents the future — a diverse multicultural nation with a darkened complexion and often-bewildering nontraditional values. (Do we really need to refer to non-transgender individuals as cisgender?) If those progressives truly intend to embrace diversity and remain faithful to their liberal roots, they could start by showing a little more tolerance for diverse opinions.
That means recognizing that there are at least two legitimate sides to nearly every debatable issue — including abortion, gun control, illegal immigration, welfare, race relations — and yes, even the tattered old Confederate battle flag. Once we’ve removed the flag from public buildings, it’s time we let the Civil War rest in peace. We don’t want a second one on our hands.
Rick Bayan is founder-editor of The New Moderate.