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May 29, 2008


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Paul Rekk

I don't claim to have any insight or understanding of it, either, but to shoehorn it all into the slavery issue is no different than trying to divorce it from slavery.

Slavery is one thing it was about, and the one thing we maintain the greatest awareness about today, but it was certainly not the sole defining factor. Because states' rights (which doesn't deserve quotes, IMO) was every bit as important to the Confederates for a number of other reasons as well.

Which seems to be partly to blame for the wide divide in understanding on this topic: those opposed only see Confederacy = Slavery because that's the issue that lingered and that the Union proved to not be much better at handling. Those in favor have a much broader vision of what the Confederacy is/was all about -- in that vision they may gloss over the horrors that did take place, which is no less excusable, but isn't necessarily the same as being proud of slavery.


What is the Confederate Nostalgia thing all about?


As Atrios would say, this has been another edition of simple answers to simple questions.

danielle wilson

Certainly it can be about racism but in the best cases I think it's about the underlying spirit of independence in the south.


The American south have 228 years of history and culture to celebrate -- including being the crucible of America's best writers, music, food, and whiskey -- that does not include the four years spent fighting a treasonous war in defense of slavery.

The fixation on romanticizing the Confederacy is plainly 100% about racism.


As a born and breed southerner, I guess I'd ask you: what are the options? Self-hatred? Community-hatred? Regional-hatred? For my first decade in Raleigh, NC I had no idea what slavery was and had yet to study the Civil War, but I knew what a Rebel was. We weren't Yankees, but we had a regional pride no different than New Englanders. I'm sure that I celebrated this rebel spirit on sports teams growing up where white was the minority color. We just weren't thinking of this as deeply as you - we were kids.

Now, ya grow up and learn a few things about your ancestors, but it's too late by then. So, you have some decisions to make. But going back in time to stop the Civil War or slavery are not realistic options. Changing where we were born is equally off the table. One could move north to a big city and trash-talk those who didn't, which has never really made me feel any better about myself. Or you could stay there and embrace your roots no matter how ugly, but I'm not comfortable with that either. I guess there's throwing it all in the closet and ignoring it, but that doesn't make it go away.

I think for the most part many southerners (sadly, not all) say, ok, the bad stuff sucks, but there is still much to be proud of. And in those folks eyes such symbols stand only for those good things. Look, Americans wrongly killed tons of Native Americans, so are we all supposed to disown the US flag, etc.? Should you and I not be allowed any national nostalgia? Or is it okay because we won that war?

I hope that I'm not speaking for the types of people that I imagine you're trying to flush out of the bushes with your question, but I hope that you can see that we're not all like those folks just because we were born there. My family never ever owned a slave, so why should I disown my Rebelness? (many southerners truthfully say that cuz only a fraction of a fraction ever owned anything).

Almost every country, and parts of every country, have some kind of nasty of past, but we can't go forward carrying that heavy guilt. So, I get your question, but I'm just not sure what the options are. Does anyone really hate where they came from? Then what?

Paul Rekk

DJA, let's not fool ourselves into believing that the Union was any less racist than the Confederacy. Not keeping slaves does not equate to happy, love-dovey utopia for all peoples.

It's a further extension of RLewis' comment on Native Americans -- Native Americans, African-Americans, Asian-Americans, any kind of -American that has spent time in any position other than "In Power" has been treated like shit at some point in time by the American Union. Just because we weren't fighting a war against ourselves in defense of it doesn't mean it wasn't happening. Or being supported by the government as well as the general public.

On the basis of your argument, national nostalgia is almost universally fueled by racism. Which might be the argument you're trying to make. But if so, you're certainly going about it in an odd way.


DJA, let's not fool ourselves into believing that the Union was any less racist than the Confederacy.

Except for, you know, the whole Emancipation Proclamation thing.

Not keeping slaves does not equate to happy, love-dovey utopia for all peoples.

No, but it does mean you don't keep slaves, which I feel confident in saying is, on balance, probably better than launching a treasonous rebellion explicitly in order to protect your right to keep slaves.


Okay, I guess HTML tags don't work here. First and third paragraphs shoudl be in quotes.


In some ways, the South's rebellion is an excellent example of the necessity of an ideal to reflect some sort of fact on the ground.

Independance and the right to make one's own decisions are both laudable ideas. But there's no getting around the South tried to make that stand on behalf of slavery (and later, segregation.) Within that case, that corrupts the ideal absolutely.

Still, some sympathy. Any cherished national myth includes some dismisal of atrocity as an insignificant blooper. No country or region is without immorality. It is the South's misfortune that they choose to make their principle sin their defining element and their causus belli. No nuance can erase that.

Still, granted, we are sinners all, me especially. That doesn't make it OK.


RLewis said, "We weren't Yankees, but we had a regional pride no different than New Englanders."

Well, I have to say I think the Confederate Nostalgia being described IS different than New Englanders', a lot different. I was working in Charleston a few years ago when they were debating removing the Confederate flag from the state house (debates that were televised live!) One guy I worked with was from Concord, Mass., and he was also perplexed by the whole thing. He said, "No one dresses up like Minutemen up in Concord!"

Scott Walters

As a Northerner living in the South, my view of this question is complex. I have become increasingly aware of how the fact that the winners write history has played out regarding the South. Somehow, the locus of racism has been portrayed as a Southern thing, with Northerners blissfully free of its taint. Of course, this is nonsense -- many of the worst race riots in history were in northern cities. Segregation? I teach a course on the Harlem Renaissance, where black entertainers were not allowed to be in the audience where they entertained -- just one example of a much larger group of segregationist behavior, which includes segregated military units in WW I and WW II. The point I am making is not to rationalize southern racism, but rather to universalize it as an American phenomenon.

Yes, part of the Civil War was about slavery, there is no denying that. But its position as #4 in the constitution suggests we reconsider its centrality. Setting aside the politics for a moment, anyone who studies the Civil War will quickly realize that the Southern military leaders are more noble and heroic than the Northern leaders. Lee vs Grant? No contest. One of the reasons the North won the war was its willingness to use brutal and immoral tactics. Sherman's march to the sea and the burning of Atlanta, for instance, was a war crime of appalling brutality -- something that is largely glossed over in popular history. As Wikipedia describes it: "Sherman therefore applied the principles of scorched earth, ordering his troops to burn crops, kill livestock, consume supplies, and destroy civilian infrastructure along their path. This policy is often considered a component strategy of total war." You can draw a line from this event directly to the war in Iraq, in my opinion.

So the Confederacy nostalgia is about heritage and pride, and is a rejection of the type of shame that the North would like to keep inflicting on the South, which is reinforced through the constant portrayal in popular media of the south as brutal, racist inbreeders without education. That understood and appreciated, the Confederate flag also represents many, many painful memories of horrific acts perpetrated against African-Americans, and I believe it should be removed from any public or educational building. It has come to be a symbol of hatred.

But I would also say that the stars and stripes is also a symbol of many, many painful memories perpetrated against groups. Neither flag is unblemished.

My question for you, Isaac, is why you felt compelled to explore this particular shop? Were you seeking understanding, or were you seeking to have your preconceptions about the South reified?


Scott, Isaac hasn't shared any preconceptions about the South with us here. He has shared some thoughts about the *Confederacy*, but as one who grew up in the South, I don't regard the two as synonymous. If you're not referring exclusively to this post, can you provide a link to Isaac describing or revealing his preconceptions about the South in a different post?

Your point about the American flag is well-taken, though. Where I make a distinction is that I think the American flag symbolizes an idea and a society that is still, if not perfectable, improvable. The Confederacy, unlike the South, is stuck with its various characteristics for good.

Joshua James

I agree with Mac's last point . . . part of the idea behind the confederate flag is one of yearning for a specific identity during a time which, in hindsight, was about some very destructive and negative things . . . looking at the American flag, while our implementation of our cultural identity under it has contained seriously destructive acts in the beginning (specifically native Americans, but also treatment of women, immigrants, etc) the very idea behind the American flag is one of "all men are created equal" and our American identity is one of movement TOWARD that means and perfection of that idea (and to note, I recall in FOUNDING FATHERS, THAT of the debates of that time found many southern delegates fighting against that idea, which in turn led to the later creation of the confederacy) -

In essence, American has corrected many of its mistakes (civil rights, women's rights, etc) and has more to do (gay rights, etc) whereas the confederate flag represents a yearning for a time when those things did not exist.

On a personal level, I remember growing up and watching the Dukes of Hazard all the time, like all the kids in my small Iowa town. We didn't think anything of the flag on the car, to us it meant nothing other than it was a cool thing to have a car.

In high school, long past the Dukes, a kid transferred to our school - he was from the deep south, his name was Duane but he wanted everyone to call him Rebel. Duane had the confederate flag everywhere on his personal items, and even had it featured in his senior picture.

Duane made no bones about what it meant to him. He hated black people (actually, he used more racially tinged despcripters) and hated them with a passion . . . in our small school, in Iowa, it was a joke to the rest of us kids (because the nearest black person was at least fifty miles away, none of us really knew any folks of color) and an eccentricity that was interesting. . . looking back now, with the knowledge I have, it's much scarier. He was a racist, plain and simple, and he loved the confederate flag because it was part of his racist identity.

Certainly I'm sure Duane doesn't represent all of the folks from the South, but I don't think, at that time in the eighties, he was unusual, either.

I don't know what meaning it has, but other than the Dukes of Hazard, it's my only direct personal experience with the confederate flag and I thought I'd share.


Here's where I get lost: I completely understand the Southern pride line of thinking ... but the Confederacy and the South are not the same thing. The South was a confederacy for a really brief period of time (which was hardly its best or most successful moment), so why fixate on THAT time and THAT symbolism when declaring pride in your roots?

Side note; I was born in New England and now live in the south. I love my home state, but it has a lot to do with the Red Sox and very little to do with the 13 original colonies...

danielle wilson

so why fixate on THAT time and THAT symbolism when declaring pride in your roots?

Because a flag with a glass of sweet tea and the word "ya'll" on it isn't as aesthetically pleasing? I dunno. I think really that's the answer...the confederate flag is common to all southern states. It's the emblem for "southern" the way a lone star is the emblem for "texas". (Texas is not southern)


Texas is not southern.


Texas may be many things, but one of them also was a Mexican state that refused to stop slavery, which was why Mexico went to war with it. Texas became American because America allowed owners to keep their slaves.


Following their loss in the Civil War, it was not common to see Confederate flags flown in the South again until the mid-20th century. Their resurgence was a specific reaction to the integration and civil rights movements, having less to do with general "Southern pride" and more to do with specific opposition to integration and civil rights.

Simply put, the Confederate flag was dusted off ninety years after the short life of the Confederacy and put back into use as a way to express and stoke anti-black sentiment.

danielle wilson

Texas may have been part of the confederacy, but I maintain that it's not southern. It's very hard to describe in a comment, but the feeling of living in Texas (I lived there for a summer) and the feeling of living in the Carolinas (where I've lived most of the rest of my life) is different. Different food, different accent, different pace of life.

It wasn't common to see flags flown in the south after the civil war because it was illegal. Nevertheless, I see your point. I find it very interesting because I grew up in the south in the late 70s/early 80s and I guess as I kid I assumed those flags had been around continuously since the civil war. I went to public schools and my classes were always about 50/50 black and white. I don't ever remember there being any racial issues, but it could be due to the fact that I grew up in a military town so the locals were pretty used to and tolerant of all kinds of people.

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