Charleston: Five Important Reads
If you’re not completely exhausted and burned out by the coverage of events of the past few days in Charleston (and Columbia), I’d like to recommend five essays that are worth your time.
Ta-Nehesi Coates: What this Cruel War was Over:
Roof’s belief that black life had no purpose beyond subjugation is “sick and twisted” in the exact same manner as the beliefs of those who created the Confederate flag were “sick and twisted.” The Confederate flag is directly tied to the Confederate cause, and the Confederate cause was white supremacy. This claim is not the result of revisionism. It does not require reading between the lines. It is the plain meaning of the words of those who bore the Confederate flag across history. These words must never be forgotten. Over the next few months the word “heritage” will be repeatedly invoked. It would be derelict to not examine the exact contents of that heritage. . . .
It is difficult for modern Americans to understand such militant commitment to the bondage of others. But at $3.5 billion, the four million enslaved African Americans in the South represented the country’s greatest financial asset. And the dollar amount does not hint at the force of enslavement as a social institution. By the onset of the Civil War, Southern slaveholders believed that African slavery was one of the great organizing institutions in world history, superior to the “free society” of the North.
The Freedmen’s Patrol Blog: A Murderous Tradition of White America:
This attack does not present us with a mystery. The assassin told us with words and action precisely what he intended to do. The people who tell us otherwise could not have chosen a more obvious lie. He acted alone and isolated only in the narrowest, most literal sense that he did not gather together a conspiracy to help him. He had accomplices, morally at least, all around him. The people who named the streets, who raised the flag, who smiled off camera and took his picture, all played their part. They told the assassin that people who prosecuted the case for white supremacy, to the very point of war, deserved recognition and celebration. We don’t name streets after people we consider villains. We don’t fly flags we view as odious. The assassin has other accomplices who now pretend that the shooting had nothing to do with the persistence of white supremacy in the United States. They might deplore his methods, but by obscuring his ideology they enable it. Whether they cloak their cries of white power in the language of anti-anti-racism, as if one prefix did not negate the other, or say nothing because they dare not alienate what they correctly understand as a key voting constituency, they attend the shooting with more than indifference and less than the abhorrence it deserves. They know full well that if the assassin had different skin color or a different presumed religion, they would have no such scruples. How does one explain any of that, unless the excusers and obscurers are themselves white supremacists? If that doesn’t amount to racism, then nothing does.
Paul Mullins, Imagining the Racist Landscape:
Roof visited all these places in the months leading up to his mass murder at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church (see Corey McQuinn’s analysis of the Charleston Church’s history), yet he did not negate their histories by refuting the sites’ narratives. Ruff did not engage the critical histories told at Boone Hall, Sullivan’s Island, or McLeod Plantation, and his presence at Elmwood was at best a mute commemoration of Confederate dead with whom he perhaps fancied he had some affinity. His screed accompanying his “The Last Rhodesian” web page had nothing to say about the specific places he visited; instead, it simply repeated stale racist rhetoric and may betray the desperation of White privilege in the hands of an unreflective thinker. This is a somewhat different rhetorical approach than Confederate defenders and revisionists who weave historical fact and ideological biases into narratives that re-cast the war, the color line, and Southern heritage; Ruff’s text for the most part simply railed on a host of non-WASP peoples. Ruff does allude to “an American [sic] to be proud of and fight for,” a nation that apparently existed in some moment before Vietnam, but like many White supremacists Roof’s shallow history romanticizes a segregated world and rails at the perceived erosion of White privilege.
The Cotton Boll Conspiracy Blog, Deep debate cast aside for quick decisions based on ‘perception’:
Prior to the mid-1950s, the national news media didn’t perceive the persecution of blacks in the Deep South as being worthy of more than scant coverage, enabling extremists to kill, maim and intimidate blacks with almost complete impunity. With the murder of 14-year-old Emmitt Till in 1955 that began to change. The murder of civil rights activists in Mississippi in 1964 further prompted national news media to focus attention on Deep South transgressions. Once the major news media began to shine its spotlight on what was going on in the region regarding terror and mayhem, the federal government began to take a greater interest in putting an end to it. There are countless other examples of “perceptions” faced by blacks, along with those other minorities and women, that we now understand were not just misguided but out-and-out wrong. None of the above is to say that the flag issue isn’t worthy of discussion. But it should be done with logic and rational thought, rather than focusing on nebulous feelings that can neither be proved nor disproved.
Robert Moore, Charleston… and observations:
Historians have every right to be passionate and zealous for a “cause”; they can even be activists. It’s just that when that cause intersects with their professional historical era of interests, I find it a little troubling. For one, depending on the advocacy, I begin to question the ability of the same historians to really be objective when they return to the practice of writing and speaking about their historical era (obviously, in this case, I’m talking about the Civil War). More specifically, I find it troubling when, in the course of advocacy… for that common cause… the passionate and (overly?) zealous historians are much more accepting (yes… I’ve seen this in various places on the Web and in blogs) of those who rant and rave with poor history. I find it odd that they don’t keep the others in check. I’d say it might be a matter of one battle at a time, but then… there are also examples where I’ve seen selective dismissal of one ranting of poor history, but not another. I believe the “temporary lapses of forgiveness” of poor history displays compromised professionalism for zeal. I don’t think such compromise, even in the midst of passion for advocacy, is a good thing.
Good reads, and lots to consider.