My 2 Cents on the Confederate Flag Issue, and Why @TheRickWilson is Oh-So-Myopic About It

So, I was sitting at home, second screening the Yankees game, while otherwise engaged with my Twitter feed. This was the evening of June 22 and so of course the trending story was the AME Church massacre, and the tweets coming from my usual cohort of NYC lefty- anarcho-syndicalist-Socialist-Pinko-Commie friends and acquaintances was pretty much what you’d expect: Outrage, outrage at cold-blooded murder, outrage at racism, outrage at gun violence, outrage at the stupid, stupid South.

I certainly didn’t disagree with any of this — I, too, dislike murder, racism, guns, and stupidity — but I honestly can’t say I shared the outrage. From the day JFK was murdered in Dallas in 1963 on through to June 22, 2015, there’s just been way too many things, events, occurrences, happenings, outrages, for me to be outraged by this; I’m pretty much out of outrage.

For at least part of feeling outraged, I think, depends on surprise, genuine shock that “that could ever happen.” The Twin Towers? That was, by anyone’s standards, surprise and shock. But a white kid murders a bunch of black people, in their church, in the South? Sorry, there’s nothing surprising or particularly shocking about that, nor has there been for  a century and a half, for God’s sake.

Then I happened to notice someone retweeting a long string of numbered tweets from a guy calling himself @TheRickWilson — never heard of him but, I guess, yes, the name is common enough to qualify one of many Rick Wilsons to call himself The Rick Wilson — and his take on the AME murders was noticeably different from that of my outraged friends. TheRick was outraged too, and obviously on a rant — once you get up to numbered-double digits you’re definitely on a rant — but, at least at first impression, this was also someone determined not only to get something off his chest but to do so in a reasoned and reasonable way. His tweets got my attention because what was outraging Rick Wilson was not the church murders themselves so much as apparent inaccurate aspersions on the Confederate flag, or by what he was seeing as the reduction of these murders to a  condemnation of that flag, to what it stands for and what it doesn’t stand for.

3/ …I’ve never idolized the Confederate flag. It has no real emotional weight for me.
4/ I recognize the fraught history of the Confederate flag. As a Southerner, I recognize the outside world views it with singular hatred.

Sounds fair and reasonable enough, right? (Wait a sec, though, what’s the “outside world“? the world outside of Charleston? outside of South Carolina? “the South” the USA?) But then:

5/ Not a single person in the media views it as anything but a symbol of racial hatred. I get it. It plays to their favorite conceit…

Now that caught me up. Okay, Rick, and I guess an increasing number of people, especially people in my little NYC circle, think of Twitter itself as “the Media” or at least a significant player in “the Media,” but is that what we’re talking about here, not murders of black people by a racist youth in the South, but the AME murders as a media event? Unfortunately, that is exactly what TheRickWilson sees:

6/ …that all Southerners are cousin-kissin’ mouth-breathin’ cross-burnin’ toothless Bubbas. “Yee haw, Cletus! Git my hood!”

Wow, that’s my immediate reaction: Wow. ‘Cause in my own mind I’ve just dismissed surprise, and shock, and outrage by these — just today’s!– murders. Am I operating under this same pre-judging? — this prejudice that the South is all just a bunch of cross-burning toothless Bubbas? No, dammit, I’m not, and I know I’m not, and I know there is a lot of, shall we say, nuance here that I’m not ignoring and that perhaps TheRickWilson is going to remind me, us, of.

Yes, racial murder in the South — and in the North, West, and MidWest of the United States, for that matter — is not a new story by any means but it also is not just a matter of “a bunch of cross-burning toothless Bubbas,” either. Well, not only that… because:

8/ As a modern Southerner, I know you media people will never believe, accept, or report it, but race relations in the South…

Aren’t really at all bad, right? Aren’t any worse and are maybe even better than race relations in the North, right? I’ve certainly heard that said, but, no, according to TheRick, race relations in the South…

9/ …GENERALLY look a lot more like the unity AFTER the Mother Emmanuel shootings than the horror OF the shootings.

Really, race relations in the South are GENERALLY (absent days of racial mass murder) sweetness and light, forgiven and forgotten, hey, we’re all just neighbors, right, we’re all just UNITED? This smells like horseshit. And now it gets even stinkier:

10/ Roof was a evil shitheel who complained how lonely his racist path was. He was trash who could have used…
11/ …either a black or white mamma of the last generation to whip his fool ass. Y’all who know [what] “get me a switch’ is know it’s transracial.
13/ If you had the right kind of Southern grandma, you’d get backhanded for the n-word not just b/c it was racist but because it was RUDE.

We’ll get back to tweet 12/ — I didn’t skip it for any rhetorical advantage here; ‘ol Rick just kinda got ahead of his argument for the moment. But let’s stop a sec to talk about mamma or grandma (apparently which generation is unimportant here, except for the implication I’m picking up that we’re not talking about mammas today, modern spoiled Southern helicopter moms, I guess, not “the right kind” of mamma/grandma). Well, I had a “Southern grandma.” Not quite the fine old white patrician Southern grandma relaxing on her verandah, nor the wise old black Mammy that TheRick seems to have in mind, but close, she was a southern German grandma in a (largely — we’ll get to that shortly) white working class town who chastised me the first and only time I ever uttered the word “nigger” in her presence: “You be quiet, you don’t use that word, you don’t ever say that again.”

After all these years, these decades, I’m pretty sure those were her exact words. True, she wasn’t into whipping my fool ass, but she had made herself crystal clear, nonetheless: You will not use that kind of language in this house or anywhere else, with me or anyone else; it is RUDE.

You’re right, TheRick, lots of fine Southern (and Northern, maybe?) mammas and grandmas taught their younguns (Yoots, as Joe Pecsi memorably said in My Cousin Vinny) not to say the N-word, because it’s RUDE. What my grandma, bless her, didn’t say, of course, is that that word isn’t just RUDE; it’s racist. But TheRick thinks that RUDE trumps racist; here’s that previously skipped #12 entry:

12/ You miss the shared faith, and friendliness, and manners, and small courtesies of the South. It’s dilute(d) (sic) in places, but it’s there.

You bet it’s there, and it’s not that “dilute,”either; it’s there in spades, pun intended, it’s there, in fact, in the very ideal of shared faith of the AME church that invited “the evil shitheel” Roof into their Bible Study circle, it’s there in the “friendliness and manners, and small courtesies” that blacks and whites in the South (and in the North, and in…) practice every day and sometimes every hour of every day precisely so as to not have to name and somehow (but how?) fight the reality of RACISM that is, despite shared faith and manners and courtesies, the inadmissible reality of their, of our, everyday lives.

You know that line, “when I hear the word culture, I reach for my gun”?  Well, for me, it’s when I hear the word manners, I reach for my gun — that is, if I had a gun, which of course I don’t. There are some words made to cover a multitude of sins, and “manners” is a word that covers a awful lot of the sins of America racism. “Shared faith” and “small courtesies” are others that perform that duty. Hell, so are “States’ Rights” and “Heritage, not Hate,” and “the Lost Cause.”

Let me return a moment to my home town, Sparrows Point, Maryland. It was a white town. True, there were a lot of black people who lived there, but they lived in the black part of town, really not Sparrows Point at all, really, because they lived in the other part of town. Sparrows Point was a Company Town, a town built, owned, and operated as its own little principality off the Chesapeake Bay, by Bethlehem Steel: Wikipediacorrectly calls it an “unincorporated community” for that reason.

Sparrows Point was just south of Baltimore, but there was no Baltimore, or Maryland, law there (as such); there was only the law of Beth Steel. And Beth Steel built and ran Sparrows Point as a Jim Crow town, a classically “separate but equal” black and white town — and like all Jim Crow towns, furiously separate and painfully unequal. My best guess is that Sparrows Point was about 70% white, the town, and across a large field comprised of four equidistant baseball diamonds, there was a black part, with about 30% of the population. White or black you had to be approved and invited by Beth Steel to live in the town and you and your family had better be well-behaved if you wished to remain there. While there were surely exceptions, if you lived in the white part of town — the town — you or your forbears had been recruited from good Pennsylvania German stock, good hardworking, industrious (they’re not the same), people who know how to follow orders, but can improvise when necessary. If you were black, again with inevitable exceptions, you or your forbears came from Virginia, the theory being that Virginian blacks were every bit as hardworking and dependable for manual labor (alone) but not nearly as obstreperous as blacks from the Deep South. Hey, you can’t make this shit up.[1]

As I said, the baseball fields were the dividing line between white and black Sparrows Point. Very few whites ever ventured into the black part of town; no blacks ever came into the white part of town. Oddly, though, the ball fields were the one and only place where blacks and whites came together: White kids played on the two diamonds on the south end; black kids played on the two northern diamonds, but every so often white kids played against black kids, and we actually called it “Whites against Blacks.” Adults played as well, but only whites; they played in the Beth Steel softball league, which blacks were not allowed to join, nor were they allowed to form their own teams. The same was true of official Little League games, which were for white kids only. See, Separate but Equal.

So, okay, we weren’t the deep South — hell, we were kind of progressive in some ways; Beth Steel built the first Kindergarten in the U.S., in Sparrows Point! (for the white kids) — but we were south of Baltimore in the great southern slave state of Maryland. And my good old German grandma would not allow her children, nor her children’s children, to use words like “nigger,” because they were RUDE words, because even in a separate but equal town — where, ironically and providentially, there were no black people around to hear white folks use the N-word — you can’t get along when you say (aloud) rude things, when you don’t mind your manners.

What she didn’t tell me of course is that why, aside from bad manners, you shouldn’t say the N-word, why it was in fact bad manners to say the N-word: Perhaps because it referred to a system that was bad in and of itself, and because we white folks benefited from that system — I have fond memories of Kindergarten! — and because we benefited in ways that others (black people) were in principle excluded from? We benefited because others were excluded from those benefits, because, so the fine old Heritage of the South theory went, they were deemed to be by nature incapable of appreciating or exercising benefits available to white folks, in this case the people of Sparrows Point, alone.

This is then the crux of the issue when we talk about the Flag: Whether we’re talking about the pre-Civil War South of White Supremacy/Black Slavery, or post-Civil War Reconstruction and Jim Crow, or the “Lost Cause,” or “Heritage not Hate,” or George Wallace’s “Segregation Now, Segregation Forever” — or indeed, of TheRick’s South of shared faith, good manners, and small courtesies — what we’re talking about is White Supremacy and Black Slavery; that’s what that fucking Flag means. And, oh yeah, what it also means is treason.

Let’s be upfront about this: Heritage not Hate? That Heritage is slavery and white supremacy. The Lost Cause? The cause that was lost was slavery and (legal) white supremacy — and, of course, treason to the United States of America. How about States’ Rights? What, the right to name a state bird and pick a Latin motto?[2] No, it was the right of white people to own and trade black slaves. And later, of course, States’ Rights was about the right to segregate black and white people. The Confederate Flag is just a symbol? Yes, indeed, it is just a symbol of all that.

Well, we seem to have lost TheRick here. Not really. In his rant TheRick continues to excoriate the liberal media — remember, this whole murder thing is to him a liberal media event — for demanding the Flag must go! Fine, he says, take down the Flag, even though the Flag had nothing to do with it:

19/ He killed them because he was an evil racist shitheel with a dead soul. HE was the agent, not the flag or the gun or the Internet.

Well, at least that’s something the Internet can’t be blamed for! Nonetheless…

29/ Take down the flag. It’s the right thing to do.

But don’t think that “erasing” the Flag will “erase the problems of today.” (/28)

26/ Erasing it isn’t a sign of a healthy society. Consider it, analyze it, discuss it. But they will seek to erase it.

So I guess I kinda agree with shortsighted-TheRick here. I think, however, the Flag should be left wherever it is, precisely so that we can consider it, analyze it, discuss it. We should name it for what it is and always has been, the symbol the Southern system of white supremacy/black slavery and the treasonous war fought to defend it.

If I may be permitted to quote my own tweet from that night of the AME tweetstorm: It’s not the symbol that divides us; it’s what the symbol symbolizes… And that’s why it’s best not to “erase” it at all.


[1] By the way, I refer to Sparrows Point in the past tense because it no longer exists. The Execs at Beth Steel, in its wisdom, decided they didn’t need the town any longer, so they destroyed it. Every bit of it. They even destroyed all the trees. (My theory is that they didn’t have the gumption to integrate the town, which would have been an inevitability. But it was their town and they felt no obligation to explain their actions.) Take a spin on Google Earth — Sparrows Point MD 21219 — to see what’s left.

[2] Joyce Carol Oates on Twitter: What did devotees of old South think that “states’ rights” was all about? Choosing state birds & Latin mottos?

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