Monday, September 17, 2012

6 Reasons Why Southern Pride Sucks

I live in the state of Virginia, home  of the Confederacy, birthplace of Robert E. Lee, which still, in 2012, celebrates Lee-Jackson Day. Virginia has monuments and memorials of Confederate officers scattered throughout the state, as well as several high schools named after prominent Confederates, and at this point, I barely spare it a thought.  However, today I was reading an article about how in Selma, Alabama, there is widespread outrage about plans to restore the monument on Nathan Bedford Forrest's grave site.  Many people believe that the monument honors a war criminal, racist, and is offensive to the large black population of the area.  Supporters of restoring the monument point to the history of the monument, the tourism dollars, and rather than the war criminal claims, think that Forrest was a war hero and mastermind.  Supporters stake their claim on "Southern Pride."  As I think about the term "Southern Pride", as it is currently being used, I can't help but feel the term totally sucks, for several different reasons.  Follow me below the fold to find out why...

6.  What is all this pride about anyway?

The term Southern Pride implies that there are things from the South to be especially proud about.  But most of the things that Southerners tout about being great about the South are things that Southerners can't help.  Southern people had nothing to do with beautiful mild winters, great beaches, or amazing waterways.  Those things that the people in the South can affect, they tend not to do too well in.  Like, obesity rates, educational outcomes, or divorce rates.

5.  You lost the war.

No, you didReally.  Much of the usage of the term Southern Pride centers around nostalgia about the antebellum period, up through some ancestor or the other's exploits during the Civil War.  A war in which the South was soundly defeated, and forced back into the United States.  Against their will.  Flying both the Southern Flag and the U.S. flags together, as I see all the time, should make people's heads explode from sheer cognitive dissonance.

4.  You know that war was about slavery, right?

Rather than some glorious "Lost Cause" and people fighting to the death because of high tariffs or "state's rights", the Civil War was mostly about slavery.  Which is something that most of the Southern leaders acknowledged at the time:

Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery-- the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun. These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization. That blow has been long aimed at the institution, and was at the point of reaching its consummation. There was no choice left us but submission to the mandates of abolition, or a dissolution of the Union, whose principles had been subverted to work out our ruin.

In the momentous step which our State has taken of dissolving its connection with the government of which we so long formed a part, it is but just that we should declare the prominent reasons which have induced our course.

 Yes, that means your ancestor was fighting bravely and ultimately ensure that other human beings remained in chains.  The story of why individuals decided to fight in a war is of course very complicated, but there is little doubt that had the South won, African-Americans would not have been freed for a very long time.

3.  Southern Pride tends to rely a lot on ancestor worship.  The problem being that some of those ancestors were really bad men.

From an article about the Forrest monument flap:

“Glorifying Nathan B. Forrest here is like glorifying a Nazi in Germany,” said Rose Sanders, a lawyer and local radio host. “For Selma, of all places, to have a big monument to a Klansman is totally unacceptable.”

Since the bust disappeared on March 12, the Friends of Forrest society has criticized Ms. Sanders for saying on the air that she wished the statue did not exist. She in turn has accused the society of hiding the statue, to attract sympathy. The society began to move ahead with a new monument, and plans approved by the Selma Historic Development Commission call for it to be 12 feet high, illuminated by L.E.D. lights, surrounded by a wrought-iron fence and protected by 24-hour security cameras.

“We take the position that, in this country, we’re allowed to venerate our heroes,” said Todd Kiscaden, a Friends of Forrest member overseeing the construction. “There’s a monument to Martin Luther King in town. We don’t deface that monument. We don’t harass people. So let us enjoy the same treatment.”

The problem with the equivalence between Nathan Bedford Forrest and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is that Dr. King, for his part, was never accused of massacring a bunch of black soldiers who had just surrendered to him.  Nor did King, unlike Forrest, start the Ku Klux Klan, who made a name for themselves by murdering and terrorizing minorities throughout the South.

2.  Southern Pride stresses regional differences rather than commonality

Americans are one of the most mobile populations in the world.  People move all over from one region to the United States to the other.  The South is currently enjoying a population boom as people emigrate to the South, seeking good weather and jobs.  Place of residence in the United States is a highly mutable characteristic, and much like New Yorkers who can't stop talking about how great New York is, excessive pride in a particular place just seems mostly obnoxious and exclusionary than anything else.

1.  Excludes a large portion of their population

There is a group of people who have a love being from the South, who have lived in the South for generations, and happily continue on with many Southern traditions, like food.  But they seem to be excluded from the term "Southern Pride", because when we say Southern Pride, we really mean "White Southern Pride".  The veneration of antebellum South, of ancestors who fought (on the Confederate side only) in the Civil War, of the insistence on waving the Confederate flag everywhere excludes up to a third of the population of the South from feeling this "southern Pride."  Or maybe that's the point?

Mmmm, Southern food, something everyone can agree on.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent job writing what could be an emotional or strident post in a logical manner. I live in Maryland, which is better than Virginia (I had to mention it) - we're the home of the NAACP and named our airport after Thurgood Marshall - BUT Union troops had to sit on Maryland to keep it Union, and Harriet Tubman escaped FROM Maryland, not TO it, so it's not like Maryland is full on North, no matter what people think today. And I agree with you on all of it, am utterly confounded by the fact that anybody thinks the war was about anything OTHER than slavery. Sure, the war answered the (somewhat) open question about whether a state can secede (No, it cannot) just because it disagrees with the federal government, but the war was only fought because some people wanted to go on owning other people, and the rest thought that was wrong. I am appalled that anybody could compare Forrest to Dr. King. And the Nazi comparison is worth examining - there are people in Germany who use the confederate flag to express racial hatred because the swastika is banned there. And Germany has had to figure out how to deal with their history. We need to do a better job figuring out how to deal with ours.