Tuesday, December 21, 2010

150 years of PTSD OR South Carolina's selective historical memory

For regular readers, you know that I've *slowly* been doing a series where I answer questions from students at Private U. about being Asian American (it was from a workshop I did back in November--click here for the original post). But I'm interrupting that series for something very topical in time and to my location, namely, the sesquicentennial (150) celebrations that are being planned (and in one instance, that took place) in commemoration of the Civil War.

Very specifically, 150 years ago yesterday, on Dec. 20, 1860, South Carolina became the first state in the confederacy to secede from the Union, issuing an "Ordinance of Secession" and eventually signing a "Declaration of Secession" and finally issuing a call to other states entitled, "The Address of the people of South Carolina, assembled in Convention, to the people of the Slaveholding States of the United States."

As the last call makes clear, South Carolina saw itself as a slaveholding state, saw its neighbors as slaveholding states, and understood the common cause that it had with other states in the Confederacy as slaveholding entities. In other words, the southern Confederacy broke with the union over states' rights...and that right was the right to OWN SLAVES. South Carolina in particular was upset that the North was not going to return fugitive slaves. Throughout the Ordinance and the Declaration and the Address, there are continuous references to rights of slave owners and slave holding states. This was about the economics, society, and culture of the South...all of which was predicated on African American enslavement. Because we're not just talking about abstract slavery--where anyone could be enslaved so that it became an issue of class--we're talking about a system of racial oppression and hierachy, or literal white supremacy.

Yet for many descendants of ex-Confederate soldiers, it's like there's been generational PTSD passed down over the last 150 years that has caused white Southerners to romanticize the past, to justify the loss of life, and to conveniently forget or overlook the historic reality of exactly WHY the Civil War was fought. And in the case of certain white native South Carolinians--it's a selective amnesia about why and how the ordinance of secession came about. Because in Charleston last night, the Sons of Confederate Veterans held a ball last night, a Secession Gala where 300 guests paid $100/ticket to enjoy a 45 minute theatrical re-enactment of secession, and where table sponsors had the honor of having their picture taken with the original declaration. For the organizers and guests who attended the gala, South Carolina's secession should be celebrated as a way to honor the issue of states' rights and the valor of the confederate soldiers who gave their lives for their state, refusing to see any connection to slavery or asserting that the celebration was not a "racial" issue.

Well, this seems patently absurd. Of COURSE it's racial! Who we decided should be enslaved made it racial. And if the demographics of those at the ball and those who protested the ball are any indication, then YES, it IS a racial issue. I mean, I (obviously) didn't attend the gala, so I can't say, for certain, that everyone who attended was white (but The Guardian can) but I have to say that in the hour that I was outside Gaillard Auditorium (and yes, I'm in Charleston as we speak) I didn't see any people of color enter the auditorium--and the organizers, dressed in period costume, all appeared to be white. Whereas those of us joining in the unity rally and protest of the ball were a mixed group of black, white, and in the case of myself and another woman, Asian American protesters.

[Note: There may have been American Indian and Latino and of course mixed race and multiracial folks in attendance at the protest--but at first glance, the crowd appeared to be largely white and black, especially if you didn't notice that I or the other Asian American woman was there, as this Boston Globe reporter clearly didn't since he only noted the "black and white" protesters in attendance]

I wasn't able to march with the protesters since my energy level is still very low post-chemo and surgery (I've heard it can take a year after chemo to feel "normal" again--sigh), but Southern Man and I were there, clapping and yelling and affirming the various speakers--we were a small part of the hundred folk who had gathered--and we got to see for ourselves the audacity of the sons of Confederate veterans and the guests who showed up in period costume--like the woman in The Guardian photo. When we saw her enter the auditorium I whispered to Southern Man,

"Where do you think she got that hoop skirt? Antebellum R Us?"

I wish I had brought my computer cable with me to upload photos from the protest to my laptop to show you some of the signs and some of the ridiculousness--like a band that played there who call themselves "Unreconstructed," the tag line on their trailer reads: "Keeping memories alive"

Ummm....which ones? I'd say that for the African American descendants of enslaved people, the memories of bondage and servitude and oppression are NOT ones they want to keep alive. And for women, particularly poor women? And for queer folks who were in the closet (as any queer people, black or white had to have been in the closet in the antebellum period--hell, throughout the 19th and most of the 20th century)? Or anyone who wasn't wealthy and white who had political power and wanted to keep their economic interests? What kind of memories do you want to keep alive for anyone who wasn't a wealthy white man or woman?

But let me leave the last word with Larry Wilmore, who notes that it's not just politically correct to say that the Civil War was fought over the issue of slavery, it's CORRECT correct!

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
The South's Secession Commemoration
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogThe Daily Show on Facebook

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I'm not American (I'm African). I've done some reading on the Civil War, but even the most fundamental reading (i.e reading the articles of secession of the various Southern states) should make it abundantly clear that the only right the South was fighting for was the right to own slaves.

It's right there in the Secession documents. Every time someone tells me the Civil War wasn't about slavery I wonder how stupid they think I am (or how ignorant they are).

Some excerpts


The States of Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan and Iowa, by solemn legislative enactments, have deliberately, directly or indirectly violated the 3rd clause of the 2nd section of the 4th article [the fugitive slave clause] of the federal constitution, and laws passed in pursuance thereof; thereby annulling a material provision of the compact, designed by its framers to perpetuate the amity between the members of the confederacy and to secure the rights of the slave-holding States in their domestic institutions-- a provision founded in justice and wisdom, and without the enforcement of which the compact fails to accomplish the object of its creation. Some of those States have imposed high fines and degrading penalties upon any of their citizens or officers who may carry out in good faith that provision of the compact, or the federal laws enacted in accordance therewith.
In all the non-slave-holding States, in violation of that good faith and comity which should exist between entirely distinct nations, the people have formed themselves into a great sectional party, now strong enough in numbers to control the affairs of each of those States, based upon an unnatural feeling of hostility to these Southern States and their beneficent and patriarchal system of African slavery, proclaiming the debasing doctrine of equality of all men, irrespective of race or color-- a doctrine at war with nature, in opposition to the experience of mankind, and in violation of the plainest revelations of Divine Law. They demand the abolition of negro slavery throughout the confederacy, the recognition of political equality between the white and negro races, and avow their determination to press on their crusade against us, so long as a negro slave remains in these States.


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.


I mean, it doesn't get any clearer than that. One doesn't have to read Battle Cry of Freedom or listen to David Blight's lectures to know this. One only has to read the first documents that one should consult about the Civil War, the documents in which the Southern States clearly laid out their reasons for committing treason against the United States of America