CIVIL WAR MEMORY
The Online Home of Kevin M. Levin
I don’t watch much Internet video. I don’t have time, and prefer to read a transcript, which is a lot faster. However, not all videos are accompanied by a transcript. This one isn’t. So I watched it.
I’m never surprised anymore that people who harangue the South for “hanging on” to its identity shaped by its racial past are the very ones who endlessly harp and carp and carp and harp about — the South’s racial past. That’s what made up the last part of this address — and I think it was the very purpose of the whole flippin’ talk — so that all that went before it, about Tennessee and El Paso and family, etc. — was a lead up, a disguised lead up, included simply to serve the actual purpose … the focusing on race, race, race, race, race.
I also resent this: “But we were not self-consciously Southern in those days. They told no family stories of the civil war and they taught us no racial obsessions and self-conscious white identity which are often the markers of the South.” My family didn’t do that either, and the “often” is not enough of a quantifier, IMO, to keep this statement from implying that this characterized the whole white South.
And this: “Like all white Southern families mine benefited from a Southern way of life that gave whites opportunities denied to African Americans.” I think there were, and still are, a LOT of white Southern families in Appalachia who would beg to differ with that. Moreover, giving whites opportunities denied to African Americans is a “way of life” that is NOT exclusively Southern, so I resent the use of that adjective, which lets the whole freaking rest of the country off the hook in that regard.
Whose South is it? It is MY SOUTH. And I don’t mean that in the sense that it belongs to me, but that I BELONG TO IT. Or, perhaps, that we belong to each other. And that is why I soooo resent the evilization of its white population by people — hypocrites, largely — who are absolutely no better and do not have the moral authority to do it.
I suggest you take this up with your fellow white southerner.
It must be awful to go through life continuously looking for phantom insults and resenting folks who highlight advances in racial relations and who highlight multiracial aspects of southern society.
Connie, I don’t see what your issue is with this video then. If your family didn’t go on about white supremacy, like his family didn’t, then what’s the issue? I have no doubt that there are thousands and thousands of white Southerners who likewise celebrate their region without falling back on the racist past.
It only becomes an issue if the past one hangs on to is the Confederacy; because that past was based on white supremacy. And so, yes, race race race race and race is going to be talked about. And should.
You know, this racist past is a shared legacy–that North and South are both responsible. We Northerners accept this for the most part. It’s Lincoln’s central message (if neo-Confederates would just read him and take him at his word, they would see this). So no one is blaming you for American racism. You needn’t be so sensitive.
But I don’t understand why you feel you must deflect Mr. Wilson’s point that he and his benefited from white privilege. This seems like a level of honesty that can go a long way. But instead, you go on about “Appalachia”, and how that sort of bigotry is not exclusively Southern. No one said it is. I suggest you be careful, since you are in danger of entering Hamlet, Act III, Scene II territory.
Before proceeding, let me say I think I have no prejudice against the Southern people. They are just what we would be in their situation. If slavery did not now exist among them, they would not introduce it. If it did now exist amongst us, we should not instantly give it up. This I believe of the masses North and South. Doubtless there are individuals on both sides, who would not hold slaves under any circumstances; and others who would gladly introduce slavery anew, if it were out of existence. We know that some Southern men do free their slaves, go North, and become tiptop Abolitionists; while some Northern ones go South, and become most cruel slave-masters.
When Southern people tell us they are no more responsible for the origin of slavery than we, I acknowledge the fact. When it is said that the institution exists, and that it is very difficult to get rid of it, in any satisfactory way, I can understand and appreciate the saying. I surely will not blame them for not doing what I should not know how to do myself. If all earthly power were given me, I should not know what to do, as to the existing institution. My first impulse would be to free all the slaves, and send them to Liberia,-to their own native land. But a moment’s reflection would convince me, that whatever of high hope, (as I think there is) there may be in this, in the long run, its sudden execution is impossible. If they were all landed there in a day, they would all perish in the next ten days; and there are not surplus shipping and surplus money enough in the world to carry them there in many times ten days. What then? Free them all, and keep them among us as underlings? Is it quite certain that this betters their condition? I think I would not hold one in slavery at any rate; yet the point is not clear enough to me to denounce people upon. What next? Free them, and make them politically and socially our equals? My own feelings will not admit of this; and if mine would, we well know that those of the great mass of white people will not. Whether this feeling accords with justice and sound judgment, is not the sole question, if, indeed, it is any part of it. A universal feeling, whether well or ill-founded, cannot be safely disregarded. We cannot, then, make them equals. It does seem to me that systems of gradual emancipation might be adopted; but for their tardiness in this, I will not undertake to judge our brethren of the South.
Abraham Lincoln, 1858. This is the guy that the slavocracy hated/feared so much they were willing to gamble on secession rather than suffer his Presidency.
Exactly! The Peoria Speech! Bookend that sentiment with the Second Inaugural:
…American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war…
He only ever held the South responsible for secession, nothing else.
Incidentally, Rob, how did you get your text into italics? I haven’t been able to do that in comments on WordPress.