Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Confederate "Heritagae" Month, April 23: Neo-Confederate American patriotism and whiteness

Sorry, my April 23 entry is coming a day late. For this one, I want to call attention to the post by Kevin Levin at Civil War Memory, A Study in Irony 04/23/2013. You should go there to see the visual featuring the Confederate battle flag. But this is his comment on it: "The founder of the Virginia Flaggers holds up the flag of a failed rebellion against the United States as she chats with a gentleman at a political event for prospective candidates in Wakefield, Virginia next to a poster accusing Lincoln of treason."

The link he includes in that quote is to a Facebook page for "Confederate Flaggers - Stand, Fight, and NEVER Back Down!" Their "About" description is as follows, with quotation marks in the original:

"A group dedicated to the promotion of and education in flagging as a way to protect and defend all Confederate heritage, and to the support of all who are willing to join in. When needed, flaggers stand with our flags against those in opposition in a peaceful, yet forceful manner, to educate and inform the general public, and in open and visible protest against those who have attacked us, our flags, our ancestors, or our Heritage. This group will serve as a gathering place for flaggers, to share information and ideas, and help to facilitate the growth of flagging throughout the South, the U.S. and beyond!"
Kevin's comment focuses on the seeming contradiction between participating in an event honoring a Constitutional election and glorifying treason and sedition and white racism at the same time.

In this particular case, I would have to say that there is no inherent contradiction here. Participating in an election-related event doesn't mean that the participant supports the existing form of government as right, just or acceptable in a larger or longer-term sense.

But it is true that many people who "honor" Confederate Heritage by displaying the Confederate battle flag or other symbols of the Lost Cause also consider themselves very patriotic Americans. Isn't that a real contradiction?

It is. But the connecting point lies in part in a racialist conception of patriotism. Neo-Confederates honor the treason and armed rebellion of the Southern whites supporting the cause Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens stated like this in his famous Cornerstone Speech of March 21, 1861, describing the Confederate cause:

The [US] constitution, it is true, secured every essential guarantee to the institution [slavery] while it should last, and hence no argument can be justly urged against the constitutional guarantees thus secured, because of the common sentiment of the day. Those ideas, however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This was an error. It was a sandy foundation, and the government built upon it fell when the "storm came and the wind blew."

Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner-stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.
But for those who conceive of American patriotism today as an aspect of "whiteness," then American patriotism becomes a brand of white nationalism and therefore very compatible with the celebration of slavery and white supremacy in neo-Confederate thinking and rituals.

This photo at the Confederate Flaggers Facebook page shows an undated photo of people in Ku Klux Klan hoods and robes displaying a version of the American flag.

One of the commenters identifying himself as John Henry Taylor writes:

In 1861 this flag had become the symbol of corruption and evil. The monstrosity government that it represents now wants to destroy even our Christianity. Tis better that it is flown by the Klan and their vile membership than ever flown over our country as a symbol of a vile, evil, and corrupt occupation government, hell bent on enslaving the populace.
It sounds like the commenter wants us to consider him a patriotic American, as well.

Chauncey DeVega in Featured Reader Comment About the Boston Bombing, Chechens, and Racial Formation: "Whiteness" is a Measure of Community Norms and "Good Conduct" WARN 04/22/2013 describes his conception of whiteness and how it is socially constructed: "Whiteness has value in the United States. Race is made by the law, circulated and enforced via common sense, day-to-day interactions, and reproduced by social norms and standards."

He quotes one of his reader's comments about a 19th century court case that expressed a view, "the logic" of which, he says, "would appear to still hold today":

An 1857 South Carolina court decision on whether two men were white, quoted in Race Relations in Virginia and Miscegenation in the South 1776-1860, illustrates racial formation at work at the individual level:

"The condition of the individual is not to be determined solely by distinct and visible mixture of negro blood, but by reputation, by his reception into society, and his having commonly exercised the privileges of a white man.

But his admission to these privileges, regulated by the public opinion of the community in which he lives, will very much depend on his character and conduct; and it may be well and proper, that a man of worth, honesty, industry, and respectability, should have the rank of a white man, while a vagabond of the same degree of blood should be confined to the inferior caste. It will be a stimulus to the good conduct of these persons, and security for their fidelity as citizens."
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