I have a question and I need a quick answer: Exactly what benefit is derived from the commemoration of Confederate History Month? Does it increase the standard of living for its celebrants, presumably poor and working-class whites? Does it provide them better wages, benefits and working conditions? I need to know…
Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell is teaching us the realities of the present-day Republican Party. When you want to appeal to the ultra-Right base, you’ll have to dabble in white supremacy, plain and simple. The Governor issued a proclamation in honor of Confederate History Month, “to understand the sacrifices of the Confederate leaders, soldiers and citizens during the period of the Civil War.” The original proclamation failed to mention slavery even once. In response, McDonnell said that “there were any number of aspects to that conflict between the states. Obviously, it involved slavery. It involved other issues. But I focused on the ones I thought were most significant for Virginia.”
Then, he issued a clarification, with a revised proclamation stating that “the institution of slavery led to this war and was an evil and inhumane practice that deprived people of their God-given inalienable rights and all Virginians are thankful for its permanent eradication from our borders.” Mississippi Governor and former RNC chair Haley Barbour - who recently characterized himself as a “fat redneck” - has drawn praise from the national chaplain of the Sons of the Confederate Veterans (SCV) for failing to mention slavery in his state’s Confederate Heritage Month proclamation. By the way, the SCV is a neo-Confederate group which, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, is dominated by radical racists, and whose leaders are tied to segregation and white supremacy.
According to Barbour, this whole slavery flap isn’t worth “diddly”. And as if to ignore the legacy of Jim Crow, McDonnell has brought back the literacy test for nonviolent felons who want to restore their voting rights.
So, once again I ask, why celebrate the Confederacy? McDonnell said it would increase tourism for Virginia, which I suppose is a valid reason if you plan to host a Klan convention. Don’t get me wrong, I think we should learn as much as we can about that important time in history. But these proclamations are not the stuff of history buffs, antique collectors and Civil War re-enactors. Rather, this is the glorification of slavery, domestic terrorism, secession and treason.
To invoke the Confederacy in 2010 is to throw a bone to disaffected white voters. They are bitter and angry because they can’t make ends meet, and rightly so. But their anger is misdirected. They want their country back, and hope to return to the “good ol’ days”, which was pretty horrible for minorities, women, the poor, and everyone except for rich white WASPy dudes with connections. They’re angry over all of these changes in society, with brown-skinned, Spanish-speaking illegal immigrants coming into the country and taking all of the good jobs picking fruit, washing dishes and busing tables. And of course there’s that black Muslim-socialist-fascist president who can’t find his birth certificate, and who made good on his promise to slip black folks some reparations and civil rights in the form of health care reform. Lord, have mercy.
So, the powerful always threw the bone to white folk of meager means, and many of them took it and ran, even though it was against their interests to do so. The Confederate soldiers who supposedly fought and died so bravely did it to maintain a system of slavery that kept themselves poor and dumb, and rendered their labor unnecessary. But at least they were white, so they thought. They remained poor during Jim Crow, but at least they could rally around the Confederate flag, and against black people. And that flag was a tool used to fight integration, civil rights, and the hopes and dreams of African-Americans. It was no coincidence, for instance, that Georgia added the stars and bars to their flag in 1956, after the 1954 Brown Supreme Court decision. From the 1960s on, Dixiecrats went Republican for the most part, and the GOP became the standard bearer for race card politics with a winning Southern Strategy. Meanwhile, the party of Lincoln - which once claimed over 1,500 black elected officials throughout the nation - has been rendered a Southern-based white nationalist party in the twenty-first century. Now that’s progress.
This is where the tragic West Virginia coal mine disaster comes in. “Low information” voters, as they are called, get very little from the GOP aside from empty-calorie values issues such as race, abort ion bans, gun rights and legalized homophobia. Republican policies, with help from corporate Democrats, have actually widened the gap between rich and poor since Reagan. Inequality is now worse than it was right before the Great Depression. Trickle-down economics has created a massive redistribution of wealth, making America far less socially mobile than those so-called socialist European nations the teabag crowd so enthusiastically derides. A big part of this bonanza for the rich has been deregulation.
A Republican utopia would be completely free from regulations because they stand in the way of total profits, and the workers be damned. Massey Energy - the company whose millions of dollars in safety violations led to the recent West Virginia mine explosion that killed 29 workers, the worst such disaster in 40 years - gives 91 percent of its money to Republican candidates. Massey CEO Don Blankenship said safety regulators are “as silly as global warming,” and argued that the Mine Safety and Health Administration “seeks power over coal miners.”
Perhaps Republicans should spend more time caring about workplace safety and the well being of people, rather than pander to their voters with empty calories, nonsense values and racial hatred. These white voters, to their detriment, have fallen for the okeedoke every time. The challenge for progressives is to sustain a movement that welcomes these poor and working-class whites, and shows them how to act in their own economic self interests for a change.
This article first appeared in The Black Commentator and is republished with permission.