Fresno is the home of the largest Civil War re-enactment in the United States.
While viewing this event, I have always wondered if the thousands who watch and participate view it as a historical “battle” between “good guys” and “bad guys.” This query leads to the debate over Confederate flags and memorials and whether the “bad guys” and their artifacts should be remembered fondly. I suggest you can better understand who were or are the “bad guys” by the use of comparative history.
African Americans, under assault today, view their past much differently than most white Americans. Like Jews and their Holocaust, blacks see slavery as their Holocaust. The salient point is, for both Jews and blacks, that there should be no memorials to either Nazism or racism. There can be no balancing of memorials with a false sense of “equality”: You got one for this Confederate hero, and we got one for our black hero, such as Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, Harriet Jacobs, and Frederick Douglass.
To understand the illogic of the “equality” argument, one must look to history and sentiment and the emotions that both drum up. Sentiments about historical memory are always in opposition. The Marxist historian Herbert Aptheker observed that “the oppressor needs history for rationalization, legitimacy and justification while the oppressed need history for inspiration and resistance.”
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These needs are, in the words of W.E.B. DuBois, the “propaganda of history.” Therefore, most blacks see the past as a polar opposite to the way most whites see it. This is similar to how most Mexicans view the Texas Rangers as a Ku Klux Klan type of white supremacist lynch law outfit, while many whites see the Texas Rangers through the lens of the popular television series “Walker: Texas Ranger.”
Hollywood also legitimized racist memory in another pop culture television series, “Dukes of Hazzard,” with their muscle car named after Robert E. Lee that “flew” the Confederate battle flag on its roof. Hollywood’s successful and lucrative effort at creating a historical romance with Southern history has entered into pop culture and into everyone’s social consciousness. Confusion abounds. These celluloid examples represent the oppositional history and sentiment embraced by many whites and some blacks. Blacks, by and large, have been the victims of democracy while whites, by and large, have been the beneficiaries.
Progressive and anti-racist whites (the good guys) involved in the movement for the Abolition of Slavery labeled American democracy as a racist democracy with the use of their coined term “slavocracy.” As Malcolm X observed about this new and improved racist America, “Anything south of the Canadian border” is destructive of black humanity.
That is why Martin Luther King Jr. said that his efforts to integrate Cicero, Illinois, were more dangerous than any similar efforts he led in the South during America’s second civil war. It is the second civil war of the ’60s civil rights movement that ushered in legal changes such as affirmative action, which changed America in a substantive way.
Two hurrahs for Gen. Colin Powell and President Barack Obama. Importantly, a white male southerner, President Lyndon Baines Johnson, coined the term “affirmative action” and initiated its implementation.
Last, to understand black sentiment on the removal to museums of Confederate memorials, one must ask one key comparative question.
Why aren’t there any memorials to the “heroes” who fought with “valor” and “conviction” for their beloved country of Nazi Germany?
Answer: The Allied Armies of Occupation did not permit them, and that occupation of reconstructed Germany was successful.
On the other hand, America’s attempt at “reconstructing” the South failed in a racist conflagration of “white line” organizations that “redeemed” the South via lynching, rape and murder.
This type of “holocaust” continues in the new conflagration defined as “Black Lives Matter.” The clarion of Southern segregationists, then and now, is that “(N-word) Life is Cheap.” Dylann Roof embraced that clarion to rationalize, legitimize and justify his actions and the fictionalized history that many Americans, unfortunately, continue to believe in. Thus, the debate over the place of the Confederate flag and memorials in America today.
Malik Simba is professor emeritus in the Department of History and Africana Studies Program at Fresno State.