Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Neo-Confederatism is alive and well in the United States

Nathan Bedford Forrest was a formidable Confederate cavalry officer during the American Civil War. After the war, he was the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. Such a figure ought to be reviled: this was someone who committed treason and rebellion in defense of the vile institution of slavery, and then went on to lead a domestic terrorist organization once that rebellion failed. Surely such a person would be considered a horrible villain! Surely people would be deeply ashamed that their ancestors were ever associated with him or his causes.

Nope. Due to the weird mythologizing of Confederate figures that has taken place in the American imagination (and not just in the former Confederacy), there's actually a high school in Florida named after this guy. And black students go to this school (37% of the students are black, according the alumni site). I find it hard to imagine anything more sick and humiliating to do to one's African American students (or any American student who cared about living in a society free of racial oppression) than to send them to Nathan Bedford Forrest high school.

Here's the alumni page linked above on the "controversy" about the name. Needless to say, I am hardly mollified by the reasons for keeping the name given in that article. The feelings of alumni nostalgia just don't stand up to the horrors of slavery, the horrors of the devastating war waged in its defense, or the horrors of the terrorism that went on and goes on in its aftermath.

Jamelle Bouie of Tapped offers a bleak assessment of how this state of affairs can remain in place:
For outrageous as it is that there are black students who attend a Nathan Bedford Forrest High School, the simple fact is that it pales in comparison to the other things African Americans in the South have had to worry about. Jacksonville, Florida, where that high school is located, for instance, has a double-digit poverty rate, a double-digit unemployment rate, and a fairly high murder rate, all of which disproportionately affect the city’s black population. Confederate-worship is annoying, but outrage falls pretty low on the hierarchy of needs, all things considered.
I would also add that African Americans simply don’t have the social capital to make people care about bigotry against them. Outside of high-profile incidents or blatant cases of racism, there aren't many people concerned with ubiquitous Confederate veneration. Indeed, it doesn’t even come across as obviously wrong in the way that a Nazi flag would. Put another way, this country has made an effort to forget its racial sins, and African Americans don’t have the social power necessary to challenge it, or stop the Confederate mythologizing of (some) Southern whites.
Whoa. That's pretty damn bleak. But it rings true to me.

Ta-Nehisi Coates and Jeffery Goldberg of The Atlantic react.

At the end of the American Civil War, our national consciousness swallowed a lot of immoral bullshit in the name of reconciliation between Northern and Southern whites. Maybe it was "necessary" to throw justice for blacks under the bus back then. But I'm not willing to do it now just so some people can cling to comforting myths. Change the goddamn name. Stop waving that hideous flag. Have a sense of shame, for Christ's sake.

If we look back at the history of our society, we will find much evil. Immorality was not and is not confined to the American South. But let us strive to correct the evils and injustices of our history, rather than celebrate them and populate our heroic mythologies with their perpetrators.

Whew. That was quite a rant. But I still can't get over the fact that in 2010, in The United States of America, there are black children being sent to Nathan Bedford Fucking Forrest high school. That fucking blows my mind. Fuck.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

IS VERY GOOD..............................

10:51 AM, October 07, 2010  
Anonymous Miguel said...

In Nashville there is a huge statue of this guy that is kept up by the side of the road and lit at night. People make a sport of shooting at it from their car windows.

6:57 PM, October 07, 2010  
Blogger Zachary Drake said...

Ha. I don't know whether I'm happy or sad about the shooting at that statue: On the one hand, I'm glad people disrespect the first Grand Wizard of the Klan. On the other hand, casual gunplay scares me. What a bizarre nation we live in.

8:02 PM, October 07, 2010  

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