Thursday, December 22, 2011
This week a Facebook friend of mine, someone I’ve known casually since elementary school, posted a photo entitled “another drawing.” The photo was of a sketch, neatly rendered in colored pencil, of the Confederate flag. In front of the flag was a noose. Underneath, flying proudly on a banner, were the words “Southern Justice.”
“WTF?” I commented below. “Are you serious?!
“What?” she replied. “It’s a symbol just like the American flag. It represents honor and tradition.” Her husband then chimed in. “This flag symbolizes what this country was built on and should still stand for,” he said. “It symbolizes living your life the way you want to without government assholes interfering, and the right to say what you please.”
“That’s the southern revisionist narrative,” I said. “That flag stands for nothing but domestic terrorism. The kind practiced by those who could burn people alive on Saturday and go to church on Sunday.”
“You need to get an education,” said one friend-of-the-friend. “Both blacks and whites fought under that flag and died with honor.” “It’s a shame that she just wanted to share her drawing with her friends and you come on here and insult her,” added another.
“You guys don’t understand what ‘southern justice’ really meant,” I said. “Do you know what that noose truly means to people?”
“The noose conveys the right to exercise backwoods justice instead of letting the courts give child molesters and drug dealers get a slap on the wrist,” the husband replied. “It’s tradition, not racism.”
“Mob justice has no place in a civilized society,” I said. “As for the other thing, the motivating force behind the Confederacy is a matter of public record.”
“You are showing your ignorance,” said the husband. “I could argue the facts with you all day long, as I’m quite the Civil War buff. The war was about southern states being taxed to death, not slavery.”
“That’s completely bogus,” I said. “The reasons for the war are not disputed history. And you just don’t get you’re really invoking with that noose and flag. Look into the ‘postcards’ that were so popular. Read about the ‘souvenirs.’”
“One of the few freedoms we have left in this country,” the husband replied, “is the freedom to have our own opinions. And you’re perfectly entitled to believe anything you read in a government-produced textbook. “In case we don’t talk again,” he added, “Merry Christmas. Unless that offends you, too.”
Something nagged at me.
I walked up to the desk of “Cam,” the only black woman working in the office and a former southerner in her fifties. “Cam,” I asked. “When you were a kid in West Palm, what exactly did they teach you about the Civil War?”
“They taught us whatever they taught us,” she said breezily. “Whatever it was, I read it in the schoolbooks they gave us, passed the test, and moved on.” I didn’t like where this was going.
“Yes, but what was in those books?” I pressed.
“Now how do you expect me to remember something like that?” she said, looking at me skeptically. “There were a million things in those books they gave us. And they’re all the same things that are in those books today. You read ‘em, you pass the test, and you’re done. You can’t keep all these things in your head. You just can’t!”
“Yes, but…” Regrettably the ultimate jerkass question was called for. “Do you remember what the Civil War was fought over?”
“Well, I don’t know,” she said. “I suppose I could remember if I thought long and hard about it. But I don’t think about these things on a day to day basis, Marbles. I don’t go around thinking about the Civil War.”
“Wasn’t it about civil rights?” piped up the white girl who works at the other desk. Ever felt like a drowning fish?
“You guys really don’t know what the American Civil War was about?” I was talking to them both, but my eyes were squarely on Cam. “It was about civil rights!” the white girl asserted again.
“You really expect me to recall something I looked up in a book a hundred years ago?” Cam said in amazement. “You think I got the time to rack my brains like that? I don’t remember what it was about and it doesn’t matter to me. I’m not gonna use that stuff for anything in my life.”
“Cam,” I said, “it was over slavery.”
“Well, so it was over slavery,” she shrugged. “I never lived through any of that. I don’t spend my time thinking about things like that, Marbles. I got other things to think about in my life, you know.”
“Guys,” I said, regretting that the office’s walls weren’t mine to bang my head against. “If we’re all this historically illiterate…”
“Hey,” the white girl frowned.
“If we’re all this historically illiterate,” I went on, “that’s why we’re so easy to manipulate.”
“I’m not easy to manipulate,” Cam replied with singsong firmness. “Nobody manipulates me.”
There was nowhere left to go from there, except back to my desk.
“She is right ,” I had to admit. “Nobody does.”
Question: What’s behind this northern embracing of sanitized southern mythology? Is it an inevitable result of national, rightwing backlash culture? Does Cam’s nonchalance indicate a larger problem with historical amnesia among those most affected by our nation’s past? How the bloody #&%$!! does all this happen, anyway?
 Keep in mind these Facebook people are all fellow northerners. I don’t get it, either.
 I know what you’re thinking, and answer is yes. They invoked that kid.
 Incidentally, this is a link the guy sent to “educate” me. Queensland, Australia? Really? (shrug)