This fury of white victimhood has been on display again in recent years with the hysterical conspiracy-mongering about President Barack Obama's birthplace, the Republican Party's assault on voting rights, the examples of police brutality targeting blacks, and the resurfacing of violent white supremacy as in the nine murders at a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina.
Some Brave Southerners
After the Charleston church massacre on June 17, some white politicians did step forward and renounce the South's long history of racism, slavery and segregation. State Sen. Paul Thurmond, son of longtime segregationist Gov. and Sen. Strom Thurmond, joined in calling for the removal of the Confederate battle flag from South Carolina's Statehouse grounds.
"I am aware of my heritage, but my appreciation for the things my forebears accomplished to make my life better does not mean that I must believe that they always made the right decisions," Thurmond said. "And for the life of me, I will never understand how anyone could fight a civil war based in part on the desire to continue the practice of slavery."
But other white Southerners continued to play the "we're the real victims here" card or to make up endless excuses for slavery and segregation. Some claimed to be simply standing up for "history" by defending the symbols of the slave South. [For a sample of these attitudes, see comments to Consortiumnews.com's "Confronting Southern 'Victimhood.'"]
In Arlington, where I had urged the County Board to petition the state legislature to remove Jefferson Davis's name from Route 1 and Route 110, there was an angry backlash to the idea from some county residents as well as support from others. One group recommended that, in Virginia, Davis's name be replaced by the name of African-American tennis player Arthur Ashe, who -- unlike Davis -- actually came from Virginia.
But resistance to the idea continued. On July 2, Consortiumnews.com's assistant editor Chelsea Gilmour, who was the author of the article about the training of U.S. Colored Troops at Camp Casey, posted an online petition to change the name of Jefferson Davis Highway to a Facebook group page, "I grew up in Arlington, VA," which has nearly 13,600 members who mostly share old pictures of Arlington, talk about shops that used to exist, and share memories from their time in Arlington.
However, when the petition was posted, Gilmour said, "Within seconds, a tidal wave of comments began appearing, generally along the lines of: 'Are you kidding?!,' ... 'I will not sign this,' 'Why are you trying to rewrite history?!,' ... 'This is the history of Arlington and the South and we can't change it.' ... Additionally, a number of personal insults were directed towards me. ... When [one commenter who had responded 'Idiot!' was] asked by another commentor why his previous comments had been so personally disrespectful towards me, he replied, 'This is an attack on my Arlington, my Virginia, my South!'"
Taking Down a Petition
Then, there were demands that the petition be removed from the Facebook page. "Within 45 minutes of posting the petition, it had been removed by the administrator of the page," Gilmour said. "The hateful reaction from a county which has always prided itself on being 'liberal' and 'open to diversity' was surprising and disheartening."
When another person posted the petition separately, it was immediately removed again.
This hostility and close-mindedness have been characteristics of many white Southerners for generations. Rather than acknowledge the historic evils of slavery and segregation -- and do whatever they could to make amends to African-Americans -- too many white Southerners and racists from other parts of the United States have wallowed in their own delusional victimhood.
Instead of confronting the real and ugly history, they have devised a fictional one that is reinforced by the many symbols of the Confederacy, from the many statues of Confederate generals to the Confederate battle flag (now waved as an international symbol of white supremacy) to the honors given to Confederate President (and Mississippi slaveholder) Jefferson Davis.
It is also not an affront to history to recognize the evil realities of history. Even in the Soviet Union -- after the crimes of Josef Stalin were exposed -- the government stripped his name from the city of Stalingrad, despite that city's enormous historical importance as a turning point of World War II. The renaming of the city was an acknowledgement of a very dark history. But, so too, is the history of American slavery.
When President Barack Obama went to Charleston on June 26 to deliver the eulogy for one of the massacre victims, State Sen. Clementa Pinckney, Obama read and then sang words from the hymn "Amazing Grace." Why his choice was so appropriate was that the lyrics were written by Englishman John Newton, an Eighteenth Century slave trader -- "a wretch like me" -- who repented for the evil that he had helped inflict.
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