Brad DeLong is right when he says “Confederate History Month is worthwhile because it has produced Ta-Nehisi Coates’s “The Ghost of Bobby Lee.” Coates’s piece is a brilliant reflection on how white Southerners should deal with their slaveholding ancestors, and how black Americans should deal with the complicity of Africans in the slave trade.
Here are a couple of snippets. But trust me, you really have nothing better to do right now than to Read the Whole Thing.
The Lost Cause is necromancy-it summons the dead and enslaves them to the need of their vainglorious, self-styled descendants. Its greatest crime is how it denies, even in death, the humanity of the very people it claims to venerate. This isn’t about “honoring” the past-it’s about an inability to cope with the present.
This is about a lancing shame, about that gaping wound in the soul that comes when confronted with the appalling deeds of our forebears. Lost Causers worship their ancestors, in the manner of the abandoned child who brags that his dead-beat father is actually an astronaut, away on a mission of cosmic importance.
I know how this goes. For us, it’s coping with the fact that people who looked like you sold you into slavery. It’s understanding that you come from a place that was on the wrong side of the Gatling gun. It’s feeling not simply like one of history’s losers, but that you had no right to win. The work of the mature intellect is to reconcile oneself to the past without a retreat into fantasy–in either direction. Claiming to be the descendant of kings and queens is just as bad as claiming to be thankful for the slave trade.
In case Satan reads this blog, and has any interest in acquiring one somewhat battered soul: I’d sell mine in a heartbeat to be able to write as well as Ta-Nehisi Coates.