The Tragedy of Southern History

One particular comment on my post about the Civil War particularly stood out in my mind.  The commenter said he was a “proud son of the South” and suggested that he felt obliged to question the causes of the North’s entry into the war, commenting that perhaps it was the North’s desire to defend capitalist interests (he also had an “old Marxist” in him).

Other commenters addressed the substance of his comments effectively.  But what caught my attention was the seeming connection between being a Southerner and in some way feeling the need to defend the Confederacy, if by no other means than questioning the North. 

That connection, in my view, is truly the tragedy of southern history — the way it has put so much that is good about the south into the shade.  No one who is Chinese would somehow feel the need to defend Mao.  Ditto with a Russian and the Soviet Union. 

The whole Confederacy/Lost Cause infatuation has destroyed the South twice: first, by having them engage in a treasonous war whose chief aim was to oppress. and second, by getting generations of southerners to think that being a “proud son of the South” means defending the slaveowners who caused it.  Not by defending slavery, mind you; but somehow not acknowledging the essential evil of the Southern cause.

A white southerner could easily call himself a “proud son of the South” and focus on William Faulkner, Eudora Welty, and Flannery O’Connor; C. Vann Woodward, Jonathan Daniels, Hodding Carter and the other courageous southern editors who spoke out against Jim Crow during the 50’s and 60’s.  Jurists such as Hugo Black, J. Skelly Wright, John Minor Wisdom, and the rest of the Fifth Circuit Four.  He could point to southerners’ proud tradition of military service in the United States Armed Forces.  Perhaps Southern Populism, the most inspirational progressive party in US history.  And the food!

This is the south, he could say.  Not the fetid stew of slaveholders, Ku Kluxers, Redeemers and slave-raping “defenders of chivalry” that falsely claimed the monopoly on defining Southern pride and identity.  And yet somehow, that stew has managed to pull one over on people and make them believe, perhaps unconsciously, that unless they stick up for the Confederacy, they are being treasonous to the South.

This is more than just one commenter.  It’s a spiritual and intellectual problem among many, many white southerners of good will.  Stop it!  You don’t need to love the ugliness in the south to love the south. You don’t hate the South.  You dont.  You dont!  You dont hate it!  You dont hate it!

Author: Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic - Land Use, the Environment and Local Government. He grew up and still lives in the San Fernando Valley, about which he remains immensely proud (to the mystification of his friends and colleagues). After graduating from Yale Law School, and while clerking for a federal appeals court judge in Boston, he decided to return to Los Angeles shortly after the January 1994 Northridge earthquake, reasoning that he would gladly risk tremors in order to avoid the average New England wind chill temperature of negative 55 degrees. Professor Zasloff has a keen interest in world politics; he holds a PhD in the history of American foreign policy from Harvard and an M.Phil. in International Relations from Cambridge University. Much of his recent work concerns the influence of lawyers and legalism in US external relations, and has published articles on these subjects in the New York University Law Review and the Yale Law Journal. More generally, his recent interests focus on the response of public institutions to social problems, and the role of ideology in framing policy responses. Professor Zasloff has long been active in state and local politics and policy. He recently co-authored an article discussing the relationship of Proposition 13 (California's landmark tax limitation initiative) and school finance reform, and served for several years as a senior policy advisor to the Speaker of California Assembly. His practice background reflects these interests: for two years, he represented welfare recipients attempting to obtain child care benefits and microbusinesses in low income areas. He then practiced for two more years at one of Los Angeles' leading public interest environmental and land use firms, challenging poorly planned development and working to expand the network of the city's urban park system. He currently serves as a member of the boards of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (a state agency charged with purchasing and protecting open space), the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice (the leading legal service firm for low-income clients in east Los Angeles), and Friends of Israel's Environment. Professor Zasloff's other major activity consists in explaining the Triangle Offense to his very patient wife, Kathy.

51 thoughts on “The Tragedy of Southern History”

  1. Tangential:

    No one who is Chinese would somehow feel the need to defend Mao.

    This is not my experience.

  2. I agree with Vance – Lots of Chinese people feel the need to defend Mao, or at least say things like “He made mistakes, but at least he built a strong China” or “he stood up to the West.” And from what I’ve read, lots of Russians, especially in the older generation, regret the passing of the USSR.

  3. You describe an important distinction. There are other cases in which people fail to see it. Think of those who question your patriotism if you protest a war. When people bashed Bush/Cheney and their team, they were accused of bashing the country itself.

  4. Jonathan, I agree with the spirit of your post…and with Vance and Andrew’s observations above. Mao’s image is, I believe, still on Chinese currency. Andrew Jackson, brutal racist that he was, is still on ours.

    Your post is miles ahead of how I’ve often thought about these issues. One of the tragedies of evil is the way it insinuates itself into our innermost selves, then twists and turns until it’s interwoven with our souls. Very tough to untangle, very tough to let go of, very tough to get free of.

    I’m a slow learner, so it took years (decades even) for it to sink in that for me as a “child of the North” to say to Southerners, “We were right; you were wrong. We won; you lost. Get over it!” usually wasn’t helpful in moving the conversation forward.

  5. Vance is right.

    I think Jonathan, although correct, is a bit thin. It’s not so much that white southerners of good will feel a need to defend the Confederacy. It’s that white southerners of good will feel a need to defend the Confederacy in front of Northerners. I see it often with my own people. Many Jews who are extremely dubious about the current Israeli government feel obligated to express solidarity with the Israeli government in public. I’ve seen it with relatively conservative middle-class black folk, who would defend, say, OJ Simpson in public. I think it is pretty common to all of us, especially those who feel marginalized. (And Southerners justly feel marginalized.) We don’t like the dominant culture pointing out our group’s faults, even our acknowledged ones.

    (I wouldn’t have mentioned Southern food. With the exception of fried chicken and barbecue, it is pretty grim. And New Orleans does not count as the South, for these purposes.)

  6. What I have not seen addressed in any of the comments or posts is how much a part of *Northern/liberal/academic identity* it is to kick around the south about *everything*. A dozen brilliant colleagues with Southern accents come to mind easily when I think of fellow professors who have complained that the second they open their mouths the insinuations about their stupidity and racism begin to fly. At a university you will be shamed for making cracks about almost any demographic group, except for southerners, about whom witty putdowns are tres chic. Over time that feeds resentment, how could it not?

  7. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vgrGyR6EYbY&

    Keith & Ebenezer, embrace of the Confederacy is a pathetic response to that sort of thing. Those who engage in it, or tolerate it in others deserve what they get.

    I can’t say much about Russians or Chinese. I am married to a German, however, and my wife spent many years working for a German political entity, with the responsibility of working directly with American Jewish organizations. Sometimes, Massappeal, acknowledging that your predecessors were wrong, shockingly never going to do anything like that again wrong, is exactly the way to move forward.

  8. Unfortunately, I don’t think the Mao/USSR thing is tangential to Jonathan’s post. The point seems to be to depict contemporary southerners as somehow anomalous, unique in their defensive attitude towards their region’s history. But actually, as the examples from other commenters suggest, southerners are just like the rest of the world in this respect. Many Chinese may not approve of everything Mao did, but they’ll still defend him as a leader who set China on a path towards greatness. Many Japanese are the same way about their nation’s history in the 1930s.

    Jonathan’s trying to write a post about the moral flaws of southerners but he’s actually describing a pretty ordinary example of the moral flaws of people.

    As a general principle, it’s easier to be honest about your culture’s historical shortcomings when you’re not feeling attacked. New Englanders don’t generally react so defensively about, say, the Salem witch trials, or the fact that their land was basically stolen from various native peoples, or the way New England seaports profited from the Atlantic slave trade … because it’s quite rare to read holier-than-thou condemnations of New England by non-New-Englanders, using those incidents as justification.

    I guess the main contemporary exception to this is Germany, where any semblance of nostalgia for the Nazis is still generally taboo.

  9. @CharleyCarp – I agree. I think I’ve tended to underestimate how hard that can be sometimes. (Note: not making excuses, just trying to reflect on the sometimes hard and bitter reality we humans are stuck with.)

  10. Paraphrased from “Intruder in the Dust” (I think): In the mind of every Southern boy it is still not yet 2:00 on the afternoon of July 3, 1863. There is the real source of the current Southern pathology, and one of the underpinnings of the Southern Strategy, which is more robust today than when Kevin Phillips came up with the idea in 1968. BTW, Mr. Phillips is trying mightily to atone for that, and making good progress.

    But as a (White) Southerner who is actually eligible to join the Sons of Confederate Veterans (shudder) I have tried to emphasize the Southerners you mention, JZ. But I usually get nowhere. And when I state that MLK Jr. was probably the one essential American of the 20th century I get some funny looks. I would add the Agrarians to your list, especially the Statement of Principles in “I’ll Take My Stand” written primarily by John Crowe Ransom. Were some of the Twelve Southerners “racist,” with Donald Davidson most vocal about it? Well, yes, by the standards of today and maybe even 1930 (so was Abraham Lincoln). But that doesn’t particularly vitiate their argument about “industrial” political economy, and we would do well to pay attention to them, as argued by that apostate Eugene Genovese.

    Keep up the good work!

  11. Salem etc is not apposite at all. Everyone acknowledges that there were wrongs done.

    And I don’t care what excuses are offered about how insufferable Northern ‘aggression’ in our lifetimes might seem (and let’s face it — what we’re talking about is, mostly, the civil rights movement) might have been: worship of the Confederacy in the presence of African Americans ought to be taboo, and the fact that it isn’t says exactly all that needs to be said about Southerners and their wounded pride.

  12. Great last line there. I live in Mississippi and keep meaning to get a T-shirt made with those lines on it.

    … And god bless Faulkner, but when he wrote those lines about “every Southern boy” wishing to be at Pickett’s Charge, he pretty obviously identified “every Southern boy” with “every Southern white boy.” To the extent that any Southern black boy thought about it, he might’ve preferred to be facing down the slope with Gibbon and Doubleday.

  13. CharelyCarp said: Keith & Ebenezer, embrace of the Confederacy is a pathetic response to that sort of thing. Those who engage in it, or tolerate it in others deserve what they get.

    Of course it is. That does not justify the prejudice, which is equally pathetic and which is not critiqued anywhere near enough.

  14. Seconding the China/Russia point. The book to read though is Wolfgang Schivelbusch’s “The Culture of Defeat”.

    “He could point to southerners’ proud tradition of military service in the United States Armed Forces”
    Another blemish on the south, if you ask me.

  15. (I’m lucky to have grown up in Texas, where we had the Alamo and were taught in elementary school that Sam Houston had been against secession.)

  16. “He could point to southerners’ proud tradition of military service in the United States Armed Forces”
    Another blemish on the south, if you ask me.

    Oy. Where did *that* come from?

  17. Keith: “What I have not seen addressed in any of the comments or posts is how much a part of *Northern/liberal/academic identity* it is to kick around the south about *everything*. A dozen brilliant colleagues with Southern accents come to mind easily when I think of fellow professors who have complained that the second they open their mouths the insinuations about their stupidity and racism begin to fly. At a university you will be shamed for making cracks about almost any demographic group, except for southerners, about whom witty putdowns are tres chic. Over time that feeds resentment, how could it not?”

    I don’t know about that. I am half American, half German (my father is from Michigan, my mother from Bremen). I actually spent half my childhood in America, half of it in Germany. I speak English with a German accent and German with a Midwestern accent. And while it was not common to hear nasty remarks about the German side of my heritage, in school or later in life, it did happen a few times. None of them made me any more likely to think that a couple of world wars and a genocide may not have been all bad. I thought those people either were prejudicial or had some really, really bad experiences that they can’t overcome; but that didn’t make me want to decorate my room with the Imperial German flag.

  18. Shorter Keith: Southerners will continue to act like ignorant rednecks until they cease to be treated as ignorant rednecks!

  19. Katja,
    I think that J is right. Germans are the one great exception to a pretty pathetic rule: most peoples defend even the indefensible parts of their own past in front of others. (Even Germany has its neo-Nazis, but all other Germans abhor them.) I don’t know what the secret sauce is. But there is something about the German postwar experience that is unique. I wish we could bottle it and anoint the rest of the world with it.

  20. Anderson: I am not sure if you intend that as a critique or not, but there is a great deal of truth in that formulation, people act as we treat them — in criminal justice, if we treat offenders like horrible monsters deserving of abuse and contempt, they are more likely to act that way, if you go to another country and treat every merchant as a con artist and would be thief, you will get worse treatment that if you approach them with respect and trust, and, in the present context, if you assume every southerner is a belligerent fool who needs your moral instruction, you will get worse behavior from them than if you treat them as you would people from another region.

    Katja: I accept your account, not knowing anything of what it is to be German. I was only speaking of the experience of southerners in academia.

  21. I’ll also chime in to add that in my liberal/well-to-do Californian circles, I commonly hear mild jokes about Germans, their sense of humor, food, funny accents etc. Not about politics or history; but surely that history is what underlies the exception.

  22. Somehow, Keith, I managed to spend 3 years in grad school in NYC without ever being mocked as a Southerner — and not just any Southerner, but a white Mississippian!

    I think these people who complain of mockery are doing some work themselves to draw it, in order to stimulate their persecution complex.

  23. The Southern-born-and-bred academic I’m married to is thoroughly aware of how reactionary and stifling much of the South still is, and while she doesn’t like it when I make snarky remarks about the South, there is no amount of money you could pay her to move back there.

    It turns out that Northern animus and bigotry towards the South is pretty weak tea when compared to the prospect of living surrounded by people who don’t believe in geology, biology, climatology, feminism, freedom of religion, freedom of expression, the right to bestow your own affections where you will, or the idea that the rich might have an obligation to help out those less fortunate than themselves. Yes, that’s a caricature, but like all caricatures it’s based on exaggerating something real.

  24. Anderson: I am happy your experience was positive, but do you really want to go there? The same argument is made about many, many groups who say they are badly treated, that they bring it on themselves…do you really, really want to go there?

  25. CharleyCarp writes: embrace of the Confederacy is a pathetic response to that sort of thing. Those who engage in it, or tolerate it in others deserve what they get.

    Keith replies: Of course it is. That does not justify the prejudice, which is equally pathetic and which is not critiqued anywhere near enough.

    “equally”?

    Come on, Keith. Yes, bigotry and prejudice are moral flaws. But some manifestations are worse than others.

    Thoughtless remarks about ignorant southerners around a university department lunchroom may be hurtful. But it’s silly to equate that to angry whites flying the Confederate battle-flag in a state where 20% or 30% of the population has parents or grandparents who lived in fear of lynch mobs, and great-great grandparents who were enslaved by the ancestors of the battle-flag-wavers.

  26. Jonathan:

    A white southerner could easily call himself a “proud son of the South” and focus on William Faulkner, Eudora Welty, and Flannery O’Connor; C. Vann Woodward, Jonathan Daniels, Hodding Carter and the other courageous southern editors who spoke out against Jim Crow during the 50′s and 60′s. Jurists such as Hugo Black, J. Skelly Wright, John Minor Wisdom, and the rest of the Fifth Circuit Four.

    Do any of these people have any African ancestry? As a Jew, I would be pretty insulted if a German presented a long list of people to be proud of, and mentioned nary a Jew. Heine anyone? Mendelssohn (one or the other)? Einstein? Klemperer? Simmel? I’m trying to avoid those who might be politically contentious, e.g., Freud (yeh, Austrian, but still) or Marx, and I’m not making distinctions between converts and others. This seems pretty weird, at best.

  27. Marcel,
    You’re right about Germany–I would be very dubious about the motives of somebody proposing a Judenrein list of great Germans.
    But I’m not sure that that Jonathan’s list is comparable. Jonathan’s list of great white Southerners was clearly presented as a counterpoint to another list of great white Southerners: Robert Lee, John C. Calhoun, Judah P. Benjamin (one of our people!) and others. It was a deliberately exclusive list: not presented or intended as a complete list of great Southerners, or even a list of great white Southerners.

  28. I just spent a few days in Boston listening to Bostonians recount tales of their own race riots in the 70s.

    I’m no apologist for Southern miscreance. It does seem, though, that a lot of the righteous comments by northerners about the South are a feel-good attempt to isolate just one section of the country for racism that manifested in many areas of the country. Secession was unique to the South but slavery, racist violence, and many other forms of racism were or are not.

    And different geographies and groups in the South had varying manifestations of that, too. Is it right to hold a North Carolinian responsible for Alabama? Is it right to hold a modern Alabamian responsible for slavery in N.C. in 1825? Vermont had a very active Ku Klux Klan; shall Canadians case aspersions on Vermonters for Jim Crow?

    None of this can ever amount to what black Americans experience — God save me from ever even hinting at equating snarky comments about my southern background with that. I would hope not to portray my own privilege as some kind of oppression.

    I guess it was relatively minor bother to have New Yorkers say to me, “Isn’t it very racist down there?” when my own grandfather fought Jim Crow at some sacrifice to himself, and the first rental agent I encountered in New York explicitly steered me to a white neighborhood. Yeah, minor bother.

  29. I’m a bit late on this, but, as the person who posted the comment that led to (some of) these comments, I thought I should try to clarify. I was not defending the Confederacy (for God’s sake — although the tendency to jump to that is what I was talking about), I was questioning the tendency of liberal blogs to slide from the South was evil to the North (and so, in Keith Humphrey’s formulation the “Northern/liberal/academic identity) was good — one does not necessarily follow from the other. I thought I made that pretty clear in my original post, but apparently not.

  30. The fact that “southerner” means “white southerner” says it all. Many other countries have north-south divides – Italy, Brazil, England, Spain – but the geographical stereotypes aren’t essentially racial, even though racism may be prevalent.

  31. marcel writes: Do any of these people have any African ancestry? As a Jew, I would be pretty insulted if a German presented a long list of people to be proud of, and mentioned nary a Jew.

    Is Jonathan a southerner? (Sincere question – I have no idea).

    Like Scrooge, I don’t think Jonathan’s list was intended to be inclusive (or even representative) of the entire population of southerners-who-ought-to-be-celebrated.

    Heine anyone? Mendelssohn (one or the other)? Einstein? Klemperer? Simmel? […] Freud […] Marx

    No women! — unless by “one or the other” you mean “Felix or Fanny” (in which case I congratulate you) instead of “Felix or Moses” (which I suspect was your intention). Are there no German women worthy of note?

    Let’s stop this (well-intentioned) argument before it spirals out of control. My take on Jonathan’s point is that all he’s saying is this:

    If you’re a white southerner, there are other aspects of your region’s heritage to celebrate. There’s more to the history of the South than Lee, Jackson, and Forrest. It’s OK to drop the nostalgia for the CSA because the rich culture and history of this region gives you plenty of other objects on which to focus your affection.

    That’s an important point just by itself. Yes, we can also discuss northern bigotry towards the south, and yes, we can discuss the importance of also reminding white southerners that they specifically ought to celebrate this or that black southerner. But Jonathan’s simple point is a very important one.

  32. A good friend of mine (Bob) obtained a certain amusement back in the 90s by joining one of the discussion boards run by people affiliated with the League of the South. From time to time this group would engage in bouts of self-congratulatory rhetoric about how un-bigoted their Confederate ancestors were — Judah Benjamin was in the Davis administration! 30% of Confederate soldiers were free blacks! And so forth. Basically, what Bob derisively referred to as the “Rainbow Confederacy” myth.

    Bob played along with that for a while, then said what the South really needed was a monument to gay Confederates. Maybe a statue of James Henry Hammond! Consternation ensued, during which Bob earnestly argued in favor of not letting revisionist northern historians get away with painting the heroes of the War of Northern Aggression as a bunch of homophobes. If we’re going to celebrate Jews and blacks who served the CSA, why not gays, too? Alas, this was pushing the “Rainbow Confederacy” concept too far, and Bob was summarily banned from the BBS.

  33. I’ll go with what massappeal said…
    And repudiated at the same time:

    We were right; you were wrong. We won; you lost. Get over it!”

    As evidence: Stephen’s Cornerstone Speech:

    The new constitution has put at rest, forever, all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institution African slavery as it exists amongst us the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution. Jefferson in his forecast, had anticipated this, as the “rock upon which the old Union would split.” He was right. What was conjecture with him, is now a realized fact. But whether he fully comprehended the great truth upon which that rock stood and stands, may be doubted. The prevailing ideas entertained by him and most of the leading statesmen at the time of the formation of the old constitution, were that the enslavement of the African was in violation of the laws of nature; that it was wrong in principle, socially, morally, and politically. It was an evil they knew not well how to deal with, but the general opinion of the men of that day was that, somehow or other in the order of Providence, the institution would be evanescent and pass away. This idea, though not incorporated in the constitution, was the prevailing idea at that time. The constitution, it is true, secured every essential guarantee to the institution while it should last, and hence no argument can be justly urged against the constitutional guarantees thus secured, because of the common sentiment of the day. Those ideas, however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This was an error. It was a sandy foundation, and the government built upon it fell when the “storm came and the wind blew.”

    Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner- stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.

    The South was one of the world’s most evil empires. Full double stop. I’m not interested in sugar-coating it with State Right’s alibis. Nor I am interested in white-washing the North’s moral imperative in favor of economic causation for the war. There was too many hedgehogs and no foxes on yesterday’s thread. Trying to fixate the Civil War on one cause is like trying to pin consciousness to the expression of one human gene. Not one person on yesterday’s thread gave any words to the Northern abolitionist who gave their lives to defeat what may have been the world’s most Evil Empire.

    To that end I point you to the first 10 minutes of David Blight’s lecture…
    In which he finishes up explaining the South’s intense defense of slavery…
    And tells the story of the young Yale student abolitionist Uriah Parmalee…
    Good stuff. Nay, great stuff:

    A Northern World View: Yankee Society, Antislavery Ideology, and the Abolition Movement
    http://academicearth.org/lectures/a-northern-world-view

  34. But, Jonathan, you don’t understand: the Treaty of Versailles the election of Lincoln was really unfair, so whatever they did was justified.

  35. @J and Ebenezer Scrooge — Yes, that was exactly my point. Thanks for clarifying. I think that Marcel’s retort would be something like: “why define yourself as a WHITE southerner at all? Why not just ‘a southerner’? If you do the latter, then of course African-Americans have to be front and center. Maybe it says something not-very-appealing about how you define ‘the South.'” And I think that that is a fair point. But at some level, people are entitled to say, ‘What about me’? and if they are white they will look for some sort of southern role model — in the same way, I think, that African-Americans would look to African-Americans as role models. They wouldn’t define “the South” as white — but they might define themselves that way. Maybe it’s better to use Jim Webb’s work and start defining themselves as Scotch-Irish or some such. But I wasn’t in any way suggesting that African-Americans don’t count!

  36. Both of my parents were born in FL and still live there. During a recent conversation with my mom about how deranged many white southerners are wrt Obama, she remarked that many current actions and behaviors in the South stem from losing the civil war. It was one of the smartest things I ever heard her say.

    But also I saw that she clearly rejects “just get over it” as a solution. She understands that defending the Lost Cause is still integral to the identity of many white southerners.

  37. “The South was one of the world’s most evil empires.” Oh, please. Although slavery was, and is, evil, try to leave the anachronism somewhere else. By the way, slavery wasn’t abolished in New York until 1827, 1847 in Pennsylvania. And while the economic importance of slavery in the mid-Atlantic states outside of Maryland and perhaps Delaware was nil, evil is still evil. Period. As for the American South being an “empire,” colony is more like it. That status may have been self-imposed by planter political economy and society, but it was real nevertheless.

  38. We will have reached the new Jerusalem when proud sons and daughters of the south, regardless of race, focus their regional pride on Southerners like Martin Luther King.

    Also, fwiw, I have spent my lifetime in academia without having heard anyone make fun of the south. This includes the year I spent sharing an apartment with someone from Birmingham, which would, I thought, have given me the opportunity to hear such things had they been around. (Note: this was just an apartment-mate. No one would have refrained from saying such things around me because he was my friend, since, um, he wasn’t.)

  39. Ebenezer: “But there is something about the German postwar experience that is unique.”

    It wasn’t exactly the postwar era. In fact, Denazification initially had the exact opposite effect. Von Stauffenberg was still considered a traitor by many. Nazi careers were stepping stones rather than obstacles to careers in postwar Germany (the movie, “Wir Wunderkinder”, http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0052400/plotsummary, satirizes that perfectly). The holocaust was pretty much not talked about.

    The big change occurred in the 1960s. During the student protests, people started asking uncomfortable questions about the Third Reich. The Auschwitz trials happened. And in 1961, the historian Fritz Fischer published “Griff nach der Weltmacht”, causing (after a firestorm of nationalist protests) a reevaluation of the causes of WW I, dismantling the myth that WW I was just a historical accident for which Germany was not in the least responsible and that Hitler was an exception in an otherwise unblemished German history.

    But mostly, my point was (in response to Keith) that any prejudicial comments based on my background really don’t have much of an impact on me. As the Persian proverb goes, “the dog barks, but the caravan passes on”. Those comments say little about me, and a lot about the speaker.

  40. That is also pretty much true for me, hilzoy. But there were a few people on that other campus in East Baltimore who once in a while would make comments to me about “how we do things down there.” “There” being Georgia, or the South in general I suppose. It was seldom clear what those things were, but I did excuse them since they were both from Boston. As for MLK, indeed. The portrait of him I have hanging in my antebellum house frequently causes double takes, probably because I have a picture of a communist on my wall.

  41. Would everyone please stop long enough to find and read James Loewen’s great book “Sundown Towns” so that we can stop discussing racism as a 19th C Southern thing?

    Than you.

  42. What I have not seen addressed in any of the comments or posts is how much a part of *Northern/liberal/academic identity* it is to kick around the south about *everything*…Over time that feeds resentment, how could it not?

    From my perspective it seems that southerners, particularly conservative southerners, give as good as they get there.

  43. “Would everyone please stop long enough to find and read James Loewen’s great book “Sundown Towns” so that we can stop discussing racism as a 19th C Southern thing?”

    You know, I’ve been living in a little town outside Greenville for the last two years, and while I’m sure there’s some racism around someplace, my next door neighbors are an inter-racial couple, so’s my and my wife’s best friends, (In fact, the number of inter-racial couples is startling to Northern eyes.) and for that matter, my own marriage is Caucasian/Filipino, and none of us have noticed the least bigotry directed at ourselves.

    I think that, to some extent, open bigotry is LESS common here than in Michigan, perhaps because the races seem less segregated here.

    Now, I *have* noticed some weird undercurrents, in that the older black employees at work are polite to me to an almost creepy extent, while the younger ones have a more normal demeanor, which suggests to me that what I’m seeing around me now certainly wasn’t always the case. But you’d be hard put to persuade me that racism is rampant in at least this part of the South, today.

  44. Keith Humphreys: “The same argument is made about many, many groups who say they are badly treated, that they bring it on themselves…do you really, really want to go there?”

    Sure, and why not? The same argument was made by one Keith Humphreys: “if you go to another country and treat every merchant as a con artist and would be thief, you will get worse treatment that if you approach them with respect and trust”

    Or, in other words, tourists who say they are badly treated may be bringing it on themselves.

    Now, as it happens, I disagree with Anderson’s implication that anti-(white)-southern prejudice is not a real issue. For a minor example, if you ask me it’s the only reason conspiracy theories about the MLK assassination persist. The only “evidence” that Ray was working for somebody else is the feeling that somebody like Ray couldn’t have been able to figure out such things as getting a fake ID and booking a flight to Rhodesia through Portugal.

    Still, I don’t see why claims of unjust treatment should be accepted without evidence, and I don’t think Mr. Humphreys really does either.

  45. “The only “evidence” that Ray was working for somebody else is the feeling that somebody like Ray couldn’t have been able to figure out such things as getting a fake ID and booking a flight to Rhodesia through Portugal. ”

    The way that I heard it was that he had procured a genuine passport, and also had $10,000 of cash – quite a bit for somebody in the 1960’s ($30K today? $40K?).

  46. Like Anderson, I’m a white southerner who went to grad school for five years in the northeast, and the only “mocking” I recall was a bit of mild teasing over my pronunciation of “umbrella”. (In the South, it’s often pronounced with the accent on the first syllable.)

  47. Brett, let me tell you a true story. I’ve told it before, but maybe not to you. For 21 years — from June 1988 to July 2009 — I lived in or very near the District of Columbia. By very near, I mean 9 years living within 150 feet of the DC line. I went to the District nearly every day: week days, weekends (I missed some days due to vacations and business trips, to be fair), nights. Rode public transportation maybe half the time, maybe a third. In all that time, and this is absolutely true, I never once saw anyone smoking crack cocaine. Really, not once.

    Accept this as true: what then are we to make of decades of hysteria about drug use in the nation’s capital? Bunk!? Or maybe we should find argument from anecdote — especially when it’s an anecdote of omission — less than persuasive. Just saying.

  48. I suspect that an additional reason for the tenacity with which white southerners cling to these attitudes might be that, in contrast with the experience of the Chinese and Russians, with their very long pre-Mao and pre-Soviet histories, slavery was a (if not the) definitive element of life in the south from the very beginning of its (post-Colombian) existence as a settled society. Chinese and Russian identity was firmly established long before Mao and Lenin, and that fact allows Russians and Chinese who choose to do so to regard the Mao years and Soviet years as finite, even anomalous, episodes, rather than fundamentally defining aspects of their identity.

    Engaging discussion — RBC continues to be, for the most part, a refreshing oasis of civility, logic, and reasoned argument amid the general spew. Thank you RBCers — more than should be the case, you are often where I turn to catch my breath and gain a reliable respite from all the ugliness, lies, invective, and just plain stupidity on display.

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