20 September 2017

On Neo-Confederate Subculture

First, I'm happy to report that the dean and the chapter of the Episcopal Church USA’s National Cathedral along with the bishop of the Diocese of Washington, D.C., announced this week (on 12 September) that they will be removing two windows of two panes each honoring Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, complete with Confederate flags, from their installation in the walls of the cathedral.  The windows, paid for by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, were installed in 1953.  The announcement stated unequivocably that these windows do not represent the values of the Episcopal Church and should be removed immediately, deconsecrated, and stored out of sight until further disposal is decided.  Good for you, bishop, dean, and chapter, and thank you.  I say that as an Episcopalian, as an American, as a Terran, and as a child of the Universe.

Looking at the matter objectively and without prejudice, bereft of the late war and postbellum revisionism that is the foundation of the mythical Lost Cause to which were more myths were later added by the neo-Confederate school of 1890-1930, there is no question whatsoever that the Confederate States of America, the Confederacy, was established to maintain and to further propogate a socioeconomic political system of plantocracy based on the life enslavement of African and Afro-American men, women, and children.

But rarely do humans look at history objectively and without prejudice, else American history books would relate that the Union, the states not part of the Great Secession, fought to maintain and to further propogate imperial capitalism, and to keep the Southern states as both a source of raw materials and a domestic market for manufactured goods.

Neither set of leaders had pure motives.  Karl Marx, who wrote numerous articles in support of the Northern cause, was quite well aware of the true motives of its leaders but deemed the enslavement of humans, especially based on race, to be more evil than imperial capitalism.  As for the soldiers in the field on both sides who did the fighting and bleeding and killing and dying, they for the most part fought for the same reasons as the rank and file of all armies of wars past and present: conscription, manufactured patriotism, and defence of home, and not home as in homeland but as in home, family, local area, state in this case.

One element of post-bellum history largely overlooked is the number of exiled Confederates who fled to other countries in the aftermath.  Confederate colonies arose in Mexico, Belize, Honduras, Cuba, Costa Rica, Peru, Venezuela, and Canada, but by far the largest of all, estimated between ten and twenty thousand, grew up in the Empire of Brasil.  Of all these, only the colonies in Brasil survived as a distinct entity, today known, by themselves and their neighbors, as Los Confederados de Brasil.  Los Confederados are not divided by race and are in fact multiracial, with members of the ethnic group showing dominant physical traits of either Caucasian or African or even Native American ancestry, sometimes all three, but all clearly mixed.

Even year Los Confederados send a number of their young people to the Motherland, to the Southern states that were briefly the Confederacy, usually hosted by a chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.  It is quite an experience to hear a multiracial group of youth switch from speaking Portugese among themselves to Southern English, and not just Southern English, but American English of the Deep South from a century and a half ago complete with an accent to rival that of Vivien Leigh’s Scarlett O’Hara.

Speaking of which, author Margaret Mitchell based her character Melanie Hamilton on her distant cousin Sister Mary Melody, formerly Mary McCarthy, and her character Rhett Butler on her more famous distant cousin Doc Holliday.  Yes, THAT Doc Holliday, the best friend of Morgan Earp and his brothers in the Old West.  The ancestors of both Mary and Doc, betrothed until he was diagnosed with tuberculosis, came from Ulster.

For Los Confederados de Brasil, Confederate identity does not represent white supremacy nor the subjugation of one race by another but a shared history which makes them unique as a people, in their case not one that includes those across racial lines so much as one in which racial lines have been completely obliterated.  In the same way, not all those in America who believe with a mythical version of Confederate history, who cling to symbols of the Confederacy as part of their heritage and personal identity are white supremacists or bigots or racists.

Contrary to what the Southern Poverty Law Center claims, membership in the Sons of Confederate Veterans is not restricted to those who can prove direct lineal descent from a former Confederate soldier.  In fact, for basic membership a claim is enough, and that can be through either direct lineal or collateral (uncle, cousin, even in-law), and there is even an associate membership for those who have not even that familial relationship.  Furthermore, anyone descended lineally or collaterally from anyone who received a pension as a Confederate soldier is eligible for full membership, and there are quite a few Afro-Americans on those rolls.

This is not a plug for the organization; I simply despise bullshit no matter what its source, even from an organization like the SPLC with which I am in otherwise wholehearted agreement.

If use of Confederate imagery and/or symbols necessarily makes one an ignorant bigoted white supremacist, then explaining Canadian Mohawk Robbie Roberson’s motives for writing the song, “The Night They Drove Ol’ Dixie Down” becomes more than a little problematic.  It is, in fact, a coded protest against the Viet Nam War, drawing an analogy between the poor whites who fought for the Confederacy and the working class Americans, white, black, Chicano, and Asian, who fought in the jungles of Southeast Asia. 

If you blanketly condemn all use of the symbols, then you condemn Robbie Roberson, as well as Joan Baez who covered the song.  You also condemn Fred Hampton of the Chicago Black Panthers, who formed the original, pre-Jesse Jackson, Rainbow Coalition that sprang from their partnership with the Young Patriots of Uptown in Chicago who rocked the Confederate flag, specifically the battle flag of the Army of Tennessee, and sang Dixie as their anthemn.

Most of the American subculture which identifies with the former Confederacy for whatever reason is not racist but tribal, either from family history or residence.  Back when I was substitute teaching, I did a week subbing for a history teacher at Howard High School here, the oldest public school in the county and one almost entirely Afro-American.  At the time, the class was covering the Civil War.  I went there quite excited to share what I had learned of the First Colored Brigade of the Union Army of the Cumberland stationed in Chattanooga during the occupation.  As I perused their artwork on the walls outside the classroom interspersed with imaginary letters to or soldiers and swethearts, however, most identified with the Confederacy.  Why?  Because the South was their home.

However, the nature and history of the Confederate subculture and neo-Confederate mythology lend themselves far too easily to cooptation by racist, white supremacist, Christian dominionist organizations like the League of the South, which is the source of the latest racist ahistorical buzzword, “Anglo-Celtic”.  In addition to penetrate the former branch of the Scottish Nationalist Party in America, leading to its dissolution by its parent, members of the League of the South have penetrated all too many Scottish heritage events, often having tables at Highland Games across the country.

During protests in Ringgold, Georgia, over Roy Barnes unilateral change of the state flag from its 1950s form with the Army of Northern Virginia version of the Southern Cross to what it is now, local advocates of the former flag booed and jeered members of the League of the South speaking as members of the Conservative Citizens Council so vociferously that they foled under police guard.

During my single year of membership in SCV, League of the South penetration of it was mostly confined to the Southern Brigade of the Georgia Division.  Since then, however, it has taken over leadership of both the Georgia Division and the national organization, though several pockets of resistance remain.  Keeping in mind that personal use of Confederate symbols do not necessarily constitute an expression of white supremacism, such display by local, state, or federal government entities does, in fact, validate that very thing.  The only places Confederate monuments and memorabilia belong are in Civil War military parks, museums, and cemeteries, just as the only acceptable place for Confederate cosplay, or for that matter Union cosplay, is at Civil War reenactments.

If history buffs or Confederate romanticists want to commemorate former Confederate generals truly worthy of venerable remembrance, erect monuments and statues to James Longstreet and William Mahone, both of whom worked hard to build a biracial society in the postbellum South, Longstreet in New Orleans fighting with Afro-American militia against the Knights of the White Camelia and Mahone leading the biracial Readjuster Party in Virginia against the Redemptionist Bourbon Democrats.  Or Irish-American general Patrick Cleburne, who literally risked his life by proposing to free the slaves, along with their families, and make them full citizens in return for service in the Confederate army.

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