Friday, June 19, 2015

On South Carolina, violence, power, and a flag.

Today is Juneteenth, and on the heels of a racially motivated massacre, we are forced to ask ourselves once again -- when can we end this violence?  When shall we know peace with our brothers?  When will we achieve the dream that we all judge each other by the content of our character?  How can we end the hate?

The traditional thinking is that prior to the civil war, the North was enlightened and the South was filled with bigots.  Of course the truth is never so absolute.  We know that Thomas Jefferson was in fact a slave owner.  We know that he also wrote the following passage, that was later removed from the Declaration of Independence:

He has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life and liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating & carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither.  This piratical warfare, the opprobrium of infidel powers, is the warfare of the Christian King of Great Britain.  Determined to keep open a market where Men should be bought & sold, he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or restrain this execrable commerce.  And that this assemblage of horrors might want no fact of distinguished die, he is now exciting those very people to rise in arms among us, and to purchase that liberty of which he has deprived them, by murdering the people on whom he has obtruded them: thus paying off former crimes committed again the Liberties of one people, with crimes which he urges them to commit against the lives of another. -
See more at:

Jefferson later in life blamed the removal of the passage on Delegates from Georgia and South Carolina, but also on Northern Delegates who profited from the slave trade.  The famous Triangle Trade depended on Yankee ships as much as it did southern slave markets.  This debate is famously depicted in the Musical 1776 (which if I think every American should see), though they cut the critical song from the movie.

And the song:

So what?

Well, one of the things you hear people railing about is how the South Carolina flag is still contains Confederate Battle flag, which is widely (though falsely) believed to be the flag of the Confederacy.  In most southern states the Rebel Battle Flag has been removed from the state flag. It's been taken because those states viewed their past connection with slavery to be shameful

But the northern states should not be exempted from that opinion.

The first recorded New England slave voyage sailed from the city of Boston, Massachusetts in 1644. By the 1670s, Massachusetts traders were regularly carrying slaves between Africa and the Caribbean. Rhode Islanders entered the trade in about 1700. By the middle of the eighteenth century, upwards of twenty ships per year sailed for Africa from the tiny colony, most of them from the city of Newport. Two-thirds of Rhode Island’s fleet was engaged in the slave trade...By the 1760s, the Rhode Island city of Newport alone boasted nearly two dozen distilleries, transforming Caribbean molasses into rum.  This reading is excerpted from A Forgotten History: The Slave Trade and Slavery in NewEngland. Copyright - Choices Program, Watson Institute for International Studies, Brown University. All rights reserved.
And in fact protection for the slave trade was written into the US Constitution in Article 1 Section 9 of the United States Constitution.

The Migration or Importation of such Persons as any of the States now existing shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by the Congress prior to the Year one thousand eight hundred and eight, but a tax or duty may be imposed on such Importation, not exceeding ten dollars for each Person.
So why don't we ask for a new flag for the state of Rhode Island, which profited so much from slavery? New Jersey's state flag was created when New Jersey was still a slave state.  Should they be ashamed of their slaver past?   Texas was a slave state, but no one has asked Texas to change it's flag.

But doesn't the Confederate Battle flag stands for slavery?

The First Confederate Flag aka the Stars and Bars
The Battle Flag of the Army of Northern Virginia
Not intentionally. As I pointed out, Texas was a slave state and never incorporated the Confederate Battle Flag. Virginia and Maryland too never had anything about the Confederacy in their state flags.. Georgia's current flag (that over 70% of the voters approved of in a recent election) includes 13 stars in a circle to commemorate the Confederacy.

But Rednecks use the Confederate Battle flag as a rallying symbol? And the Klan displays it prominently at their rallies?

Yup. And that has tainted it forever in my opinion.

Is there anything in southern culture worth celebrating?

I think so. I'm biased having grown up in Texas, but ask people from Florida or Alabama or Virginia, and regardless of race, religion or gender -- they'll tell you the same thing. But saying the flag has become a symbol of hate doesn't end Southern Culture.

So what should happen to the South Carolina flag?

If it were my decision, I'd take it down and replace it with a Palmetto.  Yet as much as I dislike the flag, I wouldn't tell anyone that I thought they had to take it down.  Me telling them what to do would be an exercise of power.  And power is what kills.

Tolerance is me tolerating you doing stuff that I don't agree with.  I don't agree with displaying the Rebel Battle flag, and certainly not as the official flag of a state!  I don't agree that the flag is just a symbol of Southern Culture.  I agree with most people, that the flag is now and forever associated with the Peculiar Institution, and as such it is a symbol of the worst in our nation's history.

And while we may mull over the nuances of the motivations behind the tragedy in Charleston, the one thing we know is that the shooter was an intolerant person.  If we taught more tolerance in our society, we would have less tragedy.  Too often people think that they do not have to stand for things that offend them, and they are within their rights to use the power of government to set things right.

We set too many examples of people being able to use power to force others to live the way they see fit.   The power of government is available to some.  The power of wealth is available to others.  Some use legal power to get their way.  And to some desperate few, power comes from violence.

When we use power to suppress the liberty of others, we set an example.  Most parents no longer spank their children, because we've come to realize that the only thing a child learns from being spanked is that violence is an acceptable way to solve problems.  And that it's ok to wield power to end disputes.

So why do we continue to spank our society with trivial laws that we must use power to enforce.  Mandatory recycling.  Laws against gambling.  The War on Drugs.   The Affordable Care Act.  All examples of using power to forbid or require people to behave in a certain way, because some majority once thought their way was best.

When we use the power of government in this way -- to suppress the liberty of people -- we make a society that covets power.  We teach people that acquiring power and using power against others is the proper way to resolve disputes.

Where does a mass murderer come from?  A place of evil surely.  And a place of intolerance.  Imagine if we lived in a culture of "live and let live," where we actively taught people that they were required to learn to live with each other.  Imagine a society where your recourse to being unhappy with your neighbor was not to use power to resolve your dispute, but to accept your differences.

One evil man in Charleston could not accept differences and he tried to resolve them with the only power he perceived to be at his disposal.  Was he a racist?  Yes.  Was he intolerant?  Yes.  And he was terrible.

I don't want to practice intolerance.

I don't want that to be the legacy of this tragedy.

So I tell you South Carolina I find that flag offensive.  I view it as a symbol of the worst of the South, and when I see it flown it taints every thought I have about the best of the South.  When you fly that flag you are doing so deliberately to cause pain and suffering to others because you don't care.  When you fly that flag you reveal yourselves to be ignorant of the realities of our shared history.  And when you fly that flag you tacitly support the idea that there is a place for racism.

So I ask you South Carolina -- please change your flag.  But I'm not telling you.  I want to persuade you -- but I don't want to use force against you.  I want to live by the non-aggression policy and will live my life to the ideal that it is never ok to use force against another person, except in self defense.

And I hope that in living a life to that standard, I can do a small bit to reduce the violence and lust for power in our society today.

I wish us all peace.

No comments :