Friday, September 15, 2006

Birmingham Sunday Morning

Today is Friday, 15 September 2006.

I am technically, by birth, a Southern white male, having been born in Gulfport, Mississippi. Had I been conceived a few months later, I would have been born in Kansas, where my parents moved after my father mustered out of the Air Force.

In a way, I have the best of two worlds.

First. Many, if not most, white Southerners, like many, if not most, people everywhere, have a superstitious approach to one’s birthplace, as if the position on earth, and perhaps in the cosmos, of one’s mother’s body at the moment of birth, has some sort of influence over one’s character and values. Thus, in discussing race with white Southerners, I am, even in spite of my, as was more-than-once said to me, “extreme race-mixing positions”, one of the Elect, and therefore not a Damn Yankee, whose opinions can be automatically dismissed.

Second. Having left the South at six months, I was unexposed directly to the squalid and virulent white racism which characterized it in 1952.

Over the years, in my encounters with white Southerners who refuse to confront the sins of their forefathers, I’ve encountered two main themes.

One: a defiant defense of the Lost Cause, of the Southern Way of Life.

The latter is some hazy, ahistorical mumbo-jumbo about plantations, genteel women, chivalrous males, and How Folks Didn’t Know Enough to Think About Things Then the Way We Do Now and Anyways Most Masters Treated Their Slaves Like Family.

Two: an incoherent defense of slave-owners as victims of circumstance, as if they had been sleep-waking across a field and fell into a well, or as if they were a child who just accidentally walked into a room and into the line of fire just as daddy pumped three rounds into mommy. Not their fault, really, slave-owners were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Seems to me “Southern Way of Life” may be compared to “Nazi Way of Life”. The essence of the latter was murdering Jews. The essence of the former was enslaving African-Americans, then stealing their labor, raping them, working them to death where possible, and murdering them when “necessary”.

On this date in 1963, at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, terrorists from the Ku Klux Klan exploded a bomb, assassinating four children. They were Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, and Cynthia Wesley. We honor their memories, and the memories of all other victims of white racist violence.

Some folks these days try to disassociate the “roughnecks” of the KKK from the larger, “respectable and principled” opposition to the end of segregation, the Second Slavery. Are they correct?

Beginning with the reaction to the Supreme Court desegregation decision of 1954, three strata of opposition emerged.

At the operational, hands-on terroristic level, were the various Klan organizations. Socially, they were composed of laborers, police and sheriff’s deputies, small (often marginal) merchants, etc. A step up the ladder (supposedly) were the “respectable” members of the White Citizens Councils, who were typically, lawyers, doctors, other professionals, more prosperous businessmen, etc. As befitted their standing in the community, they didn’t dirty their hands with actual violence: they provided the moral justifications and intellectual leadership. At the top of the heap were the real powers in the towns and counties, the truly wealthy, which had no need of belonging to any organizations, but sanctioned torture and murder with a smile, a wink, and a nod.

We should not equate the moral standing of white supremacist Southerners with German Nazis; the former were far more despicable. The extermination camps were, so far as possible, concealed. Slavery and segregation were publicly flaunted, trumpeted to the skies, as proud accomplishments of brave white Southerners in defense of White Civilization against mongrelizing dark hordes.

(It is instructive to note that the White Citizens Councils survive in the form of groups such as the Concerned Conservatives of America, which Southern politicians such as Sen. Trent Lott (R, Mississippi) and Sen. George Allen (R, Virginia) continue to sanction with support and affection.)

I advance this principle: that racism is never about some sincerely-held belief in “superiority”; it is always and only the result of corrupt appetites for plunder, rape, and murder, to the profit of the perpetrators.

Racism has no place in humanity.


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