Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The fools in your grill: Jim Crow's bayou bastards


Like maggots on three-day-old road kill, the bastard children of Jim Crow consume all debate in Louisiana about any and every aspect of how New Orleans is driving ol' Dixie down.

Nowadays, the Facebook page of Channel 4 looks more like 4chan. Specifically, the alt-right -- and all-white -- netherworld of that discredited web forum. A few days ago, someone actually posted a meme calling Mayor Mitch Landrieu a "cuck."

The attacks against Landrieu are of the ferocity you'd expect from people whose entire identity has been mortally threatened by his rhetoric and his removal of Confederate monuments. That's because he's just mortally threatened their entire self-understanding, self-worth and worldview.
 

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I don't know that people who aren't from the Deep South understand that at all. "Proud, patriotic Southerners" perceive this as an attack not only on "history" (history in the Orwellian sense of the word -- literally) but also on their very being.

Landrieu delivered a momentous speech Friday in Gallier Hall as crews pulled Robert E. Lee down off his pedestal. The address was the bravest I had ever seen from a Southern politician -- especially a white Louisiana politician. It also was the most explicit and prophetic anyone has given about the South's peculiar "heritage," which is inextricably bound up with its former "peculiar institution."


That, of course, would be slavery. America's original sin remains burrowed in Southern brains like political and cultural syphilis, and it has driven untold generations of my people mad. I think we all know what comes for the syphilitic after the crazy.

Because of the crazy enveloping my native state, Landrieu's political career is over, barring his appointment to some post in some future Democratic administration. Even if he weren't term-limited as mayor of the Crescent City, enraged whites from Shreveport to Chalmette would empty their figurative magazines into his body politic.
 
AS THE monumental battle has dragged on in New Orleans, across Louisiana and across the South, some outraged Lost Cause cultists have threatened to empty literal magazines into the mayor. A Mississippi lawmaker has taken to Facebook to suggest that Landrieu and those like him ought to be . . .  "lynched."

This is how far the South apparently has come in my 50-something years on Earth. Not very.


I was born a Southerner. I lived almost three decades in the South. And I've lived in the Midwest even longer; if anyone is bi-culturally adept at code-shifting, it is me.

Yet . . . yet. . . .


Yet, I struggle to express to non-Southerners the gravity of what happened here with Landrieu's speech, which now -- finally -- has been noticed by the national press.
You see — New Orleans is truly a city of many nations, a melting pot, a bubbling caldron of many cultures. There is no other place quite like it in the world that so eloquently exemplifies the uniquely American motto: e pluribus unum — out of many we are one. But there are also other truths about our city that we must confront. New Orleans was America’s largest slave market: a port where hundreds of thousands of souls were bought, sold and shipped up the Mississippi River to lives of forced labor of misery of rape, of torture. America was the place where nearly 4000 of our fellow citizens were lynched, 540 alone in Louisiana; where the courts enshrined ‘separate but equal’; where Freedom riders coming to New Orleans were beaten to a bloody pulp. So when people say to me that the monuments in question are history, well what I just described is real history as well, and it is the searing truth.

And it immediately begs the questions, why there are no slave ship monuments, no prominent markers on public land to remember the lynchings or the slave blocks; nothing to remember this long chapter of our lives; the pain, the sacrifice, the shame... all of it happening on the soil of New Orleans. So for those self-appointed defenders of history and the monuments, they are eerily silent on what amounts to this historical malfeasance, a lie by omission. There is a difference between remembrance of history and reverence of it.
For America and New Orleans, it has been a long, winding road, marked by great tragedy and great triumph. But we cannot be afraid of our truth. As President George W. Bush said at the dedication ceremony for the National Museum of African American History & Culture, “A great nation does not hide its history. It faces its flaws and corrects them.” So today I want to speak about why we chose to remove these four monuments to the Lost Cause of the Confederacy, but also how and why this process can move us towards healing and understanding of each other. So, let’s start with the facts.
The historic record is clear, the Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, and P.G.T. Beauregard statues were not erected just to honor these men, but as part of the movement which became known as The Cult of the Lost Cause. This ‘cult’ had one goal — through monuments and through other means — to rewrite history to hide the truth, which is that the Confederacy was on the wrong side of humanity. First erected over 166 years after the founding of our city and 19 years after the end of the Civil War, the monuments that we took down were meant to rebrand the history of our city and the ideals of a defeated Confederacy. It is self-evident that these men did not fight for the United States of America, They fought against it. They may have been warriors, but in this cause they were not patriots. These statues are not just stone and metal. They are not just innocent remembrances of a benign history. These monuments purposefully celebrate a fictional, sanitized Confederacy; ignoring the death, ignoring the enslavement, and the terror that it actually stood for.

After the Civil War, these statues were a part of that terrorism as much as a burning cross on someone’s lawn; they were erected purposefully to send a strong message to all who walked in their shadows about who was still in charge in this city. Should you have further doubt about the true goals of the Confederacy, in the very weeks before the war broke out, the Vice President of the Confederacy, Alexander Stephens, made it clear that the Confederate cause was about maintaining slavery and white supremacy. He said in his now famous ‘cornerstone speech’ that the Confederacy’s “cornerstone 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.”

Now, with these shocking words still ringing in your ears... I want to try to gently peel from your hands the grip on a false narrative of our history that I think weakens us. And make straight a wrong turn we made many years ago — we can more closely connect with integrity to the founding principles of our nation and forge a clearer and straighter path toward a better city and a more perfect union.

UNLESS you're from there, it's difficult to grasp exactly how much white Southerners' self-conception is tied up with the Lost Cause -- the cult of the Lost Cause. Those of my generation and older were brainwashed (and that is not an exaggeration, in my first-hand estimation) into that worldview from the day they emerged from the womb. 

And in this worldview, "Southern heritage" means "white Southern heritage," because the history and "heritage" of black Southerners aren't even on the radar screen.

That is how Mitch Landrieu got to be regarded as "Yankee trash" and a "traitor" by his own people. Give the Age of Trump a few more months, and "proud Southerners" will be calling him -- openly, without apology -- what he would have been called by a great many Louisianians within my living memory.

It starts with an "N" and ends with "lover." Must I spell it out?


AS A SOUTHERNER who has made a home in the Midwest, I feel nothing but fury, loathing, disgust and shame right now. The psychotic, spiritually syphilitic South -- in its ancient hatreds and its hereditary denial of the truth of its "heritage" -- has driven me to shame and embarrassment for what I am and where I was born and raised.

I am embarrassed for me, and I am ashamed of those who I once thought were "my people." If the new iteration of the same old filth is what really counts for Southern "pride" and "history" after all these years and all that shame, Dixie can shove it up the south side of one of its northward-facing brass sentinels.

If the standard white "Southern patriot" definition of Southernness "is what it is," these are my people like German Nazis were German Jews' "people."


Go. To. Hell. And say "heil" to Hitler when you get there.

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