Blog Credo

The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.

H.L. Mencken

Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Past

I read a piece in the NY Times today.

It's about a statue to Nathan Bedford Forrest in Selma, Alabama of all places.  They had a bust of Forrest, but it was constantly being vandalized.  Then it disappeared.  Now the "Friends of Forrest" want to build a massive statue with floodlights and fences and security cameras.

African Americans are not amused.

Forrest is more than a brilliant Confederate cavalry officer.  He was a vicious racist at a time when that meant something.  He was the first Grand Wizard of the KKK, he oversaw the massacre of black Union soldiers at Ft. Pillow.

You can see why local black leaders are trying to block a monument to a man who risked his life to perpetuate slavery and then still kept fighting even after the war was lost.

What struck me was a line by a "Friend of Forrest".  He said that (and I'm paraphrasing because of the Times firewall...) "They have their statue to Martin Luther King, why can't we have one celebrating our past?"

Because, you dumb bastard, Martin Luther King won a Nobel Peace Prize.  He changed America for the better.  I'm reading the Oxford History of American Foreign Policy by George Herring.  It's astonishing how racism permeated our foreign policy establishment until Kennedy.  We refused to believe that brown people could govern themselves, and then we embarked on an imperial age that made damn sure they couldn't.

Racism is America's great sin. It's not unique to America, but we institutionalized it so strongly, all the while hypocritically talking about freedom and liberty.  I think it was Samuel Johnson during the Revolution who said, "It's odd that you hear the strongest calls for liberty from the drivers of African slaves."

Selma is a town known - if it's known for anything - for racial violence.  It is also a town that made the Voting Rights Act possible.  And the Voting Rights Act changed America.

My guess is the Friends of Forrest aren't real happy with those changes.  They aren't happy with the current occupant of the White House, even if they can't give you a real definite answer why.  For them, King is just as violent a figure as Forrest, because King tore down their way of life.  What they can't see is that that way of life was built on violence and blood and fear.

One of the criticisms of Obama is that he hasn't been able to bring that amazing "change" that everyone hoped he would bring.  And I think on some level that's tied to race.  That's why people are pissed about Romney's "joke" about birtherism.  Obama can hardly be blamed for the fact that - 150 years later - the South still can't believe it lost the Civil War, that the South can't believe - 50 years later - that the Civil Rights Movement ended American apartheid.

And there is nothing Obama or anyone else can do about it.

No comments: