Each and every progressive/liberal should be furious over this debacle called the "secession ball" in Charleston, South Carolina. This isn't simply the province of the NAACP. It hits at the heart of our progressive values and Democrats' "big tent" coalition.
Conveniently disguised as living history, the $100 per plate event is a celebration of South Carolina's signing of the "Ordinance of Secession" on December 20, 1860, jointly sponsored by the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the Confederate Heritage Trust.
They indignantly claim it's not about slavery, but it is. It's part of the heritage of a state which has never, ever stopped fighting the Civil War.
“We could look back and say (the Civil War) wasn’t something to celebrate – about 620,000 died in the North and South,” Simpson said. “If you count civilians, you’re up to about a million killed in that war.
“Do we celebrate that? Heavens no,” he said. “War and death is never something to celebrate. But we do celebrate the courage and the integrity of 170 men who signed their signatures to the Article of Secession – the courage of men to do what they think is right.”
The problem with his denial is simple: What those 170 men thought was right was slavery. The old saw always goes thus: The Civil War was about states' rights. No. It was about states' rights to engage in human trafficking, something abhorent and evil.
The Institute for Southern Studies expands on this:
For what was behind the decision, we have to turn to a document the same convention drew up and signed four days later titled "Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina From the Federal Union."
Slavery is its major theme.
That document plainly states the reason for South Carolina's secession:
"We affirm that these ends for which this Government was instituted have been defeated, and the Government itself has been made destructive of them by the action of the non-slaveholding States. Those States have assumed the right of deciding upon the propriety of our domestic institutions; and have denied the rights of property established in fifteen of the States and recognized by the Constitution; they have denounced as sinful the institution of slavery; they have permitted open establishment among them of societies, whose avowed object is to disturb the peace and to eloigning the property of the citizens of other States. They have encouraged and assisted thousands of our slaves to leave their homes; and those who remain, have been incited by emissaries, books and pictures to servile insurrection."
Celebrating the anniversary of this document is a slap in the face to every single black person in this country. NAACP South Carolina President Lonnie Randolph asked this:
"You couldn't pay the folks in Charleston to hold a Holocaust gala, could you? But you know these are nothing but black people, so nobody pays them any attention."
The thing is, attention isn't being paid over on the liberal side either. It's easy to blame bigots but they're just doing what bigots do, because bigots get away with it and no one really gets too outraged over it. There's plenty of outrage over human rights abuses in Uzbekistan because it's the newest WikiLeaks focus and yet a celebration of slavery and a state's decision to secede from the Union over it gets a shrug.
There is a growing divide opening between people of color and the white liberal "establishment" opening wide. As liberals, Democrats, progressives, or whatever you want to call this coalition, civil rights and equality have been pillars of our foundation but there's a a big racial elephant in the Democrats' living room.
Ishmael Reed's column in the New York Times editorial section Sunday lays it out:
I thought of [my D's in deportment in school] when I pointed out to a leading progressive that the Tea Party included neo-Nazis and Holocaust deniers — and he called me a “bully.” He believes that the Tea Party is a grass-roots uprising against Wall Street, a curious reading since the movement gained its impetus from a rant against the president delivered by a television personality on the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange.
And I’ve thought about them as I’ve listened in the last week to progressives criticize President Obama for keeping his cool.
Progressives have been urging the president to “man up” in the face of the Republicans. Some want him to be like John Wayne. On horseback. Slapping people left and right.
One progressive commentator played an excerpt from a Harry Truman speech during which Truman screamed about the Republican Party to great applause. He recommended this style to Mr. Obama. If President Obama behaved that way, he’d be dismissed as an angry black militant with a deep hatred of white people. His grade would go from a B- to a D.
At the edge of a very deep canyon:
When these progressives refer to themselves as Mr. Obama’s base, all they see is themselves. They ignore polls showing steadfast support for the president among blacks and Latinos. And now they are whispering about a primary challenge against the president. Brilliant! The kind of suicidal gesture that destroyed Jimmy Carter — and a way to lose the black vote forever.
Unlike white progressives, blacks and Latinos are not used to getting it all. They know how it feels to be unemployed and unable to buy your children Christmas presents. They know when not to shout. The president, the coolest man in the room, who worked among the unemployed in Chicago, knows too.
This tracks with other posts and conversations I've seen lately. There is a very real perception that personal attacks on President Obama, the hyper-loud derision and wails of bitter disappointment expressed all over the Internet lately along with primary threats rolling around are symptomatic of a larger disconnect between white liberals and black liberals and threaten to fracture what is already a fragile coalition.
When the African-American unemployment rate is 16%, 13 months of extended unemployment insurance feels like a godsend even if it means having to cede tax rates and a compromised estate tax. They don't see the deal as a sellout; indeed, they view it as an essential emergency parachute. When the African-American unemployment rate was 10% we were living in what could be reasonably considered a good economy. At least, good for everyone but them. Problem is, no one was paying attention to them. Not really.
It may be an insult to celebrate slavery and the 1860s, but a greater sting may be the general apathy toward the economic desperation of the African-American community. It did not develop overnight, but until the entire economy went downhill, it wasn't on anyone's radar either. Put together the slight with scathing and relentless criticism of this country's first African-American president, mix it with some Tea Party hate and it's a recipe for resentment and division.
African-American liberals don't think it's an accident that Charlie Rangel was censured while Newt Gingrich walked away with a slap on the hand. They see a Congressional Ethics committee aiming only at African-American representatives -- Charlie Rangel and Maxine Waters specifically -- and look over at the Senate where Vitter and Ensign get off with nothing but embarrassment. They see Roland Burris sidelined after taking Obama's Senate seat. They look at a Senate that's pure white. Their conclusion: There is no real commitment to racial equality within the Democratic party and certainly there's no progressive movement afoot to bring attention to it.
These are perceptions based on a growing body of evidence. We can argue over whether the evidence leads to their conclusion, but it would be a mistake to ignore the anger simmering over these things.
Don't take my word for it. Go read Joy-Ann Reid's analysis of the tax deal and why criticism of 'the deal' is possibly unwarranted. Or get AngryBlackLady's take on who the Democratic base really is. Like Ishmael Reed, she reminds that it isn't homogenous.
It may be time for the President to update his race speech and invite a real dialogue. Leaving this simmering beneath the surface is probably not a good strategy, when we could be listening to each other more. African-Americans deserve our support against the outrage of celebrating a past that oppresses them to this day, and they deserve the respect of having a differing opinion from what seems to be viewed as common wisdom.
Because that's who we are. It's a core value, or at least, I thought it was.
Here's a bonus: A lack of respect