About the Name of this blog

This blog's title refers to a Dani fable recounted by Robert Gardner. The Dani live in the highlands of New Guinea, and at the the time he studied them, they lived in one of the only remaining areas in the world un-colonized by Europeans.

The Dani, who Gardner identifies only as a "Mountain People," in the film "The Dead Birds," have a myth that states there was once a great race between a bird and a snake to determine the lives of human beings. The question that would be decided in this race was, "Should men shed their skins and live forever like snakes, or die like birds?" According to the mythology, the bird won the race, and therefore man must die.

In the spirit of ethnographic analysis, this blog will examine myth, society, culture and architecture, and hopefully examine issues that make us human. As with any ethnography, some of the analysis may be uncomfortable to read, some of it may challenge your preconceptions about the world, but hopefully, all of it will enlighten and inform.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Hate Not Heritage


It is time, that we as Americans recognized a simple truth - there is nothing honorable about the Confederate Flag.  It is a symbol no less polarizing or horrifying than the Nazi Flag.  And in saying this, I am not pulling the Nazi card, where people today conflate a relatively minor atrocity (or something they disagree with) with Nazi Germany.

I have stated this as a point of actual, on par, comparison.  (Yes, more people died during World War Two, but how many millions died under the yoke of slavery in the United States in the 200 years that it was legal?)

When I first moved to the South to take a job in Savannah, I passed through a gas station in Tennessee that had a large amount of merchandise that displayed the Confederate Flag.  Coming from Colorado where the Confederate flag is considered at best an inappropriate thing to display, these products shocked me.  Most upsetting of all was one T-shirt that read, "It is better to have fought and lost than to never have fought at all; the South shall rise again."

I realized in that moment that even though 150 years have passed since the start of the Civil War, the South still thinks it was in the right.  And in that moment, I also realized that I would never be able to call the South "home."  I might live there, but that would be all that I would do.  I also realized that I needed to leave that part of the country as soon as I could.

I have now left, never to return.  And that vow is brought about in no small part because of the attitude in the South toward the Civil War and the Confederate Flag. 

First, I want to state, the Civil War was entirely about Slavery, specifically, about the South refusing to accept the end of it.  If you read historical accounts of the time, you will discover that this is the truth.  At the time, the South did not even try to hide that fact.  They came right out and said that they would go to war before they would allow any further restrictions on slavery.

It is only a historical revisionist attempt to state that the war was not about slavery, it was about state's rights.  The right of the state that it was about was the "right" to own other people.  Americans need to stop thinking that "Gone With the Wind." is a historical document, it is one of the most vile reconstructions of history ever perpetrated in America.

So I will say again, the Civil War was about one thing, the South's desire to own people, and the Confederate Flag is the banner that they rallied around in that rebellion.

The actual symbol on the Confederate Flag, the Saint Andrew's Cross, is not an evil symbol, any more than the original swastika is evil.  Both symbols have become perverted and changed out of their original form.  The inverted Swastika that comprises the Nazi flag has become a symbol of hate, divorced from it's original positive meanings, just as the Saint Andrew's Cross is perverted by the addition of the stars and the red field it is displayed on. 

I would see bumper stickers all over the South that proudly displayed the Confederate Flag paired with the statement "Heritage not Hate."  Let's look at that.

If it is about heritage, it is about a heritage of causing a needless war that killed more Americans than all other the other wars we have fought as a country COMBINED.  More American soldiers died in the Civil War than died in the rest of our 200+ year military history put together.  And it was a war of choice, a war that happened solely because the Southern States knew that sooner or later slavery would be ended.  The South sunk the United States in a ocean of blood, just for the right to own other human beings. 

Some heritage.  It makes a person proud.

 Again, this is all fact, not spin, and can be easily sourced.  I would start with the excellent book "Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong" by James W. Loewen.  Or better yet, just examine The "Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union" where South Carolina specifically holds up the rights of slave owners above "State's Rights."  (Which blows a hole in that entire "State's Rights" falsehood)  Another damning document is Mississippi's "Declaration of the Immediate Cause" which says, "Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery--the greatest material interest of the world."  If you read the actual documents of the time, you see that slavery was the cause of the Civil War.

These attitudes towards slavery have not died with the end of the Civil War, they've not died with the Civil Rights Movement, they've not even died with the election of a black President.  In the South, there is still a deep, although rarely voiced, desire to bring back the institution.

I first discovered this shortly after moving to Savannah.  I went driving around the region, trying to discover the land in which I was now living.  I got lost in the backwoods of Georgia, to the point that I started listening for banjos.  I came upon what I can only describe as a compound, ringed by Confederate Flags.  In front of the compound was a billboard that read "And the children of Ham shall ever be servants of Man."  This is a direct reference to Genesis 9:25, which is the bible verse used to not only justify the slavery of Africans, but to state that it is God's Will that they be slaves.  (Africans have been interpreted by Biblical scholars to be the "Children of Ham.")

I wanted to pull the car over and take a picture of the sign, but as a long haired "Yankee" driving a small British sports car, I decided that it was in the interest of my continued health and well being that I drove quickly on.

After seeing this, I asked one of the Administrative Assistants at work about it.  She grew up in Savannah, and as a black woman growing up there, she was quite familiar with the racism in the South.  She informed me that she was certain, that if they put the issue to a vote, and only whites were allowed to cast a ballot, that they would vote overwhelmingly to reinstitute slavery.  She said that she personally had met people who got angry every time they saw an African-American who was not wearing shackles.

After this incident, I was speaking with another friend of mine who knows a couple of white supremacists.  (I need to note, he is not one himself, but he comes into contact with them through his line of work)  He informed me that there are lists out there that document who owns who so that when slavery is returned, the owners can take back their property.

This is not ancient history, this is the underbelly of modern America.  An underbelly that rallies around the Confederate flag as the symbol of it's goals as surely as the neo-Nazis rally around the Swastika.

In my last few weeks in the South, I saw a pickup truck with large Confederate Flags plastered on the sides and a sign in the back window that read, "Vote 2012, it's time to take back the plantation."  He was driving with this sign, proudly, through the streets of Savannah, with no fear of reprisal what so ever.  The boldness of this astonished and terrified me.

A symbol is a powerful thing.  It can raise up armies, it can turn brother against brother, it can tear a country apart.

That is what the Confederate Flag is.  And that is it's power, and why it must be repudiated by all Americans.

I saw another bumper sticker down there that said, "Bring back the Old South."  I wish I could have asked the car's owner what part of the Old South did he want to bring back?  Did he want to bring back the shackles, the chains, the whips, the beatings, the forced labor, the degradation, the humiliation, the forced rapes, the families torn apart, the dogs, the grinding of an entire race into the dirt, the boots on the throats of people who did nothing wrong except to be born a different color?

We need to accept that, for a large segment of the American population, the flapping of the Confederate Flag will always carry the sound of the rattle of a slave's chains. 

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