More and more, I think the best way that a white person can be supportive of the ongoing civil rights battles is to shut up* and just listen (and read) as much as possible to understand what is really going on in a side of society that we too often overlook. I’ve read a few very powerful articles online that I want to recommend; they are not easy reads, but they are really important.
First, Carvell Wallace’s Letter To My Mother After Charleston on The Toast really brings home how pervasive violence against people of color is and how dismissive it is to try to frame the massacre of the Mother Emanuel 9 as a one-off act by a psychopath, as many media outlets are doing.
For those few who don’t know, the South Carolina state flags were lowered to half-mast after the massacre, but the Confederate flag continued to fly at full-mast. The call to remove the flag from all government sites is overwhelming, and you can join over 500,000 signatures on MoveOn.
In the discussion about the Confederate flag, The Washington Post published Five Myths About Why The South Seceded, and debunks the argument that the Confederate Party seceded over states’ rights, taxes, or really anything other than slavery.
Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery — the greatest material interest of the world,” proclaimed Mississippi in its own secession declaration, passed Jan. 9, 1861. “Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of the commerce of the earth. . . . A blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization.
Expanding on The Washington Post’s article, The Atlantic published What This Cruel War Was Over, using the Confederacy’s own words to prove that their flag symbolized exactly what Roof claimed in his own manifesto. The quotes are appalling to the extent that I began to feel physically ill. From Mississippi** Senator Albert Gallatin Brown in 1858, orating on US expansion into Central America:
I want Cuba, and I know that sooner or later we must have it. If the worm-eaten throne of Spain is willing to give it for a fair equivalent, well—if not, we must take it. I want Tamaulipas, Potosi, and one or two other Mexican Stats; and I want them all for the same reason—for the planting and spreading of slavery.
And a footing in Central America will powerfully aid us in acquiring those other states. It will render them less valuable to the other powers of the earth, and thereby diminish competition with us. Yes, I want these countries for the spread of slavery. I would spread the blessings of slavery, like the religion of our Divine Master, to the uttermost ends of the earth, and rebellious and wicked as the Yankees have been, I would even extend it to them.
I am ashamed that while I had understood that slave holders viewed slaves as less-than-people and that ownership of them was their right, reading in their own words that they viewed slavery as a cornerstone of civilized society and even a religion to be evangelized boggles my mind. It is disgusting and disturbing, but still better to know the truth than cling to ignorance.
*Ugh, this is so difficult. I mean, of course, add your voice to mass protests and such, but there is a real tendency for white voices to try to direct the messaging and that needs to stop.
**Not to single out Mississippi, since there are truly wretched quotes from all the Confederate states, but also to quote Nina Simone: Mississippi Goddam
Okay, that is really some gross racism to read, but it’s better to know than not. That certainly wasn’t what I had been taught in grade school when learning about the civil war.
I’m reminded of my less-than-one year working at a text book company where we weren’t supposed to include any potentially “controversial” or “upsetting” material in the texts for grade school kids. Sigh. (My argument that literacy is down in schools because the texts aren’t worth reading was not accepted as valid.)
Anyway, check out Why the Confederate Flag Isn’t the Confederate Flag”. According to this, the “confederate flag” that everyone refers to is actually the flag of the Northern Virginia Army. The actual flag(s) that the Confederate government picked had a whole lot more white on them (for obvious symbolic reasons.)
I do sort of appreciate that at least two of the Confederate government flags had enough white in them that there were concerns that they would look like white flags of surrender if brought into battle. Well, that’s just what you get for trying to represent “the purity of white” or whatever.