This Whole Confederate Thing

Nicholas Johnson

In my glorious tradition of waiting for an issue to fade into relative obscurity before forming an opinion, I will now attempt to solve the Confederate kerfuffle.

Confederate Kerfuffle, it must be noted, would be an excellent name for the band to play at the future Senator Kid Rock’s swearing-in ceremony. It must also be noted that this topic makes me incredibly uncomfortable, though I’m sure my lame joke made that abundantly clear.

Alright, let’s do it. But first, a quotation—

“The Confederate States may acquire new territory; and Congress shall have the power to legislate and provide governments for the inhabitants of all territory belonging to the Confederate States, lying without the limits of the several states; and may permit them, at such times, and such manner as it may be law provide, to form states to be admitted into the Confederacy. In all such territory the institution of negro slavery, as it now exists in the Confederate States, shall be recognized and protected by Congress and by the territorial government; and the inhabitants of the several Confederate States and Territories shall have the right to take to such Territory any slaves lawfully held by them in any of the states of Territories of the Confederate States”

—Constitution of the Confederate States of America, Article IV, Section III, Paragraph III

“But… but…” you stutter, wearing your Confederate flag like the cape of the world’s most insufferable superhero, “Ulysses S. Grant owned slaves!”

Fine. Is your point that all slavery was bad? Because I agree.

“The war wasn’t even about slavery! It was about state’s rights!”

The state’s legal right to allow the ownership of human beings, And if the war was not about slavery, the issue certainly came up a whole bunch.

“But free speech!”

Okay, you got me there. No one is taking the Confederate flag sticker off the back of your minivan. Put a Nazi sticker on there, if you feel so inclined. Nobody is stopping you. You’re the worst. But nobody is stopping you. This is an issue of public effigies and their voluntary removal. It isn’t about your stupid flag.

“The monuments are reminders of our history.”

Then put them in a museum.

Now that I’ve both erected and thoroughly decimated my straw man opponent, the question remains: What is the solution?

I have no idea.

I don’t think the feds should come down and start smashing up civil war memorials or burning flags. Forcing states to remove these symbols would open a can of worms I have not particular desire to peer inside. Even voluntary action at the state level has provoked vitriolic—even violent—reactions. We saw the tragedy in Charlottesville. However, I’m not sure kowtowing to literal Nazis should be considered the preferable option.

And what of the inevitable next step? If these monuments are removed, what historical remnants will follow? What stays sacred? Washington owned slaves, and Jefferson screwed his. Terrible actions, to be sure, yet the contributions of the men to our burgeoning nation cannot be overstated. Should their effigies be torn down as well?

Maybe. I don’t know. It’s a conversation that must begin. History is complicated. Living in a society that does not celebrate the mistakes of its past will require that each citizen accept an unpolished recounting of history and commit to open dialogue.

This conversation can often take an abstract tone. Discussing the relative morality of various historical figures leads one down a path without foreseeable end. The human element, illustrated by recent violence, is far more compelling.

Imagine this: You’re a young, black child, growing up in the South. Though racism undoubtedly remains an issue, it may be that you do not experience it in any direct manner as you grow up. Your friends could not care less about your race, and the adults in your life presumably treat you the same as your white peers. However, on the way to school, your mom takes Stonewall Avenue. You pass a statue of General Robert E. Lee. You walk through the front door of Jefferson Davis Elementary school, and on a field trip, you see a Confederate flag flying over the capitol building.

You would feel different, and that would hurt. That can’t be acceptable in America.