I recently wrote a Newsvine piece entitled "Isn't It Time to End the Civil War?". Now, I'm going a step further to describe a profound shift in thinking about our history, about the Civil War and its effects. The Civil War simply never ended. To the extent that the war was about the State's right to discriminate against an out-group, the issue was never resolved. In the South, this is due to the failed Reconstruction period, ending with the resurgence of racial discrimination and separatism embodied in the Ku Klux Klan. The South fully re-established the right to discriminate, at least until the civil rights movement in the 1960's. The North's mission was never accomplished because African-Americans were never truly freed from second class citizenship.
Here's my hypothesis: Black people in the U.S. are really still being used as pawns in the geo-political struggle of Southerners to resurrect victory and justification in the Civil War. With the John Birch Society and other "conservative" organizations that increasingly came to dominate the Republican Party, anti-Union sentiments have persisted, fueled by the Powell Memo and the pro-corporate movement of the U.S. Supreme Court. The word "Union" is quite interesting as the South fought as a Confederacy against the Union and it has also been fighting against trade "unions." The North, and much of the South, guess that the Civil War is long over, but segments of Southern society have not let it die, perhaps because of the interests in local politicians to use regionalism to advance their political careers, much as the late George Wallace found race baiting to be his ticket to political success.
Whatever the mechanism, Dixie has risen in the Tea Party. The social status of African Americans is nowhere near equal because of the ambivalence of the North toward their freedom, and their continued struggles, focusing on those as having been extremely costly to this nation. As a "reward" for freeing slaves, many African Americans migrated North and West for economic opportunity and to avoid discrimination (or remained as second class citizens in the South). As economic opportunities have collapsed for all middle and working class Americans, whites increasingly saw African Americans (and Mexicans) as taking away their jobs and cutting off access to prosperity. Politicians, to be sure, especially Republicans seeking to gain control over Democrat strongholds, subtly (well, often overtly) played the race card (Willie Horton) to manipulate working class voters. And that's what happened to the supposed "friend" of African-Americans in the North!
Compare that with the still-bubbling hostility of the South after having suffered enormous losses and a period of occupation for defending slavery, and continued bashing from many in the North. The case can be made that the Tea Party is largely a response to discomfort about African-Americans, triggered by Barack Obama becoming President. For Southerners STILL reeling from the Civil War, still trying to move beyond Jim Crow and the resurgence of the Klan, having a Black man in the White House could be seen as having triggered post-traumatic stress disorder. Obama ascending to the Presidency may well have helped trigger the resurrection of Dixie and the Confederacy in the Tea Party.
So, African-Americans are stuck between North and South, not really fully accepted by either, and definitely treated with less compassion and patience than other immigrant groups. Of course, in addition to having been "immigrants," we must note that Africans were mostly brought to the U.S. as slaves. As slaves, they were stripped of their families, cultures and languages and largely forbidden to be educated in the U.S. That was most certainly not the best way to make a good impression, was it? In much of the country, if not all, there continue to be discriminatory customs and policies that make many African-Americans second class citizens. How can one recover from the deprivations of the holocaust of slavery when everyone, North and South, was still ambivalent about, if not overtly hostile to, your aspiration to achieve the American dream?
So, how do we move forward? With Obama inadvertently triggering Southern PTSD, after the South had finally re-entered national parity through White Presidents from Georgia and Arkansas, the hopes of some Southerners were dashed by Obama. Adding insult to injury, the North heralded a Black President as a huge step forward for race relations. So, the split between North and South was massive and the old Democrat coalition was not powerful enough to help. In addition, economic conditions threatened white ethnics in the North and South, who both tended to skapegoat the still-not-integrated African American "others," consciously or unconsciously, for the financial mess. Well, it was a lot safer than blaming the neoliberal white power structure, which was amassing overwhelming power and wealth by the day!
We need to get the word out about what has been going on in this country, about the role being played by the Tea Party. I'll grant them that the Tea Party is not overtly racist and that most are not even consciously aware of the disadvantages still faced by African Americans in the U.S. Most people, including Democrats and Liberals are unaware of the basic level of racism that exists in our society, both North and South, and how many of those who see themselves as champions for African-Americans simply don't understand history and don't understand what is motivating their self-perceived righteousness.We're all at fault in this mess. We've all neglected to understand our history and so we are repeating it. So, the Civil War still goes on in our politics.
What we need today is an end to the Civil War. We need a national commission of reconciliation, on the order of that which is healing the apartheid of South Africa. Once we recognize how much of our problems today have their roots in the true ambivalence and lack of closure for the Civil War, Reconstruction and Jim Crow, we'll see that we can't continue to gloss over our racist past. It is time to sit down together, on equal terms, hearing the grievances of the South as well as African-Americans and the North, and bring our nation back together after an even more extraordinarily long and costly Civil War than we'd realized.