The Manipulation of Southern Pride

My Comments: These are troubling times, and with good reason. I’m frustrated by my inability to do any more to effect a remedy than to occasionally share an idea or written word that comes to my attention. Here is one that I’d like to share with you.

by Nick Mullins \ 13 AUG 2017 \

When I was a teenager, I went to a meeting of the new Sons of Confederate Veterans chapter in my hometown. I quickly became caught up in the ideals of the SCV and hoped desperately that I could find a Confederate soldier within my lineage. I was not racist, thanks to a good upbringing, nor were many of the SCV members in my hometown. The head of the chapter made it clear to newcomers that racism would not be tolerated in any way, shape, or form.

Despite this fact, we were nevertheless engaged in downplaying the atrocity of slavery, often calling out the hypocrisy of a racist north, focusing upon the ideas of “northern aggression” and “states rights,” all in the hope of reconciling our past and defending our identity as southerners. Today, I’m older and much wiser.

The War

In the antebellum south, 25% of the population was rich enough to own slaves and consisted of plantation owners and business elites. Of those, only 3% of them owned more than 20 slaves. The remaining 75% of southern whites, i.e. the vast majority, were often very poor and trying to survive an economy flooded with cheap goods created by, you guessed it, slave labor.

When the wealthy southern elites saw their economic advantage being threatened by government regulations to end slavery, they created and raised the Confederate flag. They began speaking of “states’ rights,” and “northern aggression,” but make no mistake about it, the rights they sought to protect were those that allowed them to make higher profits using slave labor. They were despicable racists who used the color of people’s skin to treat them like animals with unimaginable cruelty, forcing them to do the work they themselves didn’t want to do, all so they could build bigger homes and enjoy more refinements than the remaining 75% of southern whites.

Why then, would poor, subsistence farming southerners, fight to help these wealthy slave-holding plantation owners? Wealthy Confederate aristocrats understood the values of the rural working classes just enough to tap into their sense of pride, heritage, and defensiveness against urban ridicule.  They had already lifted them up by telling them they were at least better than black slaves. And just like with their black slaves, wealthy white southerners knew the benefits of withholding education from poor whites as well.

They knew just how to misinform an uneducated general public, leading people to believe their way of life was being threatened—that the wealthy northern elites and abolitionists were trying to tell them how they should live. Fear-mongering among a populace unable to think critically resulted in battlefields soaked with the blood of poor southern farmers.

In all truth, Southerners should feel a deep burning hatred towards the Confederate flag and the rich aristocrats who brought it into existence. They should denounce the wealthy business elites who adorned themselves with military titles and marched thousands upon thousands of men to their deaths.

We should be the ones removing Confederate monuments and moving beyond the mistakes of our ancestors. Sadly, too many still adhere to the plantation owner propaganda of “northern aggression” and “states rights,” leaving themselves open to repeat the past.

Here We Go Again

Today, wealthy political groups driven by corporate interests are still utilizing this type of propaganda among rural people. They feed upon the deeply rooted defensiveness that has been embedded in our DNA, one created by a millennia’s worth of judgment from urban societies wrought with the ills of classism and materialism. They fire up their media machines and engage in fear-mongering, telling us, “Big government is trying to tell you how to live and what to do.”

With our rural values firmly researched, they begin framing everything in terms of a culture war: liberal vs. conservative, rural vs. urban, pro-life vs. pro-choice, pro-gun vs. anti-gun continuously blurring the lines of truth and morality. They wield populism so well, that millions of people are basing their political beliefs not on the ethics of policy, but upon their personally held prejudices against “urban liberals.” ‘Northern Elites’ are now ‘Democrats” and the ‘Liberal Media.’ ‘Abolitionists’ are now ‘Communists,’ ‘Tree Huggers,’ and ‘Feminists.’ On the other side of the issue, it is important to realize that no one is addressing the sources of defensiveness found within rural communities.

Rural people are still depicted as slack-jawed idiots by the media. It remains socially acceptable to stereotype us as rednecks, hillbillies, and white trash. The majority of state and national policy is governed by urban provincialism. Rural people feel underrepresented and looked down upon, giving rise to the defense of their identity, and their values, by any means necessary.

Liberals and conservatives, rural and urban, we all need to understand the parts we play and how powerful interests manipulate us based on our cultural identity, be it where we are from, how we live, or the color of our skin. The hatred we are seeing is only the symptom of a much larger problem, one that Martin Luther King, Jr. began to realize and fight against—a classist economic system that divides and oppresses all but the wealthiest of our nation. There is much work to be done and we must be engaged on all fronts, beginning with ourselves and within our own communities.

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