“He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.”
— Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968)
It’s been 154 years since the Civil War ended and still Southern white supremacists expect everyone else in the country to walk on eggshells around them so as not to upset their mythology or the chips on their shoulders. Yesterday, July 13, was Nathan Bedford Forrest Day in Tennessee, a holiday there since 1931, when it seemed like a good idea to commemorate a Confederate general who murdered captive black Union soldiers during the war, and after it became the first national leader of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK). Now it’s 2019, and Tennessee Governor Bill Lee‘s lame excuse for continuing the practice is that it is what’s expected of him under the law, even though he could push to have the law changed if he had the political will and courage.
All this hiding behind the disingenuous mantra of “heritage, not hate” is for the purpose of upholding monuments to and celebrations of Confederate leaders whose actions and beliefs, however much they deluded themselves and others in their own times into feeling were noble and righteous, have in the past 154 years proven to be in the service of one overriding principle – white supremacy. Dress up evil however you want, turn somersaults in logic if you like – in the end it’s still evil. Once state and local governments withdraw their sponsorship of these Confederate monuments and celebrations, individuals are still free to honor them in private if they are so inclined. No one is infringing their First Amendment free speech rights in speaking out on behalf of their Confederate idols in the public square; it’s just that everyone else no longer has to be subject to the constant looming presence of publicly sponsored monuments and celebrations reminding them to know their place, particularly if they are the descendants of slaves.
Theater poster for the 1915 D.W. Griffith filmThe Birth of a Nation. The movie glorified the KKK and set the stage for the organization’s resurgence shortly afterward.
In the past two and a half years, because of the tone set by the White Supremacist-in-Chief occupying the Oval Office (proving not all white supremacists are Southerners, by any means), more awful people have crept from the shadows into the light than many decent people were aware existed. As the specter of awful behavior grows, it is not enough for decent people to shun it and the awful people who afflict society with their malevolent derangement; decent people need to confront it, preferably without violence, but by speaking out forcefully and often in public, because otherwise a bully will always take silence to mean assent, even approval.
A clip from an August 2017 episode of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert which aired shortly after the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
After a generation has passed, will we erect monuments to the malignant culture that has grown within Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Border Patrol? Will we celebrate the concentration camps for brown-skinned immigrants at “detention sites” from Texas to California and elsewhere around the country? Stopping the cancerous growth of white supremacy will require more decent white people standing up to it and saying “enough already”, an outspoken attitude of noble and righteous indignation that is long past overdue, as evidenced by a state still celebrating in 2019 the hateful heritage of Nathan Bedford Forrest.
The recent revelation that Lin Bennett, a Republican State Representative in South Carolina, subscribes to the QAnon internet conspiracy theory, means the followers of the QAnon cult surrounding the current president have another friend in a powerful position openly siding with them. Validation like that keeps the embers smoldering while the QAnon cult followers await prophesied heroics from their leader in the Oval Office. It’s all fun and games until some deluded idiot with access to weaponry takes it all too seriously and acts out self-righteously, as a fellow from North Carolina did in reaction to the Pizzagate conspiracy in December 2016.
With so much factual information available on the internet, it’s hard to understand how people can continue deluding themselves with conspiracy theories that common sense would see fall apart after the application of a few facts. A lack of common sense and a capacity for self-delusion are the very traits preventing some people from seeing the foolishness behind many conspiracy theories. For those people, the great amount of information available on the internet supports their pet theories even when the information is not in their favor. They do not lack for information concerning their theories, for or against. Where they fall short is in the self-confidence to accept and honestly examine divergent information, because to do so might undermine the fragile construct of their self-worth bound up in the things bigger than themselves they have lashed themselves to stay afloat in a world to their minds uncertain and threatening, the cult and the conspiracy.
Interior of the Old Church in Delft, a 1654trompe-l’œilpainting by Gerard Houckgeest (circa 1600-1661). Are the drapes real, or are they part of the painting?
People in prominent positions, like State Representative Bennett, are irresponsible to publicly endorse nonsense like QAnon, because of the loons who are more likely than ever to act out in light of her endorsement. Some conspiracy theories, like the Flat Earth one, are relatively harmless, and if Rep. Bennett had come out as a Flat Earther the majority of Americans would probably have shrugged and considered her nutty, maybe a little too nutty to be entrusted with public office, but otherwise nothing to worry about since it was unlikely her outlandish belief would have any effect on public policy or discourse. QAnon theorists are different because they advocate smearing, imprisonment, and summary execution of their opponents. It’s as bad as if Rep. Bennett had declared herself a member in good standing with the Ku Klux Klan.
What is real and what is illusion? One of the questions examined in The Manchurian Candidate, a 1962 film directed by John Frankenheimer and starring Frank Sinatra and Laurence Harvey.
QAnon arose and spread entirely over the internet; there was no broad based movement addressing needs in the real world, with people openly discussing its tenets, adopting some and rejecting others. A few trolls threw up some outlandish claims on internet message boards and some of them stuck, not because they were true and promised to solve real problems, but because other people wanted them to be true and hoped they would solve their imaginary problems born of hate for the Other and their own self-loathing. But for responsible adults those are really nothing more than excuses. With more information available than ever before in history, remaining bigoted and ignorant is a conscious choice of chip-on-the-shoulder anti-intellectualism, and such people need to be held accountable for their vile behavior, the better to keep them in check before they act out violently on their delusions.
“Believe we’re gliding down the highway When in fact we’re slip slidin’ away.”
— from “Slip Slidin’ Away”, a 1977 song by Paul Simon.
Recently the Virginia House of Delegatesrefused to vote on ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), defeating it perhaps for good. If Virginia had voted in favor of the Amendment, that would have been the 38th and deciding vote among the states, and then the measure would have returned to the United States Congress for reconsideration of whether the time limit for ratification should be extended.
The State Seal of Virginia. On February 21, on the grounds of the state capitol in Richmond, Virginia, two pro-ERA activists posed as the figures depicted in the seal, and one was arrested.
The Equal Rights Amendment is meant to constitutionally protect women’s rights and should be a common sense addition to the country’s legal framework, but anti-abortion activists and those who cling to traditional gender roles have long suspected the amendment would be used as grounds for protecting abortion rights of pregnant women besides guaranteeing women’s rights when they are at odds with men’s long standing privileges, and consequently they have done everything in their power, high and low, to defeat the amendment.
Meanwhile, in an official ceremony for a high school in Wisconsin, female cheerleaders were given “joke” awards for their physical attributes, such as largest breasts or butt, or skinniest body. When some parents and faculty objected to singling out emotionally immature girls this way, the cheerleaders’ coach, Patti Uttech, expressed dismay that “politically correct” people couldn’t understand how the awards were all in good fun. Last year another Wisconsin high school made national news after people became aware that a photographer posing a group of boys for a prom picture had encouraged them to raise their arms in what can only be viewed as a Nazi salute, and almost all the boys appeared to comply with enthusiasm.
Then there’s Goodloe Sutton, 80-year-old owner and editor of The Democrat-Reporter, a weekly newspaper in Linden, Alabama, who in a February 14 editorial railed against Democrats he supposed were plotting to raise taxes in Alabama, and called for the Ku Klux Klan to raid the homes of Democratic legislators in Washington, D.C.. He added even more hateful remarks when asked later for elaboration by other journalists from Alabama and elsewhere once his editorial became notorious. In 2019, Mr. Sutton’s beliefs and attitudes are more in tune with those from the year of his birth, 1939.
Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel perform “Slip Slidin’ Away” in the September 1981 Concert in Central Park in New York City.
Did those beliefs and attitudes ever go away in the intervening years? Perhaps partially, although mainly they went underground. Now with encouragement from the current resident of the Oval Office, ignorant and hateful talk is bubbling back to the surface across the land, and here and there action has followed. In the current environment, it will only get worse. The Ku Klux Klan of 1939 is resurrected by a bitter old man with a newspaper in Alabama. The Nazi Party of 1930s and 40s Germany is evoked by laughing schoolboys in Wisconsin. Again in Wisconsin, a high school cheerleaders’ coach hands out awards that would not have been out of place in 1950s America, though even then most people might have deemed them in questionable taste given the age of the recipients. And in Virginia an amendment to the United States Constitution goes down in flames because even in 2019 there are people – not all of them men – who cannot step away from controlling all women as if it were their right.
“So thou, O son of man, I have set thee a watchman unto the house of Israel; therefore thou shalt hear the word at my mouth, and warn them from me.”
— Ezekiel 33:7, from the King James Version of the Bible.
Amid all the furiously backpedaling confusion promulgated by Virginia Governor Ralph Northam over whether he was in the 1984 Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook picture of two male party goers, one in blackface and the other in a Ku Klux Klan (KKK) outfit, there appears to be no acknowledgment from the governor or his staff of why they seem to think blackface is less racist than wearing KKK garb. They appear to assume that it is racism lite, and therefore perhaps excusable, choosing to ignore that even in 1984 such behavior was not acceptable in general society, and certainly not seen as good clean fun. The governor professes confusion over whether he was one of the two men in the photo, but nowhere does he allow the possibility he could have been the one in the KKK outfit. He claims he was either the one in blackface or he was not in the picture at all.
This song and dance is understandable given the feelings of the greater society about the KKK. Apparently Northam feels if he needs to equivocate about his participation in racist costuming, he is safer with blackface than with the utterly out of the fold KKK. But why? Besides the ludicrous assertion that he somehow doesn’t remember participating in the activity depicted in the photo, why does he hide behind blackface as the lesser of two evils? Is ridiculing, mocking, and denigrating black people any less evil than intimidating and threatening them? They are two sides of the same coin. And no, taking the good ol’ frat boy defense that he personally meant no harm doesn’t fly.
Ralph Northam’s 1981 VMI yearbook photo showing his nicknames “Goose” and “Coonman”.
Lost in the national coverage of Northam’s foolish, insensitive, and casually hateful youthful behavior is reporting about his less foolish, equally insensitive, and more consciously hateful behavior regarding the Dominion Energy natural gas Atlantic Coast Pipeline. As always with things like pipelines, the planned route took it through less populous countryside, avoiding the estates of rich folks, of which there are many in Virginia’s horse country surrounding Charlottesville in central Virginia. Instead the route is planned to take it well south of Charlottesville and Albemarle County, through far poorer and far blacker Buckingham County, with a compressor station near Union Hill, a community noted historically for its population of freed black slaves.
View east along Virginia State Route 56 (South James River Road) just after crossing the Wingina Bridge over the James River from Wingina in Nelson County, Virginia, into rural Buckingham County. Photo by Famartin. The Atlantic Coast Pipeline would roughly parallel Route 56, intersecting several miles down the road at Union Hill for the compressor station.
Late last year, Governor Northam dismissed two members of the Air Pollution Control Board who disagreed about the pipeline route and placement of the compressor station, thereby assuring a yea vote from the Board. In Virginia, it should be noted, the biggest utility player, Dominion Energy, is also the largest single donor from the energy sector to political campaigns, regardless of party affiliation. Dominion Energy is pushing the pipeline through Buckingham County and its compressor station in Union Hill. Just north of Buckingham County is Albemarle County and its plethora of country estates owned by wealthy white people. South of Buckingham County would apparently be too far out of the way, making the pipeline more expensive.
In lightly populated Buckingham County,Dominion Energy could expect easily overpowered opposition to its pipeline and compressor station from poor, mostly black communities. The only remaining obstacle was two obstinate members of the state Air Pollution Control Board, and with the help of their man in the Governor’s office, they were removed. Like the 1984 yearbook photo, Governor Northam and his friends thought they could dismiss the racism implicit in it all by taking the position that he didn’t mean it that way. How insulting! It matters not at all how these people intend their actions, as if that somehow magically exonerates them, but how their actions ultimately affect the people on the receiving end, and professed ignorance of the effects on those on the receiving end is no excuse, any more than it was for the German people when their leaders packed Jews into cattle cars and sent them to concentration camps.
Supporters of the current president gathered outside the State Capitol building in Phoenix, Arizona, on January 25, to protest immigration reform measures being debated by state legislators. They undercut any interest in their arguments by badgering and hectoring brown skinned legislators, state office workers, and even schoolchildren on a field trip as they walked in the vicinity of the Capitol, presumptively proclaiming them illegal aliens, while giving white skinned folks a pass. They reached the epitome of their belligerent ignorance when one of them challenged the citizenship status of State Representative Eric Descheenie, a Native American of Navajo descent.
Besides the ignorance of challenging such a person on his right to be here, there is the sheer gall of doing so. The ignorance has always been there with some people, but the gall has risen to the surface lately on account of how emboldened they feel by the angry rhetoric of their Supreme Leader in the White House. Many of these particular protesters in Phoenix were armed, as well, and their allies in the police stood idly by while they harassed the targets of their hatred.
1848 Mexican Cession of territory after the Mexican-American War. 2008 map by Kballen.
The Viceroyalty of New Spain in 1819. 2013 map by Giggette.
The police were supposedly studiously allowing the protesters room to express themselves freely, as guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Constitution. Strange how the ideology of protesters seems to affect how the police enforce First Amendment rights, though of course nothing can be proven. A similarly scrupulous desire for allowance of free expression strangely affected law enforcement at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, last August, and that after an incident in July in Charlottesville when the cops tear gassed for no very good reason counter protesters at a KKK gathering.
Since self-reflection and a balanced view of history are traits that are probably either non-existent or very low on the list for some of the denser supporters of the Ignoramus-in-Chief, any appeal here will fall only on their deaf ears, if at all, and the words will serve merely as preaching to the choir. Nevertheless, on the principle that a trickle of water may eventually lead to a baptism, it is worth a try. Has the schizophrenic nature of Republican anti-immigrant rhetoric never struck a discordant chord with any of these Know Nothings? The fact that their economic betters in the Republican establishment, the ones who back their Supreme Leader behind the scenes solely on account of his capacity to put yet more money in their pockets, have no desire to change current immigration policy because it suits their business interests to have cheap, exploitable labor. It has always been so.
From the 1994 Robert Zemeckis film Forrest Gump, Tom Hanks as the title character repeats a bit of received wisdom, “Stupid is as stupid does”. Economically and politically the beliefs of the protesters at the Arizona Capitol will never get anywhere because they fly in the face of the moneyed interests who pull all the strings. So what is it all for, then? Blowing off steam from the angry white European descent base of the new hard right Republicans. The rich ones aren’t angry; they have no reason to be, since they are getting everything they want. It’s the people stuck in the economic levels below that who are angry. Why don’t they get angry with the people above them who are ripping them off? Good question, but one for a different day. They are angry with the people they see supplanting them as the most important demographic in this country, fragmenting solid white bread into hundreds of permutations of bagels and tortillas and pita pockets, many of them gluten-free.
Why do they vent their hatred and anger on brown skinned immigrants? Who else is left? The economic and political arguments of the anti-immigrant crowd largely fall apart under scrutiny, at least they do if this country is to continue to operate under the same principles it has going back hundreds of years, when the ancestors of the current anti-immigrants made their way here with little government interference and then, with the active encouragement of the government, violently shouldered aside the indigenous peoples who had been here thousands of years before them. It is a dangerous game that Republican leaders are playing, however, standing aside to let the angry base blow steam so that the moneyed interests can loot the country while everyone is distracted. They are counting on the casualties falling among groups they care nothing about other than their utility to them, such as liberals and immigrants. The people steering the Thief-in-Chief and his hard core minions around like a crazed nozzle spitting vituperation need to understand, though, that high pressure steam has a history of escaping control and blowing up in everyone’s faces.
Early Native American tribal territories, superimposed on the present day western United States. 1970 map by the U.S. Department of the Interior, Geological Survey. Where’s Arizona, and where are all the white folks of European descent?
The television remote control is a wonderful device, allowing a television viewer to turn the channel, adjust the volume, and even turn the television off altogether, all from the comfort of a chair or couch across the room. As entertainment components have proliferated in the home, innovators have kept pace with the implementation of the universal remote control to control all of them. The universal remote control of today is to the basic television remote control of yore as wonderfulness squared and then some.
In the old days, a television viewer had to get up from a chair and cross the room to change the channel or turn the TV off in order to avoid unpleasant scenes such as this obviously taped-on picture of Vietnam War footage. Photo from the February 13, 1968 issue of U.S. News & World Report Magazine by Warren K. Leffler.
When the beginning of a National Football League game comes on the television then, and some of the players are kneeling during the National Anthem as a way of protesting police brutality and institutional injustice towards black people, and some people in the home audience are offended by the players’ exercise of their First Amendment rights, there is always the option of using the wonderful hand held device at their side and either turning the channel or turning the television off. For offended people in the stands at the game, the options are different of course, including turning away from the offending sight and riveting their attention on Old Glory, or taking the occasion to visit the food concourse or the restrooms. For our purposes, we will be concerned with the home viewers who vastly outnumber the people willing to put up with the rigmarole of attending an NFL game in person.
Let us suppose that the home viewer has discarded the options of turning the channel or turning the television off using their wonderful remote control, perhaps because the fate of the western world depends on their viewing of the game at hand, and so is left with the spectacle of highly paid professional athletes, many of them black, kneeling during the National Anthem. Never fear!
Firstly, remember that the protest itself is against the police and the judicial system, not the revered Anthem and the Flag, much as Supreme Leader would like to pervert the understanding of the protest to push white America’s jingoistic buttons. If, realizing this, the kneeling is still offensive, remember that the Constitution was written in large part to protect unpopular minority (meaning less than majority in this case, not necessarily differently skinned) expressions from the tyranny of the majority. Yes, it’s in the Constitution that they can do this! God bless America!
Secondly, remember to stand at home during the National Anthem and either salute or place one hand over your heart. Just because a football fan is at home viewing the game, that is no excuse for not showing due respect to Flag and Country during the National Anthem if that is what is so important to them that they are eager to publicly shame others for not doing the same. If you don’t have a flag displayed at home (and you really should), stand and face Washington, DC, or whatever direction indicates the position on the globe of Supreme Leader at the moment. He could be in South Korea just across the line from North Korea, childishly taunting his rival in idiocy, Kim Jong-un!
The Heitech Universal Remote, one of many wonderful devices available on the open market which, with sage usage by the discerning consumer of entertainment, should shield that consumer from offensive content such as the free exercise of Constitutional rights by black athletes. Photo by Raimond Spekking.
Lastly, remember to take pictures of yourself standing at home for the National Anthem and pass them around for the scrutiny of your friends, neighbors, family, and co-workers. You must pass muster! What use is your sunshine patriotism if no one else notices it? It’s all well and good to be in the stands at the game and boo the kneeling players and berate your fellow citizens who side with them, but for the stay at home football fan there has to be a more influential option than firing off angry emails to the league and the local paper. Take pictures and post them on your social media accounts. Burn your NFL merchandise in the front yard. Lynch Colin Kaepernick in effigy – oh, wait, that’s a little too Ku Klux Klan for the suburbs. Too many echoes.
Jack Lemmon and Peter Falk in 1965’s The Great Race understood the importance of pushing buttons on mechanical devices to achieve desired results, though their efforts didn’t always work out as planned.
You get the idea. There’s one technological hurdle that the wonderful remote control device can’t overcome, and that’s answering the question “Why?” Why, for instance, do grown men (and some women) get so emotionally invested in a game that they have blown a simple political protest out of proportion and selfishly, narcissistically claimed it has ruined their fun? Why is it no one refutes the silly argument about “pampered millionaire athletes”, when after all it was all of us who made them rich, with our misplaced priorities that reward hundreds of jocks with millions of dollars while thousands of talented schoolteachers and others who provide vital services scratch to make a living? Who are we then, after elevating them, to tell these athletes to shut up and play, and why do we think it’s important that they should? Why do the rest of us allow the childishly insecure and testosterone poisoned among us to set the agenda and bully everyone else to follow their foolish commands? Too bad we can’t point a remote control at ourselves for the answers. Meanwhile, if the protests bother you so much that you get your knickers in a twist about them, push a button on your remote control and read a book instead.