Thursday, April 8, 2010

Day 98

Dear Mr. President,

This month in Virginia is, apparently, Confederate History Month. I've spent my entire life in a state that didn't exist during the civil war, but, being about as far North as you can get in the lower 48, I grew up naively assuming that Washington and Washingtonians would generally have supported the Union, if only for geographic reasons. This is why I was surprised when, as a sophomore, I discovered that enough students had been wearing the Confederate flag, on jackets and T-shirts and hats, that my high school had to ban it. I often saw it still on cars in the parking lot, and wondered, frequently, where this fascination with the old Confederacy came from. The controversy over the South Carolina statehouse in 2000 seemed equally troubling, but at least I understood the historical relevance of the Old South to that state. That it continues in Virginia indicates that, even today, many Americans still cling to the era and its culture.

Maybe it is insensitive of me, but simply I do not understand this continued hold that the Confederacy seems to have over the hearts of many Americans. Can't we put that chapter of our history to rest? The war may not have been entirely about slavery, but it is impossible to credibly separate the legacy of the Confederacy from the bloody and brutal enslavement of Africans; the single greatest shame of our Nation's history aside from the annihilation of Native Americans. Why the fondness, reverence, even, for this history and those crimes? The Virginia Governor's decision to devote an entire month to Confederate history must be truly an affront to much of his state's citizens, and especially to the African American community. It also speaks toward an unsettling resurgence of pro-secessionist rhetoric, which seems to be increasingly acceptable in modern political discourse.

I think that the history and culture of the old south can be preserved and respected without celebrating the secession, slavery and war that tore apart our country and wasted or ruined hundreds of thousands, if not millions of lives. A rejection of the racism, divisiveness and destruction that defined the Civil War should be something that all Americans can agree on.

Respectfully yours,


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