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Black or Confederate, do we need ‘designer history?’
By Sid Salter
Friday, April 16, 2010
While in the depths of a historic recession replete with rampant unemployment, a stagnant housing market and consumers too paralyzed with anxiety to consume, what are we arguing about? Designer history.
Republican Govs. Bob McDonnell of Virginia and Haley Barbour of Mississippi are being pilloried this week by Democrats over alleged insensitivities regarding Confederate History Month declarations. McDonnell apologized for declaring April as “Confederate History Month,” but failing to mention slavery anywhere in his proclamation.
Barbour, asked by CNN for his opinion on McDonnell’s problems, said the controversy “doesn’t amount to diddly” — igniting his own media firestorm. Barbour told CNN: “I don’t know what you would say about slavery, but anybody that thinks that you have to explain to people that slavery is a bad thing, I think that goes without saying.”
Obviously, Barbour’s CNN interview wasn’t his most erudite media comments. He might have phrased his remarks differently.
But Barbour’s broader point was valid. Why should America become so bogged down in the “gotcha” politics of what I call “designer history?”
This nation celebrates Black History Month each February. Why? Because for many years, legitimate contributions and accomplishments of African Americans and legitimate records of atrocities against African Americans were simply ignored by mainstream history.
Each April, a number of states that comprised the Confederates States of America during the Civil War have sought to honor their confederate ancestors through Confederate History Month.
Clearly, both groups feel that their respective histories have either been misrepresented or under-represented in mainstream history. Hence, most Americans long ago accepted Black History Month as a worthy and necessary national observance.
Not so for Confederate History Month. The observance still stirs racial and social passions. It’s as if one “designer history” almost demands that the other be denigrated, marginalized and attacked - and that we continue as a society to buy into the notion that both observances can’t co-exist peacefully.
It would seem that the ideal would be that Americans simply focus on our shared history — a shared history of tragedy and triumph, success and failure, nobility and shame. The Civil War is a part of that history along with slavery.
American children need to learn how that sad event and that evil institution are intertwined. The fact that Mississippians celebrate a day that simultaneously honors Martin Luther King and Robert E. Lee is a source of anger to some, but there is certain symmetry in that fact.
The good thing I see for the future is that the next generation of Mississippians won’t waste as much time and energy as the present one arguing over “designer history.”
Most do not remember institutional segregation and most do not practice social integration. They relate as human beings. For them, this tempest-in-a-teapot is more about politics than policy.
With the passage of time, what I see on the horizon is a time when Mississippians treat each other with mutual respect - and celebrate February and April as simply months on the calendar.
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