The SHPG and Lee AtwaterPosted: August 12, 2013
Over on CW Crossroads, Brooks Simpson has the latest adventures of the Facebook comments at the Southern Heritage Preservation Group. They concern themselves with proper displays of the Confederate flag (everywhere they can put it, or applaud someone else putting it) and offenses against (white, Christian, conservative) Southern heritage. That heritage, for mysterious reasons, revolves entirely around the middle portion of the 1800s. One would think nothing interesting, praiseworthy, or worthy of preservation happened after. So far as I can tell, they mostly work to preserve certain unflattering stereotypes about the South. People like this do exist, but not just in the South. So do other sorts of people, not just outside the South. I think the comments speak for themselves.
I think that we can go too far with patting ourselves on the back for making these men and women into a minority. Race relations in the United States have improved, but they have improved before and then taken a hard turn backwards. Improvement does not mean perfection; we can still do better. Too often history focuses on the happy stories with good endings and neglects those periods of backlash and retrenchment. The SHPG tells a part of that story. Few people, caught up on the wrong side of a major social or political change, suddenly decide they had it wrong and go over to the other side. Instead most of them just get quieter and find ways to rebrand their old school politics as something unrelated. This can happen through normal social mechanisms, but often conscious choices of political actors play a role:
You start in 1954 by saying ‘Nigger, nigger, nigger.’ By 1968 you can’t say ‘Nigger.’ That hurts you. It backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states rights and all that stuff and you get so abstract. Now you talk about cutting taxes and these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites. And subconsciously maybe that’s part of it. I’m not saying that. But I’m saying that if it is getting that abstract and that coded, we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. Obviously sitting around saying we want to cut taxes and we want this, is a lot more abstract than even the busing thing and a hell of a lot more abstract than nigger nigger. So anyway you look at it, race is coming on the back burner.
The SHPG certainly does not speak for the South, or even the white South. But to some degree they speak to the seedy underbelly of a style of politics once very overt that lives on, if not as healthily as it used to, under other guises and in all parts of the country.