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Not Enjoying The Silence

Back in May, a white supremacist touting himself as a Heathen stabbed and killed two young men on a train in Portland, Oregon, when those two young men attempted to protect a pair of Muslim women from the supremacist’s attacks on them.  Members all across the Heathen Community raised their voices in an attempt to educate the rest of the world on what we actually believe and practice, lest we get lumped in with the “bad Heathens”.  I rarely get political, but it was enough to drive me to write a blog post about Declaration 127.

(You can find that blog post here, and Declaration 127 here.)

On August 12, 2017, violence erupted when white nationalists gathered for a “Unite the Right” march in Charlottesville, Virginia.  Ostensibly organized to prevent the removal of yet another remnant of Confederate history–this time, a statue of Robert E. Lee–from a city park, it quickly became apparent that this “march” was more about making history repeat itself, than about defending history so that it doesn’t repeat.  The white nationalists gathered around the site, “defending” it with Viking-styled shields.  Don’t believe me? Check this out:

(You can find that photo here.)

The response of the Heathen community in the wake of what has been described by some as an act of domestic terrorism? Thus far, I’ve seen maybe two posts. And I’m not enjoying the silence….neither is Tyr.

As technically-a-person-of-color (I’m of Asian descent; Chinese, specifically) who happens to be Heathen, and also happens to be spending his afterlife inhabiting a white Southern woman, I find that once again, I cannot keep my mouth shut.  I can’t keep politics off of this blog right now; to do so would go against every fiber of who and what I am. Before I proceed, you might want to thoroughly acquaint yourself with the beginning of that last sentence: I am notwhite guy; repeat: I am notwhite guy. I’m also devoutly Heathen. All set? Okay, that clarification completely out of the way, let’s continue:

As a group of people practicing a Reconstructionist or at least Reconstructionist-derived religion, Heathens, on the whole, are obsessed with history.  We only know what we know about our faith–enough to actually have this faith and have it continue to exist–because of historians, and anthropologists, and archaeologists.  Because we are so needfully well-acquainted with history, most of us are also very well aware of that old adage: 

Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it. ~Edmund Burke

Edmund Burke was an Irish statesman–a Dubliner, to be precise–as well as an author, orator, political theorist, and philosopher, who supported the American Revolution.  It’s a great quote, and growing more and more powerful by the day in our modern age, but the truth is, there are absolutely zero corroborating sources proving that Burke ever actually said or wrote those words.  That he said them first is a tradition.  However, we do know of someone else who absolutely said something quite similar:

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” ~George Santayana

So who the heck was George Santayana?  He was a Spanish philosopher, essayist, poet, and novelist who was raised and educated in the United States from the age of eight and identified himself as an American, even though he maintained dual citizenship.  In fact, he spent most of his life not far from where I’m writing this: in Boston, Massachusetts, the birthplace of the very same Revolution that Edmund Burke so firmly supported. 

Why is that so important for this discussion: that Santayana was of Latin/Hispanic descent?  Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past two years, you can likely arrive at that answer easily enough.  A person of color, and specifically, an immigrant person of Spanish descent actually said the words that both sides of the present argument are constantly using against each other in the worst ways imaginable. Chew on that for a minute.

Michelle and I both have written numerous posts here and elsewhere in defense of not tearing down Confederate monuments, and not erasing the Confederate flag as a symbol of heritage (not hate!), largely based on the argument of Santayana’s famous quote.  We stand by those arguments. However, on the other side of our arguments, which come from a very genuine place of standing behind that aphorism, there are people like those guys with the viking-style shields in Charlottesville, Virginia who are ostensibly defending the same things for the same reasons, but not really.  And they proved that conclusively on Saturday, August 12, 2017.

Because those people wouldn’t “dirty their mouths” with a quote from a Spanish immigrant, if they had actually known that was who said it.  It would be totally valid and “okay” if it had been said by the white guy from Dublin, but, oh my, the shock and disgust if they realized it had been said by a Spanish immigrant! (Who’s mother, by the way, was raised in the Philippines.)

This brief history of quotes (and the juicy irony involved) aside, the fact remains that the initial vision of those white nationalists (before the “real violence” ensued) is an image of a bunch of white, bearded dudes, standing in solidarity, behind a freaking Viking-style shield wall.  The guy who actually drove the car that killed the one person who perished in this “debacle”–who, incidentally, was white, just like the two young men who lost their lives in Portland, Oregon, back in May (not that that should matter, mind you, but the tragic irony should not be lost on anyone, which is why I point it out)–also stood in that initial wall, holding a shield.

(Don’t believe me? Check out this photo. He’s the second from the left, in front of a poster bearing yet more appropriated Heathen symbols, as well as appropriated Christian symbols: the Algiz rune, and a Chi Rho, respectively.)

And yet the Heathen community stands largely silent this time around, and I would really, very dearly, like to know why? So would Tyr.

For that matter, why aren’t Christians screaming about their symbology being appropriated by these asshats?  Because not all Christians are of the conservative, alt-right variety, anymore than all Heathens are of the white supremacist, neo-Nazi variety….

Plenty of people were out there screaming and yelling and having hissy fits back in 2015, when the outcry against the Confederate flag grew so loud that the General Lee, the car driven by the Dukes of Hazard, legit got a makeover, and resulted in the show (still in syndication) getting banned, even though most of its storylines that even touched on race relations in the South involved inclusiveness, rather than bigotry. (Though I never really cared for the show, I can honestly say it was a bit of a “redneck primer” on inclusivity, and I give it kudos for doing that way back in the 1970s.) Yet when it comes to actual religious symbols from whatever faith being bastardized, everybody’s suddenly mute? What gives?

Instead of an outcry on either side of the religious divide over such important matters, the one thing that everybody seems to be able to agree on is crucifying our current president for his statements in the aftermath of Charlottesville 2017.  I am not a fan of Donald Trump.  I try to largely keep my opinions on such things out of this blog, off of our Facebook page, and generally out of my sphere of discussion in general. Trump gets zero frith in my heart or mind, to the point that he’s so utangardh that he basically doesn’t exist to me.  In other words, I put him so “far away from me” that I don’t let his energy touch my own in any capacity. I find that’s healthier for me.  However, while I can understand people’s outrage that he did not single out the white supremacists involved (further proof, most argue, that he’s “in bed” with those people), that’s not the rhetoric being used by most people in opposition to his reaction to decry what he said.  No, what he’s being crucified for is saying that there was wrong on both sides.  Honestly, this is one of the few times in his presidency that he’s actually said something halfway honest or halfway correct.

So how dare I make such a statement?  How could somebody–anybody–who is against racism and patently against Trump himself deign to say such a thing?  Because we’re living in a world where everybody so desperately wants their side to be right that they’re willing to invoke violence to prove it, no matter how wrong they actually are, and even an imbecile like Trump can see it!

Don’t get it twisted: I am in no way, shape, form or fashion attempting to defend Trump in all this. What I am saying is that if what he actually meant in his statements is that “two wrongs never make a right“, then for one, brief shining moment in his presidency, he’s actually been right about something!  And we should probably all take a moment to bask in the shock of that, before moving on toward cohesion.

Because I don’t know if anybody else has recognized this yet, but our country hasn’t had anything remotely resembling cohesion, when it comes to racial relations, since seventeen-year-old Trayvon Martin fell to gunfire on a rainy February day in Florida in 2012.  That was during the Obama administration, folks–long before Trump was even a glimmer in the eye of the American conservative right-wing; back when he was just some orange-haired loudmouth whose primary vocabulary consisted of the words “You’re fired!”.  That was when we actually had a president of color!  That was the tragic death that began both the “Black Lives Matter” and the “Thin Blue Line” movements, and yet, forgotten by most people in the ensuing violence, raging arguments on both sides, and subsequent hate crimes, the dude who actually shot Trayvon Martin was also a person of color, and patently not a cop:  George Zimmerman is a man of Hispanic descent (specifically, Peruvian) who worked as an insurance fraud investigator while working towards an associate degree in criminal justice.  Zimmerman shot Martin while “serving” as the head of the local Neighborhood Watch program: he thought Trayvon “looked suspicious”, pursued the young man, and subsequently shot him.

What color the people involved in a situation–any situation–are ultimately does not matter when innocent lives are being lost. The symbols of my faith and your faith ultimately do not matter when innocent lives are being lost, either.  What ultimately matters is that we are all one family–the human race–and when we lose even one member of that family, we all lose.  There are no sides in that; there shouldn’t be any sides at all!  When someone dies innocently, everybody loses. Period.

If people are going to be building shield-walls around anything–any ideology–it should be that one!  Yet, that isn’t the case, unfortunately.  In fact, in most circles nowadays, if you have the cajones to say the words “all lives matter“, you’re instantly labeled as part of the racist scum! How the hell does that work out?

I became Heathen because faith, folk, and family was an ideal I could get behind: because, for me, treating other people honorably and fairly is the very crux of my faith, and the entire human race is both my folk and my family.  Very quickly, I discovered this was patently not what these words represented to most other Heathens, thanks to the bastardization of that phrase by the white supremacists among us.  To that subset, faith means guarding (white) folk and their (white) family from any outside forces seeking to “muddy” those waters with “other colored blood”.  Gobsmacked really is too small a word to describe how I felt upon said discovery.  I came to this Path because the core of it–that phrase, now bastardized–represented everything to me that I have believed my entire life, and now I am left with the astonishing realization that, like that famous quote from The Princess Bride, that phrase “does not mean what I think it means”.  

And maybe that’s the main reason why people are so gods-damned silent in the wake of Charlottesville 2017, even when the bastardization of the symbols of our faith are so morbidly less hidden in this “debacle”, than they were in the crime committed against those two young men (and the Muslim women they were trying to defend) in Portland, Oregon, three months ago.  Maybe it’s because the very foundation of our faith has become rocky ground on which to stand.  Or maybe it’s because there are far too many would-be Vikings among us, and not enough faithfilled people.  That “us versus them” sentiment was the very thing on which the Viking mindset rested, wasn’t it? I mean, after all? We see the thirst for it–that “us versus them” mentality–every time a member of our community says foul things about “those Christians”, lumping every follower of Christ in with the conservative crap-eaters; every time a member of our community talks about the Christian “weak god” or “dead god”; every time a member of our community types the letters UPG with hate and disdain as an expression of how “non-historically-accurate” true experiences of living faith are or possibly can be. It’s hard to cry out against people taking sides–no matter what those sides might be–when you’re a community divided in upon itself because people are so damned busy creating sides to take!

As a Chinese-American dead guy inhabiting a white Southern woman, I am quickly reaching a point where I am honestly afraid to wear my Thor’s Hammer in public or proudly show off any of the other symbols of my Heathen faith–runes included.  I’m afraid that people will “get the wrong impression” and label me as a racist. I am just as afraid, at this point, of the “inclusivity-championing liberals” as many Muslims, Hispanics, and African-Americans are of certain factions of the conservative right-wing.  And it patently should not be that way for either side of the equation! Yet, here we are.  And silence by our community in the wake of Charlottesville 2017 only serves to perpetuate that climate of fear.

So I will not join in that silence!

My faith is in a Deity(s) Who looks down upon this human race and sees, without doubt, and for once and for all, that we are all the same family.  My folk are those who will stand with me, against injustice: whether that injustice is due to race, creed, gender, or any other “dividing” factor.  And my family is the human race.  As Bruce Lee once said:

“Under the sky, under the heavens, Man, there is but one family.”

And I raise my own shield, not to defend some statue wrought by human hands in another time or place, or even some distant history which is too easily revised to suit the current political climate, but instead to defend that Truth which has always been with us:

We all matter.  Every man and woman is someone else’s mother, father, brother, sister, spouse, child. And every mother, father, brother, sister, spouse, and child matters.

We will never enjoy true peace until we realize this. Hate will continue to grow, no matter how bright and shining the motives of those who decide to take the side of the Right and the Just.  Until everyone is on that same side–so long as sides remain–we’re all living in No Man’s Land. And No Man’s Land is the place of stalemates, not victory.

 

 

 

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The Cultural Revolution….In America

As Americans, when we hear the words “cultural revolution”, that actually sounds like a good thing, right? I mean, wouldn’t a cultural revolution denote an explosion in the arts–music, painting, literature, dance?  Well, yes, that does sound like what that phrase would imply, but if you know anything about the history of China–which I do, having a minor in Ethnomusicology specializing in Asian Musics (which should really be a Major, but I couldn’t cope with Music Theory, so I was 3 credits shy)–then the words “cultural revolution” paint a strikingly different image in your mind: an image wherein religion, art, and the cultural heritage of a People are snuffed out, in many cases irrevocably.  We stand on the cusp of precisely that sort of cultural revolution in America right now!

That sort of cultural revolution–the bad kind–isn’t something on which the Chinese exclusively cornered the market, although certainly theirs is the one which I know the most about.  Similar cultural revolutions happened preceding the period we’ve come to think of as Nazi Germany (1933-1945), and also in Iran (1980-1987) and in Libya (1973-1977).  The Chinese Cultural Revolution encompasses a period from 1966-1976.  A Cultural Revolution is actually defined as any reform movement in which a national government aims to radically change its country’s political, social, economical, and cultural values.  Sound familiar from what you’re seeing in the headlines right now? Well, it certainly does to me!

In China, the Cultural Revolution began in May of 1966, when Mao Zedong alleged that bourgeois elements had infiltrated the government and society at large with the aim of restoring capitalism to the otherwise Communist country (please note that while the Gang of Four were rounded up and summarily executed in 1976, China remains a Communist country).  For those who don’t realize what the term bourgeois actually means, it is a French term, meaning:

1) Literally: those who live in the borough, in other words, the people who live in the city, who are usually merchants and craftsmen, as opposed to those who live in rural areas.

2) a legally defined class in the Middle Ages, made up of those having citizenship and political rights.

3) a sociologically defined class (in modern times), referring to people with a certain cultural and financial capital belonging to the middle class. (i.e., “working class” citizens)

Mao Zedong labelled these bourgeois elements “revisionists“–people who wanted to revise, water down, or otherwise change the teachings of Marxist thought.  For those who are unfamiliar with Marxist thought, please substitute Communism wherever you see it mentioned herein, as basically, that’s precisely what it means in this particular case.  Mao Zedong was not a theoretical, historical, or classical Marxist–he was a Communist, and deep down, there is a definite difference!

In August of 1966, the Chinese Communist Party (headed by Mao Zedong, remember) passed its “Decision Concerning the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution”, which later became known as the “Sixteen Points”.  Within this document, Mao Zedong’s party outlined their war on the “Four Olds”:  Old Ideas, Old Culture, Old Customs, and Old Habits.  Lin Biao, the leader of the Red Guard–a paramilitary organization made up primarily of students , averaging in age from 19 to their early twenties–called for the destruction of these Four Olds.  At first, what precisely composed the Four Old was not defined.  Things began simply enough, with the renaming of certain streets, places, and even people–millions of babies were born and given “revolutionary”-sounding names (often named after Chairman Mao himself).  But over time, these “simple” things took on a far more destructive tone: historical cities all over China were ransacked and destroyed;  the burial place of Confucius was vandalized;  libraries full of historical texts were burned; temples, churches, mosques, monasteries, and cemeteries were closed, looted, and destroyed; religion was labelled superstition, and Buddhas were destroyed, the Buddhist monasteries in Tibet were destroyed by their own monks, held at gunpoint by Red Guard members, and home shrines to Quan Yin and Buddha were replaced with home shrines to Chairman Mao. Intellectuals, artists, and priests were rounded up and put into forced labor camps.  Chairman Mao actually closed the schools in China, believing that “the more books one reads, the dumber a person becomes”, and instead recruited students for the Red Guard.  Because of this, about one million college students and two million high school students neglected their studies.

When we look at America today, we like to think that something like that could never happen here. And yet, look around:

Within the past few weeks in America, there has been a tremendous outcry to rename places, military bases, streets, and parks because of those places having been named for Confederate historical figures.

The Confederate flag has been labelled a racist emblem, with zero attention being paid to its actual history–many black Confederates also fought in the Civil War, and the majority of those whites who fought in the Civil War were not slave owners.  Even back then, the South was the poorest portion of this country, and the slave-owning elite were the minority, not the majority.  The estimated 1,250,000 men who fought on the side of the Confederacy could not have been, and were not, all members of the slave-owning elite in the South.

In the wake of the Confederate flag having been thus labelled, The Dukes of Hazzard, which promoted zero racial stereotypes, has been pulled from America’s air waves simply based upon the presence of said flag on the roof of a car. Meanwhile, other shows which definitely promoted racial stereotypes–such as The Jeffersons, Good Times, Sanford and Son, Diff’rent Strokes, and The Fresh Prince of Bel Air–remain available for viewing, likely because of their predominantly African-American casts (even though the racial stereotypes promoted by these shows are more often negative portrayals of black people as well as white).

Vandalism is running rough-shod over historical monuments all over this country, and not only those which were put up in support of the Confederate dead, but also those which have absolutely nothing to do with that segment of history–a statue of Christopher Columbus, who did, in fact, enslave many Native Americans, was recently defaced; however, his historical actions relating to slavery had nothing to do with the ancestors of modern African-Americans.

We are systematically removing God from everything in our country, including the schools.  By the words “removing God“, please note: I do not mean only Christian images of God. So far as I’m concerned, the phrases “In God We Trust” and “One Nation Under God” could just as easily mean the Supreme Deity of any major world religion, including Pagan faiths, and yet, those same folks who would have us rewrite our American history from the Civil War forward also seem to have a major issue with those two phrases, chalking them up to  a “more superstitious” time, in precisely the same manner as Mao Zedong did during the Cultural Revolution in China. (Further note: I am in no way suggesting that there should be prayer in our school systems.  Here, I am arguing only for re-instating the Pledge of Allegiance.)

In my experience, most of those championing the removal of the Confederate Flag, and the removal of an honest teaching of Civil War History in our schools are between the ages of 19 and their early twenties–just like the students of the Red Guard during the Cultural Revolution in China.

Also in my experience, most of those championing the keeping of the Confederate Flag are precisely those folks who would have been labelled the bourgeois in China during the period of the Cultural Revolution: working class folks of the middle class.

Scary? You betcha!

But this is the slippery slope we start down when people are not taught history, so that they are not doomed to repeat it.  Most people in the United States have never even heard of the Cultural Revolution in China. I know I didn’t learn about it until I reached college, and honestly, I probably would not have learned so much about it then, had I not opted for that attempted-second major in Ethnomusicology with emphasis on Asian Musics.  And clearly, given the age ranges of kids promoting vandalism, name changes, and over-all removal of the Southern cultural heritage, that branch of history isn’t being taught truthfully in schools, either!

Perhaps all of this could be blamed on a Cultural Renaissance that should have happened in this country, and didn’t.  I’m talking about the Cultural Renaissance which should have happened, in the wake of the overturn of slavery, in the late 1860s-early 1870s, and, if not then, in the 1960s with the success of the Civil Rights Movement.  At one or the other of those times, there should have been a Black Cultural Renaissance, wherein black and white alike were taught the true history of those of African-descent in America; when Gullah-Geechee should have been taught in schools, along with its history, as readily as Spanish is today; when African-American authors drew on their cultural heritage to teach about West African culture (including the conjure men and conjure women of the South); when African-American musicians actively pointed out that the Blues and Jazz that white Americans fell in love with was rooted in the same West African rhythms as the Negro Spirituals; when African-American artists fostered arts including blacksmithing and basket-weaving, brought over with their ancestors from West Africa, as readily as they embraced white urban art forms, such as modern art; when black dance movements, such as hip-hop, actually recognized that many of the movements therein came from traditional West African dances, much moreso than they did from the urban streets.  Obviously, that Cultural Renaissance never came, and the lack thereof has left both those of European white descent and those with African-American slave descent lacking in what they truly know of their ancestors–historically or culturally.

By way of example: Most black Americans today hear the music of Salsa and Mambo, and automatically say “oh, that’s Latin music; that’s Mexican music”.  Most modern white people generally say the same thing.  In truth, however, we would have neither type of music now were it not for the descendants of West Africans who were kept as slaves in Latin America.  Yes, both musics are also heavily influenced by the Native Peoples of South and Central America, but the overall cultural root of Salsa and Mambo is from Vodun (aka Voodoo) practitioners in those areas: that’s why the heavy, almost hypnotic drumming, particularly in Mambo. Mambo is, in fact, a West African term for a Priestess of Vodun.  But nobody learns that, unless they’re aching to become an Ethnomusicologist, as I was.

Many of those calling for all of these changes in “how we present Confederate history”–a call which may more rightfully be decried as a wish to get rid of Confederate history–say that they are calling for these changes on behalf of setting up a dialogue about the history of how African-Americans (blacks) in this country have been treated over the centuries in which the United States has existed, and yet, I’ve heard no such dialogue. Instead, I have seen constant behavior that smacks of precisely the same sort of Cultural Revolution which occurred in China in the 1960s-1970s.  Such a dialogue might include some of the elements of my previously discussed Cultural Renaissance-that-should’ve-happened-yet-never-did.  Yet, instead of learning about those black Confederate soldiers who immediately became free persons of color the moment they rallied around that flag, to protect the rights of their homeland of the South from Northern invasion, those brave men–those FREE men–are going completely ignored. Or, worse, people argue that they were forced into fighting for the South, which is a bald-faced historical lie!  All eyes are on the South right now, and yet, how many of you know of, much less have heard, Gullah-Geechee?  How many of these black Americans who are apparently (and I say “apparently” because I also have some other theories on who is really participating in this bout of widespread vandalism) participating in the vandalism of Southern monuments are actually aware that there is an entire language, binding the descendants of the West African slaves back to the Mende, Kria, and other tribes of West Africa?  And how many of these alleged vandals know about Denmark Vesey, or Gullah Jack (the conjure man who was his second-in-command), or about brave men like Robert Smalls, who, if there had not been a Confederate flag on the back of the vessel he piloted across Charleston Harbor, would have never made it to freedom with his wife and children?  Where are these elements of a supposed dialogue?

Here is how Confederate History should be taught across this Nation of ours, and yet, it isn’t:

If they are going to teach about the evils and ugliness of slavery–because, yes, buying and selling other human beings as if they were working “house pets” was evil and ugly–kids should likewise be taught about what Sherman really did to the South.  He didn’t just march from “Atlanta to the Sea”; he destroyed people’s homes, took their slaves with him whether they wanted to go or not (Union conscription of African-Americans), raped, pillaged, and looted everywhere he and his Union troops went, which included portions of South Carolina and North Carolina, neither of which are geographically located between “Atlanta and the Sea”.

We need way more “Black History” in our schools.  It shouldn’t just be a month–it should be on a regular basis!  We don’t have a white history month, because the rest of the year, white people are legit all these kids learn about, and that’s nationwide, y’all, not just down South!  Frederick Douglas, Nat Turner, and Harriet Tubman should not be relegated to the month of February only, anymore than we only learn about George Washington and Abraham Lincoln on their birthdays or President’s Day!  And in that vein, these children should not only learn about “victorious” black people–they should also learn about the average, every-day black citizens of this country; folks who made history without even meaning to, like Denmark Vesey, Gullah Jack, and Robert Smalls.  They should learn about the blacksmiths who defined the American architectural landscape, like Philip Simmons.  They should learn about the Southern slave-owning blacks (yes, that happened!) who made their fortunes off the backs of their own people, because that gave rise to a significant number of black tradesmen in this country (locksmiths, tailors, blacksmiths, carpenters) who might otherwise never have existed!

Children should be taught in schools precisely how much of the South was made up of elite white slave-owners, versus blacks and poor whites. When one actually knows those facts, the Civil War takes on a completely different hue–and it is neither black nor white, but based in the same shades of Red, White, and Blue as our National Flag!

What is going on in this great Nation of ours right now bears far too many similarities to what happened in the Cultural Revolution in China. I am, admittedly, frightened, not only as a White Southern Woman, but as an American Citizen, period.  And, as an artist, I’m frightened even moreso.  Are we going to arrive at a time in our great Nation where as a Southern White Woman I’m not allowed to write characterizations of those of black descent, even when I’m trying to reclaim a history which most people–both black and white–have no idea ever existed?  As I embark on finishing my novel, Magnolia, I deeply fear that’s what we’re headed towards…..and it saddens me that this is what we are becoming.

 

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Look Away, Look Away, Look Away, Dixie Land!

Let me set a few things straight at the outset, before I even begin this diatribe:

First, I am NOT a white supremacist.  I am not racist.  Yes, I am white–Italian-American, with a shot of German and Scotch-Irish–but that doesn’t automatically mean that I’m racist, anymore than it automatically means I’m part of the Mafia, the Nazi party, or the IRA.

Second, I AM from the South. Just because I am from the South, that doesn’t automatically make me ignorant, even though that is what the media and many folks out there would like to believe. Just because I speak with a drawl much of the time does not mean that I am uneducated. I have a degree in English, and I am one credit shy of a second degree in Ethnomusicology, and three credits shy of a third degree in Comparative Religion. I am also a student of history–I love it with wild abandon, and seek to soak up as much of it as I possibly can at every available opportunity.

Third, I am, politically-speaking, largely a liberal.  I tend to disagree with most of what Republicans promote. I am FOR gay rights; FOR the rights of the working class; FOR freedom of speech. That being said, I am also AGAINST gun control; AGAINST the government sticking its fingers in everyone’s little pie, exercising more and more power over people.

Now that that’s out of the way….

I support the keeping of the Confederate flag and Confederate symbology, inclusive of historic place names and historic statues, throughout the South.

Meanwhile, I also marvel at the fact that we are living in a society where the chant of “Black lives matter” has become such a divisive slogan that people are rioting in the streets, and yet, black lives have been lost in a location that is so heavily intertwined with the Black History of the South that its happening in that particular location was hardly accidental, but the people of this country are arguing over a damn FLAG!?

No one is talking about those poor people who were shot; nor are they talking about Denmark Vesey, who was one of the founding members of the Church where it happened.  What does that have to do with keeping Confederate symbology? Well, that’s what I hope to explain…..

Denmark Vesey came to Charleston from St. Thomas as a slave.  In 1799, he won the lottery and purchased his freedom for $600. He could not, however, afford to purchase the freedom of his wife and children.  He joined the African Methodist Episcopal Church (the Church where the shooting happened) in 1817.  There, he became a “class leader”, preaching to a small group of slaves in his home each week (essentially, Bible study groups, just exactly like what was going on the night of the shooting).  He preached primarily from the Old Testament, and particularly from the Book of Exodus, proclaiming the slaves of the South as the New Israelites, the chosen people whose enslavement God would punish with death.  In 1822, he and other church leaders began plotting a rebellion.  His chief lieutenant was a man named Gullah Jack–an East African priest, who fueled the fires of the planned rebellion by lacing the Christian ideals of the church-going “rebel slaves” with African mysticism.  Vesey set the date for the revolt: July 14, 1822.  The plan? To seize Charleston’s arsenal and guard houses, kill the Governor, set fire to the city, and kill every white person they saw.

But in June, some of the members of the planned revolt got nervous, and leaked this information to their masters.  Denmark Vesey was subsequently arrested on June 22nd, and imprisoned in Charleston’s infamous Old City Jail.  There, under torture, he and his conspirators refused to give up the names of their followers.  On July 2nd, Denmark Vesey and five other men were hanged–likely in the Jail’s own yard–four of whom were white.  Gullah Jack was executed several days later, with the total number of executions numbering 35 by August 9th, 1822.

The recent shooting in Charleston happened on June 17th. I no more think the date is accidental than the location.

So, what does all of this have to do with maintaining Confederate symbology?

It all, ultimately, comes down to NOT “white-washing” history for the sake of assumed and supposed “political correctness”.  In fact, so many are so busy attempting to do that, that they’re missing the history that is right in front of their faces, and likely at the root of this tragedy happening in the first place!

At this point, I think it would be practical to derail myself for a moment and actually explain where that term–white-washing–comes from….

It is, obviously, a metaphor, meaning “to gloss over or cover up vices, crimes or scandals or to exonerate by means of a perfunctory investigation or through biased presentation of data.”  Which is using a whole bunch of big words to say: “to gloss over or cover up vices, crimes or scandals or to clear from accusation, blame, or responsibility by means of an apathetic (non-caring) investigation or through biased presentation of data.”  In other words, it’s basically like the Wizard in the Wizard of Oz telling Dorothy “pay no attention to that man behind the curtain”.  To “white-wash” history is an attempt to point the finger in another direction, so that we can’t see the holes and the vices, crimes, and scandals underneath. Example: “Let’s get everyone in a huge battle over Confederate symbology so that we don’t have to go into round two of ‘black lives matter’, this time with a heavy dose of history involved”; “let’s get everyone mustered into a ruckus over all things Confederate, so we don’t have to acknowledge the blind eye the American government turned towards Charleston back then, when the whole thing happened that sparked this mess in the first place….”

The “politically correct” of today aren’t the first to use such tactics to attempt to hide the vices, crimes, and scandals of their past.  The Japanese have certainly done so, by minimizing or even omitting the stories of the Nanking Massacre in their history books–a massacre in which 40,000 Chinese were systematically raped and murdered by the Japanese during the Second Sino-Japanese War in December of 1937.

In 1822, at the time that Denmark Vesey and his accomplices were imprisoned in the Old City Jail, that building was going through renovations based on the designs of Robert Mills. If that name sounds familiar, it’s because he was also the man who designed the Washington Monument–considered a bastion of American symbology in and of itself, which is why I also do not think it accidental that the young man who shot those folks in Charleston was also witnessed burning an American flag. Again, NONE of this is accidental in my opinion.

I have, today, been called a traitor to my country–to the United States–because I support the keeping of all Confederate symbology, and yet, thus far, I have heard no one refer to that young man who actually shot nine people referred to as such!

But what does maintaining Confederate symbology actually have to do with any of this? What good can come of it? Why should we even care? Why are we focusing on this, rather than on what actually happened in Charleston a week ago?

What we are witnessing right now is what happens when white-washing and bandwagons collide.

Let’s talk about that term: bandwagon.  Literally, a bandwagon is the wagon that carries a band in parades, circuses, or other entertainment.  The phrase “jump on the bandwagon” first appeared in American politics in 1848, when Dan Rice (who was a blackface minstrel as well as a clown from New York–yes, he was from the North) used his bandwagon and its music  (which implies he likely used blackface performances within his campaign) to gain attention for his political campaign.  As his campaigns became more successful, other politicians began vying for seats on his bandwagon, hoping to be associated with his success.  Those politicians who sparked this term literally wanted to “jump on the bandwagon” of  a man who promoted racist ideals (blackface minstrelry, for those unfamiliar, promoted racist stereotypes of black people), and yet that is the example today’s society wants to follow, while allegedly promoting anti-racist dogmas?

Confederate symbols–whether we’re talking about the flag, which is what initially sparked this madness, or statues of important Confederate figures, or the names of Confederate generals, which have now likewise become embroiled in the debate–remind us that something very wrong happened in this country once; something which cost this nation of ours–on both sides of the equation–a combined 620,000 lives, and most of them Southern lives (though the North actually had a higher count of casualties, that is largely only due to their combined military force being stronger; Southerners were much more likely to actually die in service during the Civil War than were Union soldiers. Let me put Confederate deaths versus Union deaths in a better perspective for you:  For every 1,000 Union soldiers in battle, 112 were wounded; of every 1,000 Confederate soldiers in battle, 150 were hit; mortality rates were much higher among Confederate wounded due to inferior medical care. ).  As aforementioned with the Japanese white-washing of the Nanking Massacre, such white-washing of American history does precisely what white-washing is purposed to do: it attempts to hide the vices, scandals, and crimes of our ancestors; to clear them of accusation for what is going on right now in this country, once again on both sides of the equation! To forget our Confederate History not only diminishes the importance of the lives of the (approximate) 260,000 Confederate soldiers who died defending their way of life, their homes, and their families, but it also diminishes the importance of the (approximate) 360,000 Union soldiers who likewise died defending what they believed in!

Confederate symbols recall for us a time we as Americans likely don’t want to remember, but must, otherwise we are doomed to repeat those mistakes of the past.  What we tend to forget, when looking at these numbers of casualties, are that these are the deaths of soldiers–no one seems to want to consider the civilian casualties which occurred due to the displacement from people’s homes, primarily thanks to Sherman’s March.  We actually do not have an accurate number of civilian casualties from the Civil War, but they are estimated at around 35,000 people, and likely higher. Some perspective on that: today, the Peninsula area of Charleston has a population of 35,882 people, so, basically, if all of those casualties were to occur in Charleston right now, it would wipe out the entirety of what we consider the city, proper. Most of those civilian deaths were definitely caused by displacement from homes, and most of those displacements were due to Sherman’s March. The Union soldiers were actually given license to raid, pillage, loot, and acquire the property of Southerners (including slaves, mind you) in a determined effort to not only break the economic and strategic backbone of the South, but also the psychological backbone of the South.  Sherman’s orders, detailed in Sherman’s Special Orders, No. 120, were as follows (issued in Georgia on November 9, 1864):

Headquarters Military Division of the Mississippi,

In the Field, Kingston, Georgia, November 9, 1864

I. For the purpose of military operations, this army is divided into two wings viz.: The right wing, Major-General O. O. Howard commanding, composed of the Fifteenth and Seventeenth Corps; the left wing, Major-General H. W. Slocum commanding, composed of the Fourteenth and Twentieth Corps.

II. The habitual order of march will be, wherever practicable, by four roads, as nearly parallel as possible, and converging at points hereafter to be indicated in orders. The cavalry, Brigadier – General Kilpatrick commanding, will receive special orders from the commander-in-chief.

III. There will be no general train of supplies, but each corps will have its ammunition-train and provision-train, distributed habitually as follows: Behind each regiment should follow one wagon and one ambulance; behind each brigade should follow a due proportion of ammunition – wagons, provision-wagons, and ambulances. In case of danger, each corps commander should change this order of march, by having his advance and rear brigades unencumbered by wheels. The separate columns will start habitually at 7 a.m., and make about fifteen miles per day, unless otherwise fixed in orders.

IV. The army will forage liberally on the country during the march. To this end, each brigade commander will organize a good and sufficient foraging party, under the command of one or more discreet officers, who will gather, near the route traveled, corn or forage of any kind, meat of any kind, vegetables, corn-meal, or whatever is needed by the command, aiming at all times to keep in the wagons at least ten day’s provisions for the command and three days’ forage. Soldiers must not enter the dwellings of the inhabitants, or commit any trespass, but during a halt or a camp they may be permitted to gather turnips, potatoes, and other vegetables, and to drive in stock of their camp. To regular foraging parties must be instructed the gathering of provisions and forage at any distance from the road traveled.

V. To army corps commanders alone is intrusted the power to destroy mills, houses, cotton-gins, &c., and for them this general principle is laid down: In districts and neighborhoods where the army is unmolested no destruction of such property should be permitted; but should guerrillas or bushwhackers molest our march, or should the inhabitants burn bridges, obstruct roads, or otherwise manifest local hostility, then army commanders should order and enforce a devastation more or less relentless according to the measure of such hostility.

VI. As for horses, mules, wagons, &c., belonging to the inhabitants, the cavalry and artillery may appropriate freely and without limit, discriminating, however, between the rich, who are usually hostile, and the poor or industrious, usually neutral or friendly. Foraging parties may also take mules or horses to replace the jaded animals of their trains, or to serve as pack-mules for the regiments or bridges. In all foraging, of whatever kind, the parties engaged will refrain from abusive or threatening language, and may, where the officer in command thinks proper, give written certificates of the facts, but no receipts, and they will endeavor to leave with each family a reasonable portion for their maintenance.

VII. Negroes who are able-bodied and can be of service to the several columns may be taken along, but each army commander will bear in mind that the question of supplies is a very important one and that his first duty is to see to them who bear arms.

Now, I want you to imagine, for just a moment, what you would do (regardless of any other ideologies which you might or might not hold), if the American military force (which is what the Union soldiers of that time essentially were) marched on your home and asked you to turn over your primary means of transportation (at that time, horses; today, your automobile), your primary means of making a living (at that time slaves and, again, horses), your food, your extra clothing, and your means of protecting your home (if you are a gun-owner)?  If you heard that this was happening near you, would you not take up arms to protect what’s rightfully yours?  Would you not become a “bushwhacker” or a “guerilla”, and attempt to somehow stop the advancing troops? That is what happened in the South in the 19th century, and when we maintain our Confederate symbols, it is so that it might never happen again!

The fact that that happened in the South cannot be made to conveniently “go away” by abolishing every symbol of the Confederacy, anymore than the fact that slavery happened in the American South is going to conveniently “go away” by abolishing them!  What can potentially happen–and what is happening, in my humble opinion–is that people can get so caught up in the white-washing and the jumping on bandwagons that they turn a blind eye to what’s really going on. Once again, we are Dorothy, with the Wizard telling us “pay no attention to that man behind the curtain”.

To my knowledge, everyone is so busy debating Confederate symbology in this situation, that no one is asking the questions that I am presently asking; no one is looking at what could potentially be a much larger picture, when it comes to this entire tragic affair.  We’re all so busy white-washing and “bandwagonningthat no one seems to be looking at the incredible “coincidences” associated with what happened in Charleston a week ago–coincidences that I’m very concerned, if we don’t look at, are going to slide us all down a very slippery slope into bedlam in the South, and perhaps across our beloved Nation.

Call me a conspiracy theorist, if that makes you feel better, but this is what I see, and what I’m wondering why no one else seems to see, or to want us to see:

Denmark Vesey plotted one of the largest slave insurrections in history within the parameters of a Bible study group at the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston–the precise site where this tragedy happened–prior to his arrest and incarceration at the Old City Jail of Charleston on June 22, 1822.  The shootings occurred on June 17, 2015–five days before the anniversary of the date of Vesey’s arrest.  Everywhere, it states this gunman–Dylann Roof–acted completely alone, and all have been vehement in insinuating that he is below the level of intelligence demonstrated on his own web pages, asserting that the material therein was largely plagiarized. Plagiarized from where, exactly? No one seems to be terribly forthcoming in showing us the sources from which he allegedly copy/pasted this information, do they? Does no one else besides me find that odd?  Yes, he failed the ninth grade–I maintain that is not proof of idiocy on the grounds that I know several people–one of whom was one of the most intelligent people I’ve ever met–who have done likewise. And even if he was acting alone, that does not mean that he will not be touted as a hero by others who share his beliefs!  This kid admitted to a six month plan to start a racial war in America–a war that would actually be fairly easy to start, given the current social climate–how do we know, given the historical “coincidences” of what has actually been exhibited of that plan, that he did not likewise plan something even larger on July 2nd, the date of Denmark Vesey’s execution, or July 14th, the date which Vesey originally plotted for his planned revolt?  And how do we know, without a shadow of a doubt, that these plans have not already been disseminated to other white supremacists? The answer: We don’t !

And yet, most are too busy whitewashing and “bandwagonning” to even begin to ask these questions…..

Just as, at 4am on April 12, 1861, folks on both sides of the equation were too busy doing exactly the same thing as the first shots were fired upon Fort Sumter–again, in Charleston–signaling the start of what would become the American Civil War: the very war which gave us the Confederate flag, and all those Confederate figures now depicted in statues across the southeastern US, and all those Confederate generals whose names we’re arguing about right now.  That war also sealed for us, for eternity, the association of the song “Dixie” with that self-same flag, and with the Confederacy.  And yet, that song was thus sealed in our imaginations and memories by Abraham Lincoln himself, for whom it was a favorite tune-which is why he asked that it be played at General Robert E. Lee’s surrender….

What might have happened then, had we not whitewashed and “bandwagonned” so vehemently? What might happen now, if we continue to do the same thing?

Why is no one asking these questions, apparently, but me?