A long time ago a bunch of white landowners across the southern United States decided they would write out their reasons for ditching the “Union” for more economically favorable relationships with the agrarian southern states. These states called themselves the “Confederacy” and were very, very proud of their heritage.
Now, unlike the south, the northern Union states had decided that slavery – a major issue leading to bloody conflict between 1861 and 1865 was settled. The United States said, definitively, NO MORE SLAVES. But up to that point, the Confederacy wrote poetically on the subject of slavery, invoking God and His mandate to own what were considered three-fifths of a white person and less than human. The Confederacy comforted itself with the idea that it was CARING for these shiftless savages and they wouldn’t be able to function on their own. These are ideas freely expressed and recorded before and after the Civil War. While the North is not free of racism, violence, and horrible dealings between races, it was the south that needed slavery to continue in order to meet its business model to deliver cheap goods.
1866 was not long ago. It took until June 19th, 1866 for the news to reach Texas slaves and here we are celebrating the end of legal human trafficking in the United States, even though it was technically illegal long before.
I contemplate this sitting at my desk, dealing with my personal and medical issues, glad to be up and about for a bit today. My reward for those decades – those CENTURIES – of struggle is a day off work. I didn’t earn it. But here I am.
America is a tricky place to live in these days. People are desperate to believe in that precious, John Wayne purity of spirit that fueled “Manifest Destiny” which drove us west to colonize the continent. We were the good guys back then and only grew nobler when we decided to save the world in two global wars. At the same time, we have a generation that sees that history through more critical eyes. Americans conquered this continent. We did it with slave or indentured labor. We did it by slaughtering cultures. We did it on the backs of the poor, the immigrant, and the lost. We became who we are today because we did some bad things for which we must atone. Yes, we stopped the Axis. Yes, we won the Cold War. But we’ve also chosen to fight “isms” by carpet-bombing scary brown people and occupying sovereign nations so long that the latest generation cannot remember a time when America didn’t rule them by force.
This, I believe, is our divide. We have a conservative world that runs on the fury of American elitism that cannot and will not accept that our nation did anything wrong or that other nations and cultures did not deserve. We also have a progressive culture that looks back in astonishment at how we got here and wants to try and put things right by showing the world a more merciful and socially equitable way to live in the future. These opposing views cannot be reconciled. And we are in danger of a great undoing, a clash between ideas that won’t result in a civil war, but in the fall of another Empire.
Sucks, yeah. But here we are. For the moment, though, let’s recognize the day we tried to make it right in one way for one situation and try to make it a template for our future endeavors.