A Quick Historic Debunking of the “Heritage, Not Hate” Defense

Because it’s about as specious as claiming that a crucifix doesn’t represent Christianity.

For those unaware: Once upon a time, a country called the “United States of America” was founded. This was in the 1700s, during a time when slavery was legal, and, like many other nations, America practiced slavery, importing and subduing large numbers of Africans.

The “Founding Fathers,” a group of philosopher-statesmen who put together the nation’s constitution, were aware that slavery constituted an ethical quandary. On the one hand, human rights violations are bad; but on the other, the profit margins made possible by said human rights violations were, well, very enticing. Various compromises were attempted, but in the end, the nation divided along this issue: people in the northern half of the country tended to fall on the “human rights” side, whereas people in the South, where slavery increased profit margins by the largest quantity, voted with their pocketbooks. It got to the point where the South seceded from (a fancy political word for “quit”) the union and started their own country, the “Confederate States of America.” The United States of America immediately declared that secession was illegal, and attempted to prove it via armies. This “American Civil War” lasted for four years and ended when the USA’s policy (IE armies) proved better. The CSA was dissolved and its states returned to the USA.

In the South, the four years of the Confederacy are still looked upon with some favor. The CSA had its own president, government, constitution, armies, uniforms, and — especially — its own flag, which some Southerners still fly today. Given that the CSA was known for its racism, one could be forgiven if one confused a modern Confederate-flag-waver for a racist. By and large, though, such flag-wavers disclaim any such taint. Their justification for doing so is that they are not (or rather no longer) rebels nor racists, but simply paying homage to the fight their ancestors gave and the deeds done therein. “Heritage, not hate.”

This justification might hold water if it were not an inherent contradiction.

On March 12, 1861, CSA Vice President Alexander H. Stephens gave the so-called “Cornerstone Speech” (link to full text), in which he defined the Confederacy both in context to and in opposition to the United States. He drew attention to the parts of the Confederate constitution that had been copy-pasted directly from America’s:

All the great principles of Magna Charta are retained in it. No citizen is deprived of life, liberty, or property, but by the judgment of his peers under the laws of the land. The great principle of religious liberty, which was the honor and pride of the old constitution, is still maintained and secured. All the essentials of the old constitution, which have endeared it to the hearts of the American people, have been preserved and perpetuated.

He also drew attention to ways in which it had been altered:

Another change in the constitution relates to the length of the tenure of the presidential office. In the new constitution it is six years instead of four, and the President rendered ineligible for a re-election. This is certainly a decidedly conservative change. It will remove from the incumbent all temptation to use his office or exert the powers confided to him for any objects of personal ambition.

(There was no way to test this change empirically — the first and only President of the CSA never completed his term — but I don’t think it would have had the intended effect. If anything, such a president would display more corruption, because he had 1. less time to accomplish his goals, and 2. no election to lose if he screwed up. Regardless, I applaud the change in principle. The idea of somehow enticing a president to act in good faith remains appealing, especially today.)

The most salient point, however, were the philosophical underpinnings of the changes, which Stephens made sure to highlight in full. (Emphasis is mine.)

But not to be tedious in enumerating the numerous changes for the better, allow me to allude to one other though last, not least. … The prevailing ideas entertained by [Thomas Jefferson] and most of the leading statesmen at the time of the formation of the old constitution, were that the enslavement of the African was in violation of the laws of nature; that it was wrong in principle, socially, morally, and politically. … Those ideas, however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This was an error. It was a sandy foundation, and the government built upon it fell when the “storm came and the wind blew.”

Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner-stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition.

You know, racism.

And I don’t mean “prejudice,” the act of a person judging or condemning another person by the color of their skin. I mean “racism,” a codified system of laws that condemns others by the color of their skin. Jim Crow laws, redlining, the war on drugs, the closing or removal of polling places, the recent evisceration of the United States Postal System, even the business of funding schools from income tax: all of these things, whether intentionally or not, penalize people for being Black. This is why it’s impossible for modern Black people to be racist against whites: there aren’t laws that do things like this to whites. (At least, not in America. If the two of you were in Africa, the black person probably could be racist against whites.) Can a Black person be prejudiced? Absolutely; and, unquestionably, some are. (No offense, Black readers.) But they cannot be racist. They cannot take advantage of pre-existing systems that stigmatize whites… because those systems do not exist.

So when anyone tries to claim that they fly their Confederate flag for reasons of “Heritage, not hate,” the only thing you need to do is remind them that their heritage is hate. The Confederacy was founded to be racist. Its sole purpose was to dispute the idea that “All men are created equal.” We know this because the Confederates fucking said so. And for our proud son of the Confederacy to deny this would be for him to deny his own heritage. Which is, to repeat, hate.

But, weirdly enough, you never hear CSA supporters admitting this. It’s almost like they’re just trying to use socially-acceptable symbols to advertise their prejudices. It’s almost like they’re, actually, just plain racist. And that could never be the case, right?

…Right?…

We don’t have the right to live in a world that satisfies our moral sensibilities. We DO, however, get to CREATE one. Here’s how we do it.