Recently there’s been an intense debate over racism and why so many in the South still cling to relics of the Confederacy, symbols of a time in our nation’s history that are best forgotten. While many have touched on some rather poignant facts as to why this is (racism being the main culprit), it’s really not as simple as that.
As many might know, I’ve lived in Texas my entire life. Clearly I am not the stereotypical Southerner most people envision, but being a progressive growing up and living in a very red state (as millions of other progressives/liberals do as well) has given me a unique perspective on conservatives that I’m not sure anyone who’s never lived in some of these places would be able to fully understand.
Take for instance the debate over the Confederate flag and the Confederacy in general. While there’s still a good chunk of people in the South (as well as places outside of the South) who support both based mostly on racism, there are quite a lot of people down here who really view the flag as nothing more than a symbol of regional, Southern pride. Much in the same way many people from Texas take great pride in our state flag. For many the Confederate flag isn’t a symbol of racism, just “pride” in their Southern roots.
Now, the problem with that is that a lot of this “Southern pride” traces back 150 years to the Civil War and slavery. But these facts have been distorted, altered or conflated in such a way that many of these people simply refuse to believe that.
It all comes down to “how they were raised.” In the South, how you were raised is a huge deal. It’s important in other parts of the country as well, but down here it’s every bit as important to many of these people as the Bible and their religion. That’s why it’s nearly impossible to convince conservatives to change their minds on much of anything. If they were raised to believe something, even in the face of overwhelming facts proving what they’ve been taught to believe is wrong, they’ll still often cling to whatever they were told growing up.
Not that there’s anything wrong with being proud of where you’re from or your “roots,” but I think it’s important to make sure what we believe is based on facts and reality, not myths and legends.
When conservatives talk about “traditional American values,” what they really mean is “how I was raised.”
It’s why the values of conservatives evolve and progress so slowly. Sure, many of us make fun of the South for being poor, uneducated and racist – and there are plenty of Southerners who are all three – but it has gotten better than it was 50+ years ago. It’s just that here in the South, progress moves at a snail’s pace compared to the rest of the country. It’s why conservative values aren’t a whole lot different than they were 150 years ago.
Even if you remove the racial aspects of the Confederacy, the people who supported it:
- Had a strong distrust for the federal government.
- Believed guns were meant to overthrow the government.
- Actually started a rebellion against the government because they felt it had “overreached.”
- Used states’ rights to try to find legal justification for their unconstitutional beliefs.
- Were super religious and often used the Bible to justify their willful ignorance.
It’s practically the same rhetoric conservatives use today. The reason why is because these “values” have been passed along from one generation to the next, becoming part of the sacred “how I was raised” mantra. To say ethnocentrism in the South is a huge problem would be a gross understatement; the values held by many are quite literally from decades ago.
One of the reasons why it’s insulting to many Southerners to brand the Confederacy and the Confederate flags as symbols of hate, racism and slavery is because by doing so, they take it as if you’re personally insulting their ancestors. In their minds, their ancestors fought against big government and for states’ rights – not slavery. After all, most Southerners didn’t own slaves. That’s how they “justify” their support for the Confederacy. But it’s like Jon Stewart said, that’s like saying your family joined up with the Nazis because they opposed smoking (the Nazis were anti-smoking), while ignoring what the Nazis were really fighting for.
And it’s especially difficult when many of these same anti-government, pro-gun, hyper-religious elements are still foundations of conservatism. In a lot of their minds, the Confederacy represents those values – not racism. I’m not denying that there are still a lot of people who look highly upon the Confederacy because of the racist elements linked to it (there are), but when you have generations of people all telling their children stories of how their kin fought “heroically” for “their rights” under this flag, getting the actual truth to matter about what they were fighting for becomes that much more difficult.
It’s why for so long I’ve viewed conservatism as a cult more than an ideology. In a lot of ways they literally believe what they want to believe and ignore what they don’t. If you tell them most African-Americans – and the country for that matter – view the Confederacy as “racist” and the Confederate flag a symbol of that racism, you’re likely to get back a response that goes something like, “Well, that’s not what it symbolizes to me.” As if their personal opinion on the matter based on “how they were raised” has the power to change the reality of what something does or doesn’t represent.
To insult those beliefs only causes them to dig in even deeper. Not to mention, stubbornness in the South is rampant. When you mix stubbornness with a general lack of knowledge about actual facts, that’s a potent combination.
It’s why no matter how many facts or stats you show to Republicans proving that tax cuts don’t create jobs; gay marriage won’t have any negative impact on society; access to contraceptives and proper sex education in school help lower abortion rates; raising the minimum wage will help our economy; greed that’s been supported by GOP economic policies is what’s killing the middle class; more guns don’t make us any safer; or why Fox News isn’t “Fair and Balanced”.. they’ll never listen.
Because the root and source for all of those beliefs come from – say it with me – how they were raised.