Some of the Good Ones
The absence of rioting in Charleston isn't a sign that Southerners are a better class of people than the rabble-rousers up North.
A weird, self-flattering line of thinking is making its way through social media and commentaries on the Charleston massacre and the removal of the Confederate battle flag from the State House grounds in Columbia.
It goes something like this: By removing the flag, Gov. Nikki Haley unnecessarily stirred up racial divisions. The good people of Charleston didn’t “make it about race.” Unlike the less good people of Ferguson and Baltimore, South Carolinian black people didn’t riot after the June 18 mass killing at Emanuel A.M.E. Church because Southerners are better than that. They joined hands and offered forgiveness. This demonstrates a higher level of civic character.
I’ve seen several iterations of this, starting with a widely shared Facebook post by Temple Trueblood, a civil rights attorney in Birmingham, Ala. The post contains this passage:
The media did not get what it wanted from the South as a result of the Charleston tragedy. The good people of Charleston did not riot, did not engage in hateful shenanigans and did not provide the racist fueled fodder for their 24 hour-a-day headlines. Poor, poor media–no Ferguson, no Trayvon Martin, no Oscar Grants. Instead, the good people of Charleston and of South Carolina unified and came together–all races, all creeds. They marched hand in hand to pay respect to the poor souls lost and to strengthen their community. In short–they did what Southerners do. They put their faith forward and did the right thing ’cause their mommas raised them right.
So, what are they left to do? Well, the Confederate flag seems like a fine substitute–and it worked. Now, don’t get me wrong; I don’t think the Confederate flag has any place flying over any governmental building for several reasons: (1) the Confederacy was a briefly lived nation–they lost the war–they don’t exist anymore...hello??? (2) the only flags that should fly over any governmental buildings in the United States are those of the United States and the sovereign State itself, let alone that of a defunct government (see No. 1); and (3) regardless of what an individual’s intention is regarding the Confederate flag, it is a symbol of governmental oppression to many in this nation as recently as only 1-2 generations ago so a present day governmental unit flying it is...well...not good. Period.
But (you knew there would be a “but,” right?), if an individual wants to own, fly, wear, burn, or otherwise have emblazoned on them a tattoo of the Confederate flag then Hell–knock yourself out. It’s not my place (or anyone else’s) to tell you that you can’t do that. Are all people who display or own a Confederate flag racist? No. Are there racists who display and own Confederate flags. Yes. Can it be offensive? Yes. Does that mean that all Confederate flags are to be banned or wiped out? Well, of course not. This is America...remember?
A few problems with this line of thinking:
It presumes that the mass shooting of nine black people in a church by a white man who was quickly arrested and generally designated as the embodiment of evil is equivalent to the shooting of an unarmed black man by a police officer with the authority of the local government behind him.
It ignores that, for instance, in the Trayvon Martin case, six weeks passed before his killer was even arrested, and was then acquitted; in the Ferguson case, of course, Darren Wilson was never even arrested or indicted, and served only as the flashpoint for frustration with an extortionist local government and authoritarian police department; that in the Eric Garner case, the police officer involved was merely assigned to desk duty.
It assumes that “the media” badly wanted to cover riots because those get good ratings, as if media didn’t swarm en masse to Charleston after the shootings to cover that;
In Ms. Trueblood’s case, it erects the straw man of a mass obliteration of Confederate symbols on private land and in private hands, which no one has suggested;
It glosses over all those reasons in favor of the far more soothing invocation of Mama, and how she raised us right.
The argument wouldn’t be quite so silly and aggravating if it didn’t carry a strong whiff of revisionist Lost Cause bullshit—that Southerners represent a higher class of people, folks of dignity and family and ah-nah, and the blacks in the South didn’t cause no trouble because they knew their place and were happy to gather on Sunday and sing their spirituals, unlike those rabble-rousers up North. They’re just troublemakers acting out for the cameras, y’see. Somebody’s mamas fell down on the job.
It’s a nice fantasy, a myth, and an offer of self-absolution, which is why it’s gathered so much favor among people who’d rather not face some troubling facts: Black people actually are disproportionately harassed and abused by the police. Right-wing domestic terrorism is real and a problem. The media don’t manufacture those upsetting images of burning drug stores. And folks should think twice about generalizing about good mamas when too many are wondering why they no longer have their sons.