article about another White Southerner with a really bad case of "Let-Me-Show-My-Ass-In-Public-Over-My-So-Called-White-Heritage." Apparently, Annie Chambers Caddell feels so strongly about her "White heritage" she has to hang a big Confederate flag in front of her house in a -- get this -- Black neighborhood in Summerville, South Carolina.
And it gets weirder than that.
She has a bunch of drawings on her wall of famous Black men, including among others, Tupac Shakur and Barack Obama (one can only wonder how she made her list of who to...er...hang). And she told a British journalist that she sees no contradiction in the fact that she hung both the pictures and the flag.
I can't imagine why she moved into a Black neighborhood last year with her White-is-right perspective. Maybe somebody left her the house in a will. Maybe she just couldn't wait any longer for her fifteen minutes of fame so she hung the flag a month after she got there. Maybe she's crazy as a bedbug.
But one thing I know for sure: she uses the words "White heritage" without the foggiest clue what they mean. Because if she thought about it, she'd think again.
In his essay entitled "Failing to See", Harlon Dalton tells us that "ethnicity is the bearer of culture," but that Whiteness isn't an ethnicity. It's just a "race" -- what I call "the socially-constructed, political notion of race." Unlike an ethnicity, it's not linked to location or language or tradition. But it's damned sure historical and that's what I want to focus on in this post.
Annie Caddell says with a wistful note in her voice that she wishes she could go back and see what it was really like back in the day when her Southern heritage was functioning the way it was described to her as a child. Now, I don't know exactly what she means by that, of course, but I know the history of "White" people.
Let's start with old Chris Columbus, shall we? I mean, since yesterday was "Columbus Day" and all, shouldn't we talk about who he was, even though, of course, he never really touched the soil of what is now "America" and died convinced he'd landed in India rather than the Caribbean Islands?
According to his ship's log (as copied by Bartholomew Las Casas, one of his companions), on his first voyage, Chris kidnapped a dozen or so natives to take back to Spain as proof that he needed to return -- with 1,200 to 1,500 soldiers, cannons, crossbows, guns, cavalry and attack dogs. Obviously, a diplomatic mission.
In 1493, they arrived in what is today Haiti, demanding food, gold, cotton and anything else the natives had. To make sure the natives cooperated, Chris and his buddies -- all stand-up examples of White heritage -- would cut off the ears or noses of those who resisted, sending them back to their people as a warning. But it doesn't stop there.
Chris liked to reward his merry band with native women to rape. Nine and ten-year-olds were particularly popular (and this is according to the ship's log, remember). Overall and over time, he was personally responsible for sending about five thousand indigenous Caribbeans back to Europe as slaves. Wotta guy. Certainly the kind of man we'd want to celebrate every year with a federal holiday and teach our children commemorative poems about.
And lest we think that the natives were just "primitives" who don't warrant our sympathy (after all, if Christopher Columbus hadn't done it, somebody White would have, right?), consider that Tiwanaku, Bolivia, had 115,000 residents in 1000 A.D., a population Paris wouldn't reach for another five hundred years. In fact, when Columbus landed in the "New World," there were 25 million people living in Mexico and only 10 million in Spain and Portugal combined, but within a few years of the arrival of the White man, 95% of the indigenous population of the Western Hemisphere was dead. Beginning to get my drift?
By the mid-1700's, when Montesquieu wrote The Spirit of the Laws (the book that laid the groundwork for our august -- and White Supremacist -- legal system), he said of the Africans that Europe so wanted to exploit to accumulate capital: "It is hardly to be believed that God, who is a wise being, should place a soul...in such a black, ugly body...It is impossible for us to suppose these creatures to be men."
It was this mindset, in fact, that caused Thomas Jefferson to write a few decades later, "I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that his justice cannot sleep forever...the Almighty has no attributes which can take sides with us [slaveholders] in such a contest." Yet those who tout their "White heritage" invariably wrap their racist ideology in an American (or Confederate) flag while singing songs about having God on their side. And in truth, they may not be wrong. Their God may be on their side. After all, the Baptist church in the U.S. South held more than 125,000 slaves which they rented out to make money and the Catholic church held in bondage far more than that.
It was "Christian" nations, remember, that established empires on the back of the slave trade -- an enterprise responsible for the deaths of an estimated thirty million Africans (more than twice the number of deaths attributed to Adolph Hitler who causes shudders at every mention of his name, except among those most committed to White Supremacy). In all fairness to the principles and practices of Christianity, however, I would agree with Frederick Douglass when he wrote: "[B]etween the Christianity of this land, and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference -- so wide, that to receive the one as good, pure and holy, is of necessity to reject the other as bad, corrupt and wicked...I love the pure, peaceable, and impartial Christianity of Christ; I therefore hate the corrupt, slaveholding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity of this land. Indeed, I can see no reason but the most deceitful one for calling the religion of this land Christianity."
"I am filled with unutterable loathing," he continues, "when I contemplate the religious pomp and show, together with the horrible inconsistencies which everywhere surround me...The man who wields the blood-clotted cowskin during the week fills the pulpit on Sunday and claims to be a minister of the meek and lowly Jesus. The man who robs me of my earnings...meets me as a class-leader on Sunday morning to show me the way of life and the path of salvation."
And it is not vastly different today. Church-goers listen to sermons about loving their fellow humans as if people of color are not human, yet continue to let the criminal not-just, not-legal system brutalize men and women of color who, it is reasoned, must have done something wrong or they wouldn't be arrested/arraigned/imprisoned/beaten/or shot forty times by cops. The fact that 500 Black men -- and only 8 White men -- were arrested in New Orleans in 2009 doesn't even raise most White folks' eyebrows. They're busy pretending to be asleep and have drunk the kool-aid of their own "superiority" so long ago now that they honestly claim to be "beyond racism."
Despite the fact that the Ku Klux Klan has used the Christian symbol of the cross to terrify Black citizens of this country for more than one hundred years, I've never heard of a single incident where a Christian has protested this use. When Martin Luther King, Jr., went to jail in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963, White Christian ministers castigated him for bringing unrest and being a bad example until King asked them why they weren't there with him fighting injustice against their fellow Christians. Subsequently, King referred to Sunday mornings as the most segregated hour in America.
Well-meaning White people who profess Chrisitianity claim not to be racist, but Jane Elliott reminds us that "it's not the intent; it's the impact." And I would suggest, with the late Eldridge Cleaver, that "if you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem."
Far too many White people in the United States in 2011 ignore or even laugh at racist jokes, minimize what Blacks tell us about their experience of life, always think we got the job because we deserved it, always suspect Blacks got hired because somebody had to hire them, walk on eggshells around racist family members so as not to "offend" them, date and marry racists as if such an attitude is not really that big a problem, and don't reach out to make a real difference because we're too busy, too uncomfortable, too unclear about what to do, too few, and too...racist?
The fact is that White people in America still have the power, as well as the power to hold onto it. And typical of the violence they used to take over the world, they're quick to use it still not only to maim or kill, but to intimidate and terrify. And the Confederate flag stands for the addle-pated idea that White is right and should be supreme; that holding people of color in bondage is something to be remembered fondly; that an attempt was once made to shatter this nation; and that those who made the attempt were whipped on the field of battle by the Black men they had brutalized. Is that something to be proud of or celebrate, Annie? I wouldn't think so.