The Manipulation of Southern Pride

640px-Stone_Mountain_Carving_2

Stone Mountain, Georgia | Photo by Jim Bowen

When I was a teenager, I went to a meeting of the new Sons of Confederate Veterans chapter in my home town. I quickly became caught up in the ideals of the SCV and hoped desperately that I could find a Confederate soldier within my lineage so I could join.


I was not racist thanks to a good upbringing, nor were many of the SCV members in my home town. The head of the chapter made it clear to newcomers that racism would not be tolerated in any way, shape, or form. Despite this fact, we were nevertheless engaged in downplaying the atrocity of slavery to reconcile our past and defend our identity as southerners.


In our shallow minded understandings, we believed the war was about classism and freedom from oppression, arguing that the south was fighting over interpretations of the Constitution regarding states’ rights. By being a part of the SCV, I thought I was honoring the tens of thousands of poor southern farmers who fought to defend their families against “northern aggression.” I repeated statements I’d heard about Lincoln’s own racism, along with other facts contrasting the purely social justice narrative we saw as being taught about the war.



While there were many truths to these statements, some of which is evidenced by the present-day institutionalized racism in our country, I was still being ignorant and narrow-minded. As the years have gone by, I’ve come to understand many more truths about the war, and how deeply vested interests continue to manipulate and use southern pride for their own benefit.


The War

In the antebellum south, 25% of the population was rich enough to own slaves and consisted of plantation owners and business elites. Of those, only 3% of them owned more than 20 slaves. The remaining 75% of southern whites were often very poor, trying to survive in an economy flooded with cheap goods sourced and manufactured using slave labor. When the wealthy elites saw their economic advantage being threatened by government regulations, they created and raised the confederate flag. They began speaking of “states’ rights,” but make no mistake about it, the rights they sought to protect were those that allowed them to maintain lucrative profit margins generated by slave labor. They were despicable racists who used the color of people’s skin to treat them like animals with unimaginable cruelty, forcing them to do the work they didn’t want to do so they could build bigger homes and enjoy more refinements than any poor southern farmer could ever dream of having.


Why then, would poor, subsistence farming southerners, fight to help them? Wealthy Confederate aristocrats understood the values of the rural working classes just enough to tap into their sense of pride, heritage, and defensiveness against urban ridicule that came predominantly from northern states. The denial of education to poor southern whites became just as much a method of controlling political will as it was controlling the minds of their slaves. They knew just how to misinform the general public, leading people to believe that their way of life was being threatened—that the wealthy northern elites and abolitionists were trying to tell them how they should live. Fear mongering among a populace unable to think critically, resulted in battlefields soaked with the blood of poor southern farmers.


In all truth, Southerners should feel a deep burning hatred towards the Confederate flag and the rich aristocrats who brought it into existence. They should denounce the wealthy business elites who adorned themselves with military titles and marched thousands upon thousands of men and young boys to their deaths for a terrible and unjust cause. But many do not. The tactics used by economic and political forces in the antebellum south are still being used to manipulate people today.


Here We Go Again

Today, wealthy political groups, driven by corporate interests, are still speaking directly to rural people and lifting up our values. They feed upon the deeply rooted defensiveness that has been embedded in our DNA, one created by a millennia’s worth of judgment from a society wrought with the ills of classism and materialism. They fire up their propaganda machines and engage in fear mongering, telling us, “Big government is trying to tell you how to live and what to do.” With our rural values firmly acculturated, they begin framing everything as liberal vs. conservative, rural vs. urban, pro-life vs. pro-choice, constantly blurring the lines of truth, morality, and what it means to be free. They wield populism so well, that millions of people are basing their political beliefs less on the ethics of policy, and more upon their personally held prejudices against those falling outside of their own demographics. ‘Northern Elites’ are now ‘Democrats” and the ‘Liberal Media.’ ‘Abolitionists’ are now ‘Communists,’ ‘Tree Huggers,’ and ‘Feminists.’


At the same time, no one is addressing the sources of polarization and defensiveness found within rural communities. Southerners are still depicted as slack jawed idiots by the media. It remains socially acceptable to stereotype us as rednecks, hillbillies, and white trash. I’ve had it happen to me personally. More than once my accent has caused people in urban areas (especially the north) to treat me as if I’m an idiot. Each time I become angry and begin self-justifying, “At least I can fix my own vehicles and I know how to take care of my family beyond just earning a paycheck and making trips to the grocery store.” No one likes to be demeaned and I am not immune to the sting of prejudice. But in the end, I realize our differences, forgive people’s short-sightedness and set to work finding common ground that will help us work towards fixing the bigger problems we all face. Not everyone can be helped, but we can’t give up hope based on those few.


Liberals and conservatives, rural and urban, we all need to understand the parts we play and how powerful interests manipulate us based on our cultural identity, be it where we are from, how we live, or the color of our skin. The hatred we are seeing is only the symptom of a much larger problem, one that Martin Luther King, Jr began to realize and fight against—a classist economic system that divides and oppresses all but the wealthiest of our nation. There is much work to be done and we must be engaged on all fronts, beginning with ourselves and within our own communities.

26 thoughts on “The Manipulation of Southern Pride

  1. Reblogged this on Searching for the Baldridge Tree and commented:
    “Southerners should feel deep burning hatred towards the Confederate flag and the rich aristocrats who brought it into existence, but many do not. Sadly, the tactics used by economic and political forces in the antebellum south are still being used to manipulate people today.”
    In this article, Nick Mullins makes connections between the Southerners of the Civil War and those of today that should make you see some things differently.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Well written and thought provoking.

    This beautifully written work should serve as a centerpiece for a discussion on mass manipulation of human thought and behavior.

    Liked by 4 people

  3. I know just what you mean about condescension. I was once involved in a group conversation with an urban-dwelling individual on the subject of how ignorant rural people are. I finally got tired of it, and I said to him, “You live in New York City, correct?” and he allowed that was so. I said, “My uncle Frank is a farmer. Tell you what. I’ll drop Uncle Frank in the middle of New York City, and I’ll drop you in the middle of Uncle Frank’s farm, and let’s see who starves to death first.” That kind of quieted him down.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I think ” Gone With The Wind” is the extent of what most people understand of the pre civil war South. What is really appalling is that any woman would ever look at that flag with any pride. We had NO rights, it was legal to beat us, we couldn’t own land so often men married for land and they didn’t give a rip about about her. Husband’s frequently had sex with the slave wemon right under the roofs of the house they lived in. Read “The Hammonds of Redcliffe” for a slice of real southern life.

    Liked by 4 people

  5. Rich vs Poor is the only clear message I found here. If we hate the flags and statues enough and destroy them all, will that erase the Civil War from history?
    That follows the thinking of Osama bin Laden, destroy anything that offends you. The first time I remember hearing of bin Laden was when the 1,700 year old Bamiyan Buddhas were blown up in March, 2001. Little did we know what this foreshadowed.
    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buddhas_of_Bamiyan
    The hatefilled terrorist group, ISIS, seeks to obliterate any differing religion by torturing to death those who thereby offend them, while continuing to destroy ancient relics and monuments.
    Naturally, Hitler comes to mind, as his horrific attempt to ‘cleanse’ the human race led to the deaths of over 10 million Jews, as well as all those sons and daughters of the many nations which participated in that monumental war.
    These are extreme examples, more common ones would be when a golfer makes a bad putt, becomes furious, bends his club and throws it in a pond, or when a spoiled child doesn’t get its way, cries, throws a tantrum, and breaks things. Neither has remedied the situation, instead, they’ve instigated more undesirable consequences.
    There are plenty things which annoy or offend me. Destroying or killing is certainly not an option, but I have found that ignoring them is the perfect solution. Sometimes, though, political correctness may just tick me off enough that I sit down and point it out in a comment.
    Namaste

    Like

      • No, he didn’t. You did, you and all your tribe full of poorly-concealed racists who absolutely wigged out when you realized our president really was that
        skinny black guy with the funny name.

        Like

    • Nobody is trying to erase the civil war from history. What they ARE trying to do is to get people not to glorify the cause of the confederacy. You don’t see statues of Hitler in Germany for that very same reason: he shouldn’t at all be glorified. See the difference?

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Reblogged this on human writes and commented:
    I’m happy to share this thoughtful and thought-provoking post. It’s so important to hear the voices, perspectives and wisdom of folks fighting this southern scourge (which of course extends well beyond “the South”) from within. This piece is right-on, and I hope many people are able to engage, discuss and share its content. As the enlightened among us move forward in righteously tearing down monuments of the monumental oppression that pervades this country’s founding and history, it’s crucial to continue digging down into the soil where those racist roots thrive to this day. By carefully tending the precious, if tragically blood-stained, earth from which our society has grown, we can sew a beautiful garden and ensure a bountiful harvest of solidarity, compassion and love for generations to come. Humanity up! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Reblogged this on The Secular Jurist and commented:
    The Magnificence of Truth written in this timely essay is a MUST READ in my opinion. Please share. Here’s an excerpt:

    “The denial of education to poor southern whites became just as much a method of controlling political will as it was controlling the minds of their slaves. They knew just how to misinform the general public, leading people to believe that their way of life was being threatened—that the wealthy northern elites and abolitionists were trying to tell them how they should live. Fear mongering among a populace unable to think critically, resulted in battlefields soaked with the blood of poor southern farmers.
    In all truth, Southerners should feel a deep burning hatred towards the Confederate flag and the rich aristocrats who brought it into existence. They should denounce the wealthy business elites who adorned themselves with military titles and marched thousands upon thousands of men and young boys to their deaths for a terrible and unjust cause. But many do not. The tactics used by economic and political forces in the antebellum south are still being used to manipulate people today.”

    Liked by 1 person

  8. It is thought provoking. When I visited the graves of my great grandparent and other family members with my mother and sibling many years ago, it was in the Lawson Confederate Cemetery in Snowflake. The other connection, however, is absent, with the Daughters or Sons of Confederate Veterans. I wonder why my mother, my grandmother, etc. never talked to us about the Civil War.

    In my long journey fighting the almost complete destruction of my homeland through mountaintop removal coal mining, I have argued for the preservation of pieces of our coal mining history which is also very much about subjugation of an entire group of people (though different nationalities) to enrich a few. I believed that these items were props to tell coal’s history (For instance, a coal company’s doctor office was burned.). More food for thought.

    But whatever we do on the monuments, I do believe that they are a symbol for what lies at the roots of our present challenge. We must endorse the full contents of history in the educational system and beyond, not just providing a skeleton version. And if the monuments are left, I would advocate for a more complete history nearby the statute. ( I am reading more about Lee and his writings now and frankly find them quite disturbing.) One idea would be a suggestion of readings, contemplation, etc. (such as Ms. Graves’ suggestion re the book) in a foundation up manner and devise a creative way to distribute those to the general public, for those interested. I say that because in the coalfields of Central Appalachia, most are not college educated and if they are, they swiftly become our best export generally.

    Like

  9. Wonderful, thoughtful, beautifully-written essay! It speaks to me as a person from the North who has lived in the South. As an artist, who is very interested in maintaining our cultural history, I think it is important to preserve elements of a dark past, but to do it in places and ways that teach and not venerate. A history museum is a wonderful place to learn about the leaders of the Confederacy as well as those who chose to glorify that past. But a public square is not. Having been to Berlin recently, I can say that the Nazi past is everpresent, but always in places and ways that force the German people to confront the tragic results of such thinking. Thank you for this article.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. A topnotch 100% true post, Nick. I’m from Southern (‘Scalawag’) stock myself, I currently live in east Tennessee and I DO harbor a smoldering hatred for the emblem of treason, all of that for which it stands and all those who committed treason a century and a half ago! I’m also glad to see you notice that the antebellum South had NO public education for anyone of any color or lack thereof and that you hint at it being deliberate (which it was) and for the reason you mention!
    PS. No more than 53% of the Rebs could read and write compared with 94% of the Union armies.

    Like

  11. But, I have found that when trying to reason with those holding the belief that the confederate flag stands for “heritage not hate” (note the lack of punctuation) they don’t want to know or understand the truth. I have seen the most abhorrent spelling and grammar, that which reflects the lack of a basic education coupled with an abhorrent social education angrily posting in social media that “libtards” are trying to take what they have. They seem to be terrified that somebody else is “getting their free handouts”‘while they themselves are paying for them. They have been manipulated from birth to vote against their own interests. I will also point out something that is the elephant in the room…..the racism is so deep that the election of a black man is threatening to them. They have been raised and live with virtually nothing , the only mental respite was to tell themselves that “at least I am better than a n****r.! From the cradle to the grave, it is the one thing that they could delude themselves with that could give them some measure of comfort, that invisible layer of racism and false pride. That, in my neighbors in East Tennessee seems to be the sad truth, racism and pride have become the mantra for the poor and ignorant.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s