Historian Jelani Cobb on racism denial: ‘unless you are an actual 2015 slave owner, you don’t qualify as racist’

William Jelani Cobb on Feb. 13, 2013. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)
William Jelani Cobb on Feb. 13, 2013. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

A recent CNN/ORC poll  found that the majority of Americans still believe that the Confederate Flag is a symbol of Southern pride and not racism. Among the 1,017 people polled, 57% saw the flag as an expression of pride. Not surprisingly, more white participants, 66% of them, considered the flag to be about Southern pride, while only 17% of the Black participants did. 27% of the white participants and 75% of the Black participants  saw the flag as racist. That’s a pretty big discrepancy. It must be that a lot of Black people are delusional and/ or Highly Sensitive Persons. Or it could be that a lot of white people don’t understand or pretend to not understand racism. I’m going with option two.

Jelani Cobb, a professor of History and the director of the Africana Institute at the University of Connecticut, and a staff writer at The New Yorker, spoke about the distortion of the Confederate Flag, of history, and of the very definition of racism, when he was a guest on my WBAI radio show on Wednesday:

we have engaged in what I called a translucent lie. We know what the symbol [the Confederate Flag] is and we know the circumstances under which the symbol came into existence. When people would say this is heritage, not hate I would always respond by saying what makes you think those two things are mutually exclusive?  Because the racial hatred that we’re talking about is a cornerstone of the heritage that people are trying to avoid or the heritage that people are trying to photoshop. Why does the Confederate flag have the appeal that it has to right wing, white supremacist organizations? If this is in fact about such a benign southern heritage, then why do we see it cropping up in such close proximity to organizations that are avowedly racist.

Cobb’s point about the white supremacist tendencies found among the most avid defenders of the Confederate flag reminded me of Anna and Nathan Robb, the married couple of Branson, MO, who own Dixie Outfitters, which sells confederate souvenirs, T-shirts and memorabilia. Business at Dixie Outfitters is booming now that retailers like Walmart, Amazon, Sears and eBay have stopped selling Confederate flag merch. Anna is adamant that there is nothing racist or hateful about her store’s confederate tchotchkes. (A tchotchke is the Yiddish word for a trinket. Cobb and I decided it was probably not kosher to combine “confederate” and “tchotchke” but let’s file it under subversive.)  Instead, insists Anna, her store is about

Continue reading….

 

Historian debunks the Confederate Flag debate: it’s not racism vs. heritage, but racist heritage

The South Carolina and American flags fly at half mast as the Confederate flag unfurls below at the Confederate Monument June 18, 2015 in Columbia, South Carolina (AFP Photo/Sean Rayford)
The South Carolina and American flags fly at half mast as the Confederate flag unfurls below at the Confederate Monument June 18, 2015 in Columbia, South Carolina (AFP Photo/Sean Rayford)

Early Saturday filmmaker and activist Bree Newsome scaled the poll in front of the South Carolina Statehouse and took down the Confederate Flag that continues to fly. But don’t worry guys: within the hour, the Flag had been replaced, just in time for an 11AM White Supremacist rally, and Newsome was arrested.

The flag continues to fly despite the calls for its removal, in light of the Charleston shooting, from Republican Gov. Nikki Haley and a group of the state’s top lawmakers.  But the the move requires approval by two-thirds majorities in both chambers of the South Carolina Legislature.

In a statement Newsome said, “It’s time for a new chapter where we are sincere about dismantling white supremacy and building toward true racial justice and equality.”

And yet, the idea that the Confederate Flag represents anything but racism persists. Historian Claire Potter, a professor at the New School, joined me on my new radio show and she spoke about the false dichotomy, which presents the flag as a symbol of (A) racism or (B) heritage. She referred to a New York Times article which read,

… many say it is a symbol of the South’s heritage, culture and military pride and can be displayed without any sense of racism.

Does displaying the flag show historic appreciation, or is it a symbol of a reviled era, that breeds racism and should not be officially approved?

Continue Reading…