Charles Kenneth Roberts

Politics, History, Culture

Southerners, southerners, and southerners

People were rightly critical of this idiotic tweet sent by Virginia gubernatorial wannabe Corey Stewart:

idiot tweet

But I am glad for it. Perhaps you, like me, are a history professor teaching American history, and it’s the end of the semester, so you’re in the middle of or getting into a discussion of secession and the Civil War. This tweet is a perfect teaching moment, a distillation of everything wrong with how we talk about secession, the Confederacy, and the South.

Stewart’s comment is about the wrongly-described “Confederate” monument (actually a monument to an attempted Reconstruction-era white supremacist insurrection). Stewart describes “a Yankee” and “a Southerner” as though these are real and natural categories. The implication is that someone from the North and someone from the South would have opposite perspectives about this monument. Stewart’s understanding of “Southerner” means white supremacists who supported the Confederacy; the South’s black population, or for the matter the large white Unionist population and whites like Italians who also faced racialized violence, is completely erased.

I think I am going to start class today with this tweet.

Perhaps the most important part of this tweet, which really does an amazing job of packing so many wrong and bad assumptions into so few characters, is the “don’t matter” part. This rhetorical maneuver asserts that people who oppose white supremacist public monuments don’t care about history, southerners, or the South. People on Twitter have clever comebacks about how really? nothing is worse?, which is fun and enjoyable, but we shouldn’t allow the rhetorical boundary-setting of this tweet to go unchallenged. Nobody is saying these monuments or the history they represent don’t matter; they mattered, and still matter, all too much.

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