A Debate Over the Black Confederate Debate

Kevin Levin’s offered a thoughtful response to my post, “Seeing What is Not There.”

Kevin concludes:

What we have here is not a debate about whether free and enslaved blacks served as soldiers in the Confederate army.  The folks referenced above are not engaged in deception; rather, they simply do not understand the relevant history nor do they understand how to engage in historical analysis.

Now, far be it from me to argue for the ability of the proponents of the notion of significant numbers of free and enslaved blacks serving as soldiers in Confederate ranks to engage in historical analysis.  My original post demonstrates their shortcoming in that regard, and Kevin offers a few more telling examples.  Moreover, I know that Kevin rejects (as do I) speculation about motives as a way to discredit or challenge analysis.  Simply saying “you’re wrong because you believe in X or are really Y” just doesn’t cut it (in fact, it’s another sign of one’s failure to be able to engage in reasoned historical discussion).  You need to challenge what’s presented to you fairly and without resorting to speculating on issues of motive or identity, just as simply presenting issues of motive or identity doesn’t validate a historical argument (how many times have we heard that Z, who believes in “Black Confederates,” is himself African American, as if that matters?  Isn’t that claiming that the validity of what one says is connected to one’s race, which opens all sorts of doors to rather unseemly rooms? ).

It is, however, the repetition of error in the face of evidence disproving the claims made on behalf of “evidence” that interests me, especially when the people engaged in that repetition claim that they are in pursuit of historical truth.  It’s one thing to make a mistake or assert an unexplored assumption, but, to my mind, it’s far different to repeat those claims in the face of evidence to the contrary.  Once one discredits an argument based on the merits, it seems to me perfectly reasonable to ask why people make the same assertion repeatedly.  Is it simply accident?  Is it because they are simply incapable of understanding the problem?  Or is it something else?  Explanations may vary by individual case, but I can assure you that many of the people who embrace the notion of free and enslaved blacks serving in significant numbers in Confederate ranks read these blogs, and yet they make no effort whatsoever to correct the misleading information contained on “black Confederate” sites, despite their claim to a commitment in historical accuracy.  Once you know it’s a mistake, why not own up to it?  Why be exposed as embracing that which is not true once you know it’s not true?  Why suggest that you simply are incapable of engaging in historical analysis? Or is it more than a mistake?

To me, the most striking thing about all this is that Kevin Levin receives far more flak than do I for his positions on these issues, although I see him as far kinder.  Oh, I used to get nasty notes and threats from Confederate apologists and neo-Confederate types in the pre-blogging days, but with the advent of blogs, Kevin is now the favorite target.  Lucky guy.  I’ll explore why people are so afraid of him in a future post.  🙂

3 thoughts on “A Debate Over the Black Confederate Debate

  1. Lyle Smith February 8, 2011 / 8:46 pm

    It’s more than a mistake, I think. It’s like people who believe in 9/11 conspiracy theories. There will always be some people tilting at windmills.

    All you can do is stand up and provide evidence to the contrary.

  2. Sherree February 9, 2011 / 6:45 am

    The way you have framed this question, it is much easier to answer. Since this false narrative is being intentionally promoted, despite repeated and mounting evidence to the contrary, the motive seems to be what Kevin has suggested: the proponents of the black confederate myth are losing control of the narrative and they are desperate. That they would willfully and consciously promote falsehoods reveals something a bit more cynical and perhaps even sinister in their ultimate motivation. Just making certain that the memory of their ancestors is kept intact as they wish it to be does not explain all of this for me.

  3. MarkD February 9, 2011 / 1:02 pm

    I wonder if this idea is limited to those who count their ancestors Confederate. I have no idea, but I wouldn’t be too surprised if not.

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