Black Confederates and Birthers

If you’ve glanced at today’s headlines, you’ll notice that President Barack Obama has released documentation that would seem to put to rest, once and for all, the question of where he was born (and thus his constitutional eligibility to hold the office he occupies).  At a time when it would seem incumbent on all responsible political leaders to address the challenges confronting the United States, the resurgence of chatter about the president’s place of birth from some folks who do not always impress me as serious about political discussion or the state of the nation threatened once more to serve as an irritating distraction, a nuisance to the president, and not necessarily welcome news to those Republicans who realize how poorly the birther claim plays among voters that the Grand Old Party must attract in order to mount a serious challenge to Obama’s reelection bid.

Some people are fond of drawing connections between Tea Party advocates and folks who embrace the Confederacy.  I think that is another case of mistaking the extreme for the whole, and it tends to serve to dismiss Tea Party supporters by trivializing them, something that I believe is foolish.  I don’t have the same reluctance, however, to suggest that there might be something for us to learn if we compare birthers to proponents of black Confederates.  Both parties continue to repeat the same sorts of arguments and don’t seem particularly eager to wrestle with counterarguments that call into question their handling of evidence.  The recycling of already discredited claims reflects upon a quality of mind that argues against reasoned discussion and leads to exasperation.  The debate tends to draw our attention to a colorful group of people who are not part of the mainstream of serious discussion.  Countering bizarre claims is criticized on the grounds that it offers unwarranted recognition to these assertions; failure to respond is criticized as a desertion of scholarly obligation or is interpreted as a tacit admission of the validity of the claims.  Finally, of course, notions of race and race relations lurk just beneath the surface in both debates, as is the willingness of black Confederate advocates to highlight the race of some of the people who espouse their position (an interesting play on the concept of identity scholarship).

Of course, there are differences (and I’m sure I’ll hear all about them in the comments section, along with statements of political positions, etc.).  Had the birthers been proven correct, the consequences would indeed have been serious; in contrast, advocates of large numbers of blacks voluntarily serving the Confederacy don’t address why this matters or how this changes our understanding of the Civil War, preferring instead to argue, for example, that the lack of evidence is proof positive that the evidence once existed (documentation is also at the heart of the birther controversy).  However, the similarities remain.  Advocates of the existence of black Confederates in significant numbers, for example, often soon turn to other arguments to document northern racism and white southern purity on matters of race, a suggestive interpretative turn.

Now, I know some people will read this blog entry as a partisan statement.  I can’t help that, and frankly, I don’t care.  I’ve got better stuff to do.  But I would readily admit that I am offering a political statement, broadly defined, just as my statements characterizing the debate over black Confederates present a perspective on historical discussion, broadly defined to include the realm of popular understandings of history.  In both cases we have more serious and more important matters to discuss.

But if you want to drive up my hit count, go ahead.

17 thoughts on “Black Confederates and Birthers

  1. Ray O'Hara April 27, 2011 / 10:32 am

    the difference between birthers and Black Confederate claimers is Tea Partiers can influence the primary election races of the Republican party.
    If not for their getting the nomination of the likes of Sharon Angle and the Delaware Witch the Republicans might have taken the Senate too. And now Mr Boehner finds himself being pulled in different directions by his Wall Street money men and the Tea Party and offending either can cost him his seat.

      • Ray O'Hara April 27, 2011 / 1:34 pm

        I’d say the overlap is substantial among the rank and file. the Tea Party might have started as a astro turf movement but it now exists and it is a tiger the Republicans are stuck riding and good luck dismounting.

  2. Ric Ben-Safed April 27, 2011 / 11:18 am

    I would hazard a guess that few of the Tea Party movement, (its not a political party)are “Birthers”, but more likely many in the Tea Party movement are instead Independents and Liberterians. However, I do think this is the Campaign season and obviously the main stream media likes to play up so called differences as it helps to magnify their distribution and sales…not to mention the political bandwagon for this or that candidate. (That said, I don’t believe there are any “Witches” or “Devils” running for any parties ticket. Try to chill everyone!

    • Brooks D. Simpson April 27, 2011 / 11:26 am

      That would also be my impression. People dismiss movements such as the Tea Party movement at their peril. It clearly serves Obama’s interest for some people to lump birthers and Tea Partiers together.

  3. Chuck Brown April 27, 2011 / 12:04 pm

    The tea party consists mostly of angry white people. They can influence the political climate, and have. Birthers are True Believers. Nothing will ever change their minds. In that respect, they are similar to those who believe the Black Confederate myth.

  4. MarkD April 27, 2011 / 12:08 pm

    I think the desire see the birth certificate can be partially explained by the fact that this president has released less personal information about himself than any in recent times. Do I care about a president’s grades? No, and I think it is a bad practice to require this. But it has always been a bad practice for the press and others to treat this as a requirement, without which you’ll get hounded out of a campaign. The question is how Obama got a pass on this. I say let’s give all candidates a pass on this. Will that happen? No. After Obama is gone the requirement will be back with a vengence.

    • Bob Huddleston April 28, 2011 / 8:44 pm

      Tell me: why were there no demands during the election for McCain to show *his* birth certificate. *He* was not born in the United States and is arguably less Constitutional eligible to become president than Obama. I was told that those born in American military hospitals do not receive a birth certificate. The individual, BTW, a Conservative Republican born in England, said he had all sorts of problems getting a passport!

      As for “this president has released less personal information about himself than any in recent times,” when questions were raised about McCain’s military record, he refused to release his 2001 file? Ditto in 2004 when questions were raised about George W. Bush’s record, why did he not release both his 201 File and his pilot’s log book. These would have answered the questions about his service in the Texas Air Guard.

      Can you seriously argue that if Obama’s father had been an Englishman, anyone wold have questioned his birth?

      • Ray O'Hara April 29, 2011 / 5:56 am

        “Can you seriously argue that if Obama’s father had been an Englishman, anyone wold have questioned his birth?”

        it’s Obama’s party and not his birth that is the issue if he was a Republican there would be no problems.

  5. Andy Hall April 27, 2011 / 1:32 pm

    I disagree with the notion that there’s little overlap between the Birthers and the Tea Party, or the assertion that it’s not a political party, has no leaders, etc. It doesn’t need to be a political party; it already is one, or rather, a subset of one. Having watched politics very closely, I’d argue that the Tea Party is largely indistinguishable from the hard-core GOP “base” today, and is as bound up in “culture wars” issues as ever. Gadsden Flags and tricorn hats do not a movement make.

    But back to Birthers and black Confederates. Both movements are impervious to criticism of their methods or their evidence, because they’re not based on those things to begin with. They’re stories gone looking for evidence, not the other way around. As Kevin said this morning regarding his talk, the reality of black Confederates — loyal patriots to the Confederacy, serving happily, in large numbers in an integrated military — serves a deep-seated need among its advocates. It exists, like the “faithful slave” narrative from which it directly descends, to reassure and affirm its advocates about their ancestors, actual or figurative, and the cause for which they fought. It relieves them of dealing with the ugly reality of forced labor and chattel bondage, and instead outfits it in a fresh butternut uniform, carrying a battle flag. (To be fair, they frequently apply the same bright, primary colors of motivation and patriotism to their own, white Confederate ancestors, based on little or no evidence of their actual views or beliefs.)

    You wrote:

    Finally, of course, notions of race and race relations lurk just beneath the surface in both debates, as is the willingness of black Confederate advocates to highlight the race of some of the people who espouse their position (an interesting play on the concept of identity scholarship).

    Indeed, yes. I’ve never yet seen someone cite Walter E. Williams, Ed Smith, Earl Ijames or Ervin Jordan as an academic authority on the subject without also dropping a mention of their ethnicity. One might also wonder why Pulaski, Tennessee was selected as the site for the faux cemetery for BCS from across Tennessee and other states. It’s almost like they’re over-compensating. . . .

  6. Chris April 27, 2011 / 3:50 pm

    “…compare birthers to proponents of black Confederates.”

    Seems like a solid comparison, frankly.

    But we need to distinguish between Trump and the Republicans. Trump is no Conservative/Republican, he has supported more Democrats than Republicans in his past. His birth certificate fling was a joke as is his campaign talk. Hence he is a joke. He needs to stick to screwing people (out of their money that is).

    Chuck: “The tea party consists mostly of angry white people. They can influence the political climate, and have. Birthers are True Believers. Nothing will ever change their minds. In that respect, they are similar to those who believe the Black Confederate myth.”

    This statement is itself so full of ignorance (and not a shred of proof) that you sound no better than the Birthers or Black Confederate proponents.

    Chris

  7. Sherree April 28, 2011 / 2:13 am

    Leader of the birther movement:

    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orly_Taitz

  8. John Foskett April 28, 2011 / 7:16 am

    If the birthers now shut up based on production of the certificate, that will at least distance them from the “black Confederates” crowd. I suppose that hypothetically one can raise a question about where somebody was born until one sees the documentary evidence. The geniuses who insist that there were large numbers of free blacks fighting in the Rebel armies blindly ignore 150 years of absolutely zero documentary support (journals, diaries, correspondence, reports, orders, photographs) and the fact that to a 100% moral certainty such evidence of something completely antithetical to Confederate values and beliefs would exist – if, of course, it had happened. The birthers are ignorant and easily duped. The “black Confederates” crowd is either delusional or dishonest.

    • Andy Hall April 28, 2011 / 8:08 am

      The “black Confederates” crowd is either delusional or dishonest.

      There is ample dishonesty out there in the BCS discussion, as previously noted. But I think much of the delusion surrounding the topic is self-delusion, people insisting that it must be true because it’s deeply important to them that it is true, for personal reasons that they themselves might not fully articulate. BCS, like the “faithful slave” narrative from which it’s derived, is part of a much larger effort to disassociate the Confederacy — and therefore their forebears — from the moral stain that goes with slavery. It’s a way of dealing with the cognitive dissonance that comes from wanting to lionize one’s ancestors in gray who were defending a nation so utterly intertwined with that institution. The only way one can do it is to acknowledge that slavery was a Bad Thing, but vehemently insist that it’s also irrelevant to the conflict or one’s own ancestors caught up in it. BCS and “faithful slaves” both help move that notion forward. As Adam Serwer — not an historian, but a pretty good judge of human behavior nonetheless — points out, BCS are the Southron Heritage crowd’s “black friend.” They keep banging the BCS drum for their own sake, as much as anyone else’s.

  9. John Foskett April 28, 2011 / 4:19 pm

    I think you’re right. I had a great great great uncle who served in the Army of the Potomac for three years as a member of the U.S. Engineers battalion. He was a 20-year-old from rural Massachusetts who kept diaries. Those diaries reflect common racial stereotypes of the era when they refer to freed slaves who he encountered. I have no problem with admiring his service/sacrifice while finding his racial attitudes regrettable. But I’m not about to reinvent history so I can acknowledge him as my ancestor. I understand the motivation for some of this fiction but at the end of the day it’s falsehood. I hate to be harsh, but anybody whose ancestor fought for the Confederacy should to some extent just “deal with it.” The statistical likelihood is that the ancestor owned no slaves and had no personal stake in slavery. But there is no question that he fought for a government which only existed to defend slavery.

  10. Ray O'Hara April 29, 2011 / 5:06 am

    His guest Melissa Harris-Perry has when on Rachel Maddow endorsed the idea of Black Confederates and Rachel went along with it.
    They are hardly lost causers nor would either claim slavery wasn’t the cause.
    MHP’s things is the suppression of Blqack Confederates is just more of “whitewashing” Blacks from the historical narrative.

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