Several months ago there was a rather vibrant discussion across blogs about the wisdom of countering claims that a substantial number of African Americans served in the Confederate army and the nature and significance of such service. I stand by my position that, given the number of false claims circulating across the internet about such service, it is useful to examine and when appropriate challenge these claims given the increasing role of the internet as a source of historical information, documentation, and interpretation. Highlighting research that documents the flawed arguments and misuse of sources by advocates of a substantial and meaningful contingent of African American soldiers who chose to support the cause of the Confederacy documents the poor quality of the scholarship used by many of these people and effectively challenges their claims by demonstrating the problematic nature of the “research” advanced in support of that position.
Those findings displease a small but sometimes visible minority of people who claim that they are defenders of southern heritage, although their defense of southern heritage amounts to a defense of the Confederacy, whitewashing the story of slavery, and the usual array of “you, too” attacks upon their critics. Over time these attacks have grown more juvenile and pathetic.
It’s natural at first to want to highlight these responses, because, like cockroaches, these folks can’t stand the light of day as they scurry off to feed on more garbage. Nor do I see anything wrong in challenging specific claims of research, and calling it research is being very kind. But I question the wisdom of going beyond that, because I don’t see what good is to be achieved by exchanging potshots with these people. Not everyone agrees with me: they may have their own reasons for responding, and it’s understandable given some of the abuse they have withstood. But I wonder about giving these fringe elements too much attention, and, after having reviewed some of their blogs and a Facebook page over the past few weeks (and I’ve been astonished at what I’ve come across), I have come to the conclusion that to feature these groups and blogs is in fact to grant them a sort of recognition and legitimacy that they do not deserve. They simply aren’t responsible participants: indeed, they are rather childish.
Most of all, they are a disgrace and a standing embarrassment to the South. Their infantile behavior simply feeds negative stereotypes of white southerners as bitter people, Confederate apologists, unable or unwilling to deal with people respectfully, and misrepresenting the racial, social, and cultural attitudes of most southerners, who are a far more diverse community and society than these ranters would have one believe. Their antics serve up raw meat for people who hate the South and ridicule the South as backwards and racist, a region transfixed by four years of the Confederacy embraced as the whole of the southern experience by bitter-enders. Other southerners tell me that they are angry that such people claim to represent the South, and that their behavior humiliates the region and distorts its history and heritage.
I agree. As someone who lived for some ten years in the South and who counts southerners, white and black, as good friends, I think that to give these fringe ranters undue attention is a disservice to the South and all southerners. Other bloggers may continue to draw attention to these folks, but, aside from highlighting specific examples of research claims, I will let them languish and stew in their own scalding juices of hate and resentment.
If you love the South, you’ll do the same.