• 'White Like Me' and Other 'Tragedies' and 'Lost Causes.'

    No, Tim Tebow didn't grow a goatee and join the Philly Eagles. That's what Michael Vick would look like if he was a bit more Japheth than Ham, thanks to the Photoshopping wizardry in the latest ESPN article that asks a pretty valid question: would Vick had been subjected to the public and media backlash, not counting the legal ramifications of being accused and later conviction for his role in a dogfighting ring had he been, well, white?

    It's a question asked every time a black person is accused of or convicted of a crime that a white person would be less likely to be accused/convicted of. And a number of whites are "tired" of hearing this question asked over and over. But given this nation's rather acrimonious and sorry history of ethnic relations between blacks and whites, it's a question that will be asked again and again until a genuine form of equality is finally met -- one where adverse reactions to another person's color accompanied by a mental and verbal regurgitation of negative propaganda against said people ceases to exist, and one where no one has to enjoy an advantage or disadvantage because he's from the wrong side of the ethnic tracks.

    And for the idiots out there who'd think otherwise after reading the above, this is not a condoning of Vick's actions. It's just that most people wonder if a white person in Vick's position would have had the same experience, or if he would have gotten off a bit lighter due to his ethnicity.

    Ta-Nehisi Coates wouldn't have been this charitable with the above. And he pulls no punches in his op-ed on the American Civil War. What's interesting about his viewpoint is how he approaches the story from an angle that very few people consider.

    Take a look at the Revolutionary War. When people speak of that war, they talk in terms of what the nation gained from that war, which in this case was the American colonies' freedom from British rule and the formation of the United States. When people talk about the Civil War, they tend to talk in terms of what the nation lost. Which begs the question: exactly what did the U.S. lose?

    For most people, the answer lies with the approximate 1,000,000 total casualties among both Union and Confederate troops, with 620,000 deaths on both sides. Most people would consider that a tragedy. Except Coates believes that is isn't.

    It's really simple for me. One group of Americans attempted to raise a country on property in Negroes. Another group of Americans, many of them Negroes themselves, stopped them. As surely as we lack the ability to see tragedy in violently throwing off the yoke of the English, I lack the ability to see tragedy in violently throwing off the yoke of slaveholders.  
    For most Americans, the Civil War is a sudden outbreak of a existential violence. But for 250 years, African-Americans lived in slavery--which is to say perpetual existential violence. I don't know what else to call a system that involves the constant threat of your children, your parents, your grandparents, being sold off, never for you to see them again. That is death.
    Malcolm X was fond of saying that that there was no such thing as a "bloodless revolution." I don't know if that's true, but it surely was true of black people. The Civil War is our revolution. It ended slavery, and birthed both modern America, and modern black America.  
    That can never be tragic to me.

    To predominately white eyes, this all seems rather selfish and insensitive. After all, look at those 600,000+ dead and tell anyone that's "not" a tragedy; therefore, most people treat the end of the Civil War as one would treat the funeral of a loved one - somber and reserved, with thoughts about what as lost. But looking at the story from the eyes of a black person who recognizes that the Civil War, however bloody and painful it was, resulted in his ancestors being released from the physical, mental and spiritual bondage that the "peculiar" institution of slavery represented, it becomes hard to understand why anyone would treat the end of the Civil War as a solemn occasion and not celebrate the positives that came from that, just as people do when they celebrate "Independence Day."

    And I don't think I'm abnormal because of this. Twenty-two thousand people died in the Revolutionary War, and we celebrate that with hot dogs and hamburgers every year. I'm sure that while Jews feel fairly horrible that the Holocaust happened, very few of them consider the fighting it took in order to liberate the death camps, "tragic." The Holocaust is tragic. Ending the Holocaust is not.

    Some people say it was a "tragedy" that it took the Civil War to end slavery, but you rarely hear about how it was a "tragedy" that it took the Revolutionary War to secure America's independence. The compromises offered in both cases were apparently insufficient to stop the events that led to both wars. As said before, the end of one war is treated as a jubilant occasion, while the end of the other war is treated like a man's last rites.

    After reading this story, I followed a few links that led me to Spike Lee's mockumentary on what life would be like if the Confederate States had won the Civil War and subsequently took over the United States while maintaining slavery. It also puts paid to the claim that the Confederacy was just fighting for "States' Rights," as it expands on the southern states' push to expand slavery to the "free states" by showing how slavery and various forms of apartheid eventually expanded throughout the states, Mexico and South America. Slavery was very much a powerful economic driving force for the region at that time. The video paints a portrait of a people eventually left economically, socially and I dare may say, spiritually stunted thanks to basing the nation around the concept of holding others in servitude and developing justifications towards such.

    After watching the video, my thoughts came back to Coates' op-ed. The similar style between Lee's mockumentary and Ken Burns' documentary on the Civil War led me to see how Burns' piece stood as a stark example of how most people see the Civil War. Taken from a comment by Robert Zimmerman:

    Now that you point it out, yes, it's remarkable how deeply ingrained the idea of Civil War as tragedy is. For me, thinking about the war tends to set of the Ken Burns effect in my head. And it's not just the slow pan across sepia battleground images. I also get Garrison Keillor's doleful reading of a Union soldier's last letter home and the plaintive fiddle in the background (y'all hear it too, right?). It's the war that pitted brother against brother, and that's a great metaphor for a nation divided. With all that piled on, the war does seem real tragic, which just makes all the stories and images more resonant, which reinforces the sense of tragedy, etc.

    That "sense of tragedy" and "solemn respect" remains present whenever and wherever the Civil War is talked about, more so in regards to the Confederates, even if it resulted in freeing millions of people from enslavement. That event is lumped into the "sense of tragedy" overshadowing the rest of the Civil War and from a certain perspective, it may seem as though the freedom gained by those people is actually one of the many "tragedies" to occur during the war -- keep in mind you do have people out there who bemoan what was "taken" from them by the Union and the lost chance to descend from a line of Southern aristocratic Fauntroy-types, with their attendant wealth intact and lineage unquestioned.

    Some may find it odd that the end of the Civil War doesn't have a jubilant holiday similar to Independence Day. Others may say it's because we don't have any descendants of defeated British "Redcoats" nursing grudges over being on the losing side of history and if there were, there are precious few around for it to even matter. The "solemn respect" thing may be done out of respect for the remaining descendants of defeated Confederates. Given the "brother vs. brother" framing of the Civil War, it could be a courtesy from one "brother" to another, for the sake of keeping the family together.