Category Archive 'Waving the Bloody Shirt'

24 Jul 2022

The Leftist Radicals Are Still “Waving the Bloody Shirt*” A Century And a Half Later

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1880 Frederick Burr Opper Cartoon from Puck, titled: The Bankrupt Outrage Mill (showing bloody shirts, lynchings, and other forms of racial violence).

* “Waving the Bloody Shirt” was a phrase used by their opponents to mock efforts by post-Civil-War left-wing radicals to sow national division and stir up animosity against the defeated South by invoking memories of the war, and particularly through painting emotional images of black victimhood.

Coleman Hughes quite brilliantly analyses the bizarre role of metaphor as identity underlying the contemporary psychodrama participated in by complaining blacks and pious white liberals.

Though the question seems naïve to some, it is in fact perfectly valid to ask why black people can get away with behavior that white people can’t. The progressive response to this question invariably contains some reference to history: blacks were taken from their homeland in chains, forced to work as chattel for 250 years, and then subjected to redlining, segregation, and lynchings for another century. In the face of such a brutal past, many would argue, it is simply ignorant to complain about what modern-day blacks can get away with.

Yet there we were—young black men born decades after anything that could rightly be called ‘oppression’ had ended—benefitting from a social license bequeathed to us by a history that we have only experienced through textbooks and folklore. And my white Hispanic friend (who could have had a tougher life than all of us, for all I know) paid the price. The underlying logic of using the past to justify racial double-standards in the present is rarely interrogated. What do slavery and Jim Crow have to do with modern-day blacks, who experienced neither? Do all black people have P.T.S.D from racism, as the Grammy and Emmy award-winning artist Donald Glover recently claimed? Is ancestral suffering actually transmitted to descendants? If so, how? What exactly are historical ‘ties’ made of?

We often speak and think in metaphors. For instance, life can have ups and downs and highs and lows, despite the fact that our joys and sorrows do not literally pull our bodies along a vertical axis. Similarly, modern-day black intellectuals often say things like, “We were brought here against our will,” despite the fact that they have never seen a slave ship in their lives, let alone been on one. When metaphors are made explicit—i.e., emotions are vertical, groups are individuals—it’s easy to see that they are just metaphors. Yet many black intellectuals carry on as if they were literal truths.

One such intellectual is Michael Eric Dyson, who recently shared the stage with Michelle Goldberg in a debate against Jordan Peterson and Stephen Fry. Though the debate was ostensibly about political correctness, it ranged everywhere from Marxism to ‘white privilege.’ Around halfway through the debate, Dyson said:

    If you have benefitted from 300 years of holding people in servitude, thinking that you did it all on your own…”Why can’t these people work harder?” Let me see…for 300 years you ain’t had no job! So the reality is for 300 years you hold people in the bands…you refuse to give them rights. Then all of a sudden, you ‘free’ them and say, “You’re now individuals.”

Taken literally, Dyson’s claims make no sense. No person has ever suffered 300 years of joblessness because no person has ever lived for 300 years. Of course, Dyson wasn’t speaking literally. His ‘you’ refers not to identifiable, living humans, but to groups of long-deceased individuals with whom he shares nothing in common except a location on the color wheel. But by appropriating a grievance whose rightful owners died long ago, and by slipping between the metaphorical and the literal, Dyson was able to portray himself as a member of an abstract oppressed class and Peterson as a member of an abstract oppressor class. In his reply, barely audible over Dyson’s sanctimonious harangue, Peterson put his finger on this rhetorical sleight-of-hand: “Who is this ‘you’ that you’re referring to?”

Many black progressives use the myth of collective, intergenerational transfers of suffering to exempt themselves from the rules of civil discourse.


12 Apr 2010

Refighting the Civil War

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1880 Frederick Burr Opper Cartoon from Puck, titled: The Bankrupt Outrage Mill (showing bloody shirts, lynchings, and other forms of racial violence)

Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell’s break with political correctness and resumption of the practice avoided by two democrat party predecessors of declaring April to be “Confederate History Month” provoked the American left to open fire with all the batteries of the establishment media and the progressive blogosphere.

The contemporary left enthusiastically identifies with the 19th century radical abolitionist movement (which had so much to do with starting the Civil War) and is determined to ruthlessly suppress any expression of enthusiasm or affection for the Lost Cause.

The theoretical defense of the Southern political perspective and the rights of the states, remembrance of Confederate military victories, admiration for Confederate leaders, and any defense of the Southern Antebellum way of life are all treated as the gravest of thought crimes.

From the point of view of the Left, the politics of Slavery is all. Just as Harry Reid declared opposition to the Health Care Bill to be equivalent to opposing Civil Rights, the liberal commentariat characteristically treats any form of positive perspective on the Confederate Cause as tantamount to racism and an active defense of the Peculiar Institution.

Jon Meacham, in the New York Times, lays down the liberal law, insisting on the absolute centrality of Slavery to any interpretation of Civil War history.

If the slaves are erased from the picture [of the Civil War], then what took place between Sumter and Appomattox is not about the fate of human chattel, or a battle between good and evil. It is, instead, more of an ancestral skirmish in the Reagan revolution, a contest between big and small government.

We cannot allow the story of the emancipation of a people and the expiation of America’s original sin to become fodder for conservative politicians playing to their right-wing base. That, to say the very least, is a jump backward we do not need.

In other words, if the issues of states rights, popular sovereignty, and Constitutional limitations on federal power going back one hundred and fifty years are allowed to be raised, discussed, and argued, there is no telling what might come of it. Who knows? Some more complex interpretation beyond a simple drama featuring wicked slave owners and oppressed darkies might interfere with universal acceptance of the American left’s self-justifying narrative of radical leadership first overthrowing Slavery, then marching on to deliver first Civil Rights, then National Health Care.

It is vital to enforce a politically correct, crudely simplified version of history, so that history can be used as a credential by those who claim to be enforcing History’s will and decrees on the rest of us.

Invoking racial politics and inflaming sectional animosity at the expense of the South is a very old political game, as the 1880 cartoon above testifies. Americans were already tired of the practice in the 19th century. In the immediate aftermath of the Civil War, the radical Benjamin Butler, then a Congressman, exhibited on the floor of the House of Representative a blood-stained shirt belonging to an Ohio carpetbagger who had been whipped by night riders in Mississippi. This kind of divisive and manipulative politics of accusation came to be referred to derisively as “waving the bloody shirt.”

Bob McDonnell is just the most recent victim of the left’s habit of waving the bloody shirt in order to bully and intimidate its opponents.

Like myself, John R. Guardino had no relatives in the United States at the time of the Civil War. He discusses at some length, quoting Senator James Webb along the way, why the attacks on Governor McDonnell are so dishonest.

And, just for the record, I’d like to note that Virginia obviously did not secede to defend Slavery. Virginia seceded in order to avoid supplying troops to be used to conquer and invade her fellow states. Virginia went to war only to defend herself and other fraternal states from invasion.

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