David Beito & Charles Nuckolls: What's Wrong with the Southern Heritage Movement

Roundup: Talking About History

David Beito and Charles W. Nuckolls, in Reason (July 19, 2004):

During the last decade, the League of the South and other"southern heritage" groups have fought to preserve the state flags of Georgia and Mississippi. Some members of the League have demanded that universities hire Southern-born professors. Others have promoted antebellum style dances. Nearly all are quick to champion their"heroes," including Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis, against any slights.

The jargon of group rights and identity politics, normally the domain of the politically correct, permeates their pronouncements. In Georgia, a member of the League boasts that"our Southern heritage celebrates true diversity...and true multiculturalism." Another from Virginia asks"in an age of political correctness, teaching tolerance of others and multiculturalism...when will the people of the south be permitted to honor their heritage?" Similarly, the national president of the League declares that if"Southerners were any other people in the world, the campaign to rob them of their symbols, their history, and their cultural identity would be termed cultural genocide." The League stresses the Celtic background of many Southerners as a defining feature of this" cultural identity."

A few years ago an incident brought home to one of the authors some striking parallels between Confederate multiculturalists of this type and leftwing multiculturalists. During a long conversation about race and culture, a white professor at the University of Alabama, lamented that so few blacks were observing Kwanzaa.

This professor was a member of the Coalition for Diversity and Inclusiveness, a group that" celebrates" such"multicultural" crusades as mandatory diversity training and reparations. Her zeal was not dampened by the argument that local blacks, like whites, were Christians of a traditional sort and that Kwanzaa was foreign to their outlook. Though she acknowledged that the holiday was the brainchild of an American college professor of dubious character, she still held out the hope that African American students might take it seriously.

Her brief for Kwanzaa illustrates the hollowness and artificiality of much of what passes today for multiculturalism. This professor's agenda of promoting" cultural awareness," and thus differences between blacks and whites, had become so all encompassing that she did not hesitate to impose it from the top down. Much the same can be said for the Confederate multiculturalists who work so hard to immortalize state flags that are usually no older than the 1950s. Like her, they desperately want to create and" celebrate" cultural distinctions and then deploy them for political purposes. They also view the world through the lens of group, rather than individual, rights....

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Jurretta Jordan Heckscher - 7/24/2004

Well, this is *some* of what's wrong with the "Southern Heritage Movement." There's a lot else, not the least of which is the sly reverse synecdoche that uses the term "Southern" when what is really meant is "white Southern."

The whole enterprise is misbegotten.

Kevin Michael Fitzpatrick - 7/23/2004

So now slavery is just another lifestyle. Do we now refer to Nazis as "Heritage not Hate". Just another lifestyle.