White people, especially white men, love us some history. (I phrased it that way so I won’t get sued by Stuff White People Like, which is nearly 50 years old now in Internet time.)
Why do we love history so much? Mostly because it’s about us, and holy crap were we the victors. Reviewing our history is figuratively like watching our very own sports highlight reel, which is literally something we haven’t been able to do since Jackie Robinson. Even when the history involved white people doing bad things, it was usually another white person that set it right.
This is why the History channel cut to the chase years ago and started serving up a hodgepodge of
- World War II, when white people stopped the whitest people from killing what were considered at the time less whiter people.
- Aliens. Specifically white (or very pale gray) aliens abducting white people.
- The Bible, as presented in Monocolor. (Not that New World Edition with Black Jesus, mind you.)
- Alaska, pawn shops and swamps because, dammit, you go where the white people are, OK?
There’s only one historical topic that white people love more than any other, and that is the U.S. Civil War. It’s a fact: non-white students are allowed to cite any white person in the bibliography of their Civil War papers up to their Master’s program, and it counts for full credit!
So, where does this zeal come from? It’s not like it’s particularly complimentary to white history, what with slavery and all. Yet, we can’t stop flying the Confederate flag even in 2013.
For instance: a Veterans Affairs hospital in Virginia took down their Confederate flags when a black patient complained, discharged him two weeks early for his PTSD treatment and then put the flags right back up as soon as he was safely out the door. Even though he’s not the only patient to complain — and although VA Medical Center at Hot Springs only treated Union soldiers during the war — that hospital needed those Confederate flags.
Or when North Carolina displayed a Confederate flag in the statehouse to “historically” reenact what it would have looked like in 1863, it didn’t matter that they weren’t even flying the flag that would have flown in the statehouse in 1863. Sure, the Confederate flag you and I know wasn’t really the CSA flag in 1863 or any other time, but they needed to fly that flag.
Or when Commanche County, Texas pretends that April is Confederate History Month just to fly the flag over its courthouse. Even for just a month, they need to fly it.
Or Brad Paisley, the country music star who can’t go to Starbucks without wearing a Confederate flag: he claims that he doesn’t know it’s racist, even though he sang a whole song about why he kind of knows it is. Even still, he needs to wear that flag.
This isn’t zeal. What we’re really talking about here is addiction.
And you can’t just ask white people to quit the Civil War cold turkey. Especially the Confederacy. If Civil War addiction is pot (every gets into it for a little while when they’re young), then the need to fly the Confederate flag is like crack cocaine or heroin: it’s harder to quit because all the things that make it worse for you also make the high better.
You cannot beat the high white people get from the Confederacy. Imagine: it’s American history plus war, facial hair and the idea that, given the chance, it could happen again, only with the whiter people winning this time! This is the purest mountain of white stuff that skydiving, bungie jumping or any other extreme sport or ideology can’t top.
It’s why the VA Medical Center at Hot Springs could barely shoo Desert Storm veteran Craig DeMouchette out the door to get another sweet, sweet hit of Confederacy. Who cares if his PTSD — which he’s apparently had since at least 1991 — is cured, right?
Or why North Carolina can’t help relapsing over and over again. Maybe it’s because they’re still hanging out with South Carolina, which has had their own Confederate flag troubles since at least 2003.
And why towns in Texas invented the equivalent of “4-20 Day,” thinking that would make it suddenly OK to fly the Confederate flag in public if “everyone’s doing it.”
Even Brad Paisley’s caffeine addiction can’t overpower his need for a CSA fix. (Although it appears his sponsor, LL Cool J, and accompanying permissive attitude isn’t doing Paisley any favors.)
And that’s why white people know so much about the U.S. Civil War and yet, really, so little about it. It’s like getting medical marijuana facts from your local pot head. Sure, we know where it was grown and what THC stands for, but we’ll act (sometimes genuinely) surprised when anybody mention that smoking it will give us cancer the same way inhaling smoke from enough cigarettes or car fires will. (It’s also coincidentally why the State’s Rights argument gets recycled to defend smokers from anti-smoking laws. Or when the Man tries to limit how many car tires you can light on fire in a place of business.)
So, how do we cure this addiction? By preventing young people from getting hooked when they eventually learn about the Civil War. Through education, we can teach a generation that, while wearing gray uniforms and marching through fields for tourists may look like fun, that those uniforms are facsimiles of ones made by slaves for their masters. Or how most of those re-enactors probably hate themselves and would quit if they hadn’t put so much time and money into their historically accurate waistcoats.
In short, we have to expose young people to the ugliness of the U.S. Civil War — and Civil War addiction — to break the cycle. And then, maybe in another 50 years, we can start the debate over again when white Southerners try to fly the segregationist flag (or the actual flag these idiots keep trying to fly right now) during their centennial reenactments of the March to Selma.