RE: Thomas Sowell on The conferderate flag in SC

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From: Dan Kohn (
Date: Sun Jan 23 2000 - 19:37:39 PST

Interesting viewpoint, but I completely disagree.

>Any association of human beings -- from a
>marriage to a nation -- involves putting up with
>things we would rather not be bothered with.
>Only children insist that everything must be done
>their way.

This week's Economist has an essay making a connection I hadn't seen before,
which ties the debate about the confederate flag to issues of respecting
minority rights in other parts of the world. It really comes down to a
question of political leadership, and on this, the South Carolina
legislature (and the Republican presidential candidates) are failing
miserably. I should probably state my biases before I continue: I'm white,
I grew up in South Carolina, and I fought on neither side of the War of
Northern Aggression. However, just as "only children insist that everything
must be done their way", adults understand that compromise is one of the
keys to civilizations.


The bitterness of the arguments is a reminder that America’s historical
experience still shapes the country in a more powerful way than most
Americans like to think. People pride themselves on being open to new ideas.
History is bunk. The Internet changes everything. Yet such attitudes form
only part of the overall national picture. Elsewhere, history still matters,
for good and ill.... And in South Carolina, while supporters of the flag
talked of the state’s distinctive history, the protestors carried banners
saying: “Your heritage is my slavery”. This is, in large part, an argument
about the past.

Of the historical experiences shaping America, slavery still lurks most
poisonously in the bloodstream. Of course, that partly reflects the enormity
of the system itself and the scale of the conflict that ended it: the Civil
War (which began in South Carolina) was the first modern war.

But it also reflects a failure of political leadership over many years.
Other countries—notably Germany—have come to terms with yet worse horrors in
a far shorter time. They have done so partly because leaders have moved the
country away from the poisonous parts of its history. When Americans look at
conflicts abroad—in South Africa, say, or Northern Ireland, or Kosovo and
Bosnia—they expect the same thing. They want to see national leaders cajole
and persuade reluctant populations towards reconciliation. And when the
elites start talking about “heritage”, or cultural particularism, this is
impatiently recognised for what it is: code for damaging nostalgia or
cultural divisiveness.

By this standard, therefore, the reaction of the local South Carolina
legislators is disappointing, but perhaps not surprising. They started
flying the Confederate Southern Cross not in 1860, when the state seceded
from the union, but in 1962, as a reaction to the civil-rights legislation
of the time. So their current attachment to it smacks more of nostalgia—and
deliberate defiance of black feelings—than the inescapable clutches of
history. But they are the local leaders, and have the last say.

The bigger failure has been on the part of the national ones, especially the
Republican front-runners. (Both Democratic candidates said the flag should
come down; so did Bill Clinton.) George W. Bush, the governor of Texas,
refused to take sides in the dispute, arguing that it was just a local
issue, like some state zoning law. This was fairly unconvincing to begin
with. It was compounded because Mr Bush has not hesitated to express his
opinions about other state disputes which seem just as local, such as the
decision by the Vermont Supreme Court to recognise gay marriage at the end
of last year (he’s against that). “Compassionate conservatism” now seems
consistent with the Confederate flag.

                - dan

Daniel Kohn <>
tel:+1-425-602-6222  fax:+1-425-602-6223

-----Original Message----- From: John Boyer [] Sent: Sunday, 2000-01-23 17:01 To: FORK Cc: thanh Subject: Thomas Sowell on The conferderate flag in SC

Thomas Sowell's latest column, in which he takes up the issue of the confederate flag. Once again he shows that he is one of America's most valuable intellectual assets. Well, that's my opinion anyway. Here is the best quote... "Over the past hundred years or so, black leadership in general has gone from the likes of Frederick Douglass to the likes of Al Sharpton -- and that has not been up." --johnboy LAWRENCE OTIS GRAHAM is the author of a book about the black elite titled, "Our Kind of People." He is also one of them. However, at his formal wedding reception with 260 guests, he and his bride jumped over a broom.

This was an old custom from the days of the slave plantations, when of course there was no legal marriage for blacks. This action signified to all on the plantation that the couple were to be considered married.

Why such a ceremony on Manhattan's posh upper east side today? Because it "paid homage to our slave ancestors," Graham said. If that's what he wanted to do, so be it. But no one in his right mind would think that this was some sort of endorsement of slavery.

We also have to recognize that white people in the South had ancestors as well. Some of them want to pay them homage -- and they do it with the Confederate flag, which is as much a part of the long gone past as jumping over a broom.

Personally, as a black man, I am not thrilled at the sight of a Confederate flag. On the other hand, I am not thrilled at the sight of professional wrestling or Alan Alda, but I don't demand that they be banned.

Any association of human beings -- from a marriage to a nation -- involves putting up with things we would rather not be bothered with. Only children insist that everything must be done their way.

If the current campaign to get the Confederate flag off the state capitol in South Carolina were just an isolated controversy, it might not mean much.

But it is part of a much bigger trend of constantly scavenging for grievances.

There was a time when very real and very big grievances hit black people from all sides. You didn't have to look for them. You didn't have to do historical research or put people's statements under a microscope to see what they "really" meant.

Ask yourself: Who do you know personally who has benefited from having a chip on his shoulder? Chances are you are more likely to know someone who has messed himself up, in any number of ways, by going around with a chip on his shoulder.

Unfortunately, it has become very fashionable, and even lucrative, to encourage various groups to feel victimized and to go scavenging through history for grievances. Nothing is easier to find than sin among human beings, past and present, black and white and all the other colors of the rainbow.

If you want to spend your time and energy on this kind of project, just be aware that there are all sorts of other things on which you could be spending that time and energy. Admittedly, if you are a politician or a leader of some movement, this may be where your biggest payoff will come.

But it is not where the biggest payoff will come for those who listen to you.

In a global economy, where the Internet is truly a worldwide web, you can engage in transactions with people on every continent who neither know nor care what you look like, much less who your ancestors were. In this environment, to burden the younger generation of blacks or other minorities with the grievance mentality is to sell their birthright for a mess of pottage -- or for money and power for race hustlers.

There was a time when the civil rights organizations had a very important role to play and when they had leaders of a much higher caliber than those seen today. Over the past hundred years or so, black leadership in general has gone from the likes of Frederick Douglass to the likes of Al Sharpton -- and that has not been up.

In a sense, this too is a consequence of the rise of blacks and of the country in general. At a time when blacks were being lynched at a rate of two or three per week, there was a literally life and death need for the best people in the black community to do whatever they could to turn the tide.

If blacks were still being lynched today, no doubt many a black Wall Street lawyer or black Silicon Valley entrepreneur would be in the civil rights movement instead, bending his efforts toward saving lives instead of making money. But that has long since ceased to be the situation, so racial "leadership" now falls to the second-raters and the demagogues.

If the current civil rights establishment has any worthwhile role left to play, it will probably be by making more and more Americans sick of hearing about race, and therefore more and more inclined to judge each person as an individual.

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