A Hateful Heritage

Signs at Silent Sam

Reading signs posted at Silent Sam on the UNC Campus, after the Charlottesville riots.

It is hard to find words that seriously address the tragedy that occurred yesterday in Charlottesville, Virginia.  White-supremacists, Neo-Nazis, skinheads, and other groups came together to “Unite the Right”, the cause celebre du jour being the proposed removal of a prominent statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee.  The result was one dead counter-protester, a number of injured parties on both sides, and an ugly stain on our country’s national psyche.

For over twenty years, I’ve lived in the South, in a small college town not unlike Charlottesville.  The UNC campus features its own monument to the boys in gray.  Silent Sam stands as a prominent centerpiece in McCorkle Place, the symbolic heart of the campus.  University Trustees have placed a sixteen-year moratorium on renaming buildings or removing monuments.

There are other monuments honoring the Confederacy nearby, in Pittsboro, Durham, and Raleigh.  In fact, according to an article in the Raleigh News & Observer,  there are more Confederate monuments in North Carolina than in any other state except Georgia.   Most of these monuments were built long after the end of the civil war as symbols of the Lost Cause of slavery, during the Jim Crow era.  Silent Sam was erected in 1913.

The opponents of removing these monuments and other symbols of the Confederacy from the public square have built their arguments on a claim of honoring the historical heritage of their dead forebears who fought alongside General Lee.  But that argument has never really held up to scrutiny.

When Silent Sam was erected, it was fifteen short years after the Wilmington Race Riot of 1898, when the largely white Democrat party, having lost control of state government, staged the violent overthrow of duly elected bi-racial city officials, a coup d’etat on American soil.  When the statue was dedicated, Julian Carr, for whom my town is named, presided as the president of North Carolina’s United Confederate Veterans. In Carr’s speech, he praised the Confederates for preserving “the very life of the Anglo-Saxon race in the South,” and without a thought of decorum or decency bragged of horse-whipping a Negro until “her skirt hung in shreds.”  Such is the beloved heritage these statues represent.

Yesterday, if there was any further doubt or confusion about the real meaning of these symbols, it was all too easy to see in the sweaty, pasty-faced, undercut-coiffed faces of the alt-right supporters in Charlottesville.  Parading alongside Confederate flags, Nazi flags were openly on display, along with sundry banners festooned with white-supremacist iconography.  Signs reading “You will not replace us” and shouts of “Blood and Soil”, an infamous Nazi chant, were reported by witnesses in Charlottesville.

Let’s be clear, I have no difficulty recognizing a legitimate need to honor the valor of dead.  But we have an obligation to the truth as well.  Southern secession was clearly about slavery.  The state rights that Southerner’s fought for was the right to extend slavery in the West, and to ensure federal enforcement of the fugitive slave act.  Had the South won the civil war they surely would have extended the rights of slave owners to newly recognized territories, and indeed to the whole of our country.

The fundamental principle that human bondage depends on is a rejection of human equality across lines of race, tribal identity, or religion.  The white supremacists marching in Charlottesville could not have been less clear: they firmly believe white people are superior to any other racial group, and mistakenly believe that their identity as whites is under threat.

The truth is that there is no place for that kind of hate-driven ideology in today’s world.  The Confederate flag, Confederate monuments, and the hate-filled rhetoric they inspire must be recognized as cancers on our nation.  When apartheid was abandoned in South Africa, that nation embarked on a process of truth and reconciliation.  We’ve never had that kind of discussion about the Civil War, the Jim Crow era, or any of the tragic events of the civil rights era in the sixties.  We can’t simply sweep these issues under the rug.  In effect, the sixteen-year moratorium on removal of monuments introduced by the UNC trustees attempts to do just that, kicking the can of accountability down the road.

If ever there was an inflection point that demands a change, it is today.  In light of the events of the past forty-eight hours in Charlottesville, the time has come to remove Silent Sam and its legacy of hate from the UNC campus.

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Two Beats One but Worth the Hassle?

Lennon and McCartney.  Pierre and Marie Curie.  Watson and Crick. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards.  Jobs and Wozniak.  Joel and Ethan Coen.  Batman and Robin.  In technology, science, music, and movies, partnerships have been a fountain of creativity.  In fact and fiction, the idea of two mutually complementary partners forming a transcendent alliance that exceeds the abilities of either partner is ubiquitous.  It is the fundamental premise of the buddy movie, the perennial staple of Hollywood summer action flicks.

At the same time, solitary geniuses such as Isaac Newton, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, or Rembrandt van Rijn are often given special reverence for their unique talents.  But upon closer examination, these lone islands of genius are found to have either less known collaborative partners or competitive foils that propelled their work.  Newton famously battled with Leibniz over their differing approaches to the mathematical study of continuous change, Calculus.  Mozart’s sister Nannerl was a gifted musical talent in her own right and a confidante of her better-known brother.  Later, Mozart’s marriage to Constanze Weber was a fruitful collaboration in life, and even after his death, as Constanze assiduously promoted her late husband’s compositions.  Rembrandt’s patron and benefactor Constantijn Huygens served a critical role in bringing attention to his work, and his mistress, Hendrickje Stoffels, served as model and muse, and later, manager of his business interests.

Even in the best of collaborative partnerships, there is an element of competition that often rends the partnership.  John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were amicably close in the lead-up to the American Revolution, working together to draft the Declaration of Independence.  But, as time went on political differences over “big government” versus “small government” visions of federal power and other matters divided the two men.  John Adams, a Federalist, advocated for a strong central government, while Jefferson, a Democratic-Republican, championed state’s rights.  But in later life, perhaps as the sharpness of their disagreements were blunted by age, they renewed their friendship and mutual admiration.  They shared fond memories of youthful glory when they led the American colonies to shrug off the yoke of British imperialism.

And so it goes for many partnerships.  What begins as a fruitful meeting of the minds ends in tempestuous acrimony, as the competitive nature of the partnership comes to the fore.   Competition and collaboration, are they two sides of the same coin?

Perhaps that is why partnerships in the collaborative, creative sense have always eluded me.  I have ideas that I think could blossom with the right collaborative partner.   I have ideas for board games, businesses, and other creative projects, but my default gear is neutral.  Seeking out a partner might get me to switch gears.  If someone could tell me “No, you’re doing it wrong!” or “Why don’t we try it this way?”  But the inevitable competition just rubs me the wrong way – too stressful.

When people say they are going to a meeting to “network”, it just doesn’t click with me.   Maybe I’m just not cut out for it, for better or worse.  It is a recipe for regret.  Stress free regret.

Written in response to a WordPress.com Daily Prompt: Partners




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Hail to the Hypocrite in Chief

Image of Angry Donald Trump

45, Man-Baby in Chief

Donald Trump, in an apparent effort to bolster his claim that he would have won the popular vote if millions of “illegals” hadn’t voted for Clinton, has established a commission to investigate voter fraud.  Trump defended the commission’s mostly unanswered demand for troves of voter information with the following quote:1

“If any state does not want to share this information, one has to wonder what they’re worried about.  There’s something. There always is.” – Donald J. Trump,  in remarks to the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, July 19, 2017.


To which I say, “If a President, or candidate for President, does not want to share their tax returns with the American people, one has to wonder what they are worried about.  There’s something.  There always is.”

Forty-four states have refused to turn over materials to the voter fraud commission. Mississippi’s Secretary of State, Republican  Delbert Hosemann, issued a priceless response: “”They can go jump in the Gulf of Mexico and Mississippi is a great State to launch from.” 2 

Is there an award for ham-handed hypocrisy that Trump was trying to win with this statement?

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