The loss of the Lost Cause

I have been of two minds regarding the pulling down of Confederate monuments in recent protests. First, I think obviously, we should not let the destruction of symbol substitute for substantive action to eliminate all forms of racism and bigotry. But second, we should not underestimate the power of symbol.

David Blight, much more eloquently than I ever could, explains how those symbols melded into myth and thus into action and even into law. Absolutely, racist symbolism should come down, but as Blight also explains, we must not forget how it is important.[1] So yes, Mississippi’s decision to remove the Confederate flag from its state flag[2] absolutely does matter.

But I still worry that the elite generally do not now find the Black Lives Matter movement a threat. Pulling down the statues might bother Donald Trump,[3] but I think most elites wouldn’t care one way or the other, except that the symbols upset some paying customers, which is probably why Mississippi did what it did.[4] There, the symbolic substitutes for the substantive.

  1. [1]David W. Blight, “Europe in 1989, America in 2020, and the Death of the Lost Cause,” New Yorker, July 1, 2020, https://www.newyorker.com/culture/cultural-comment/europe-in-1989-america-in-2020-and-the-death-of-the-lost-cause
  2. [2]W. Ralph Eubanks, “The Confederate Flag Finally Falls in Mississippi,” New Yorker, July 1, 2020, https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/the-confederate-flag-finally-falls-in-mississippi
  3. [3]British Broadcasting Corporation, “Trump orders statues be protected from ‘mob rule,’” June 27, 2020, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-53201784
  4. [4]W. Ralph Eubanks, “The Confederate Flag Finally Falls in Mississippi,” New Yorker, July 1, 2020, https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/the-confederate-flag-finally-falls-in-mississippi

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