There will always be groups of people playing the victim in our society, and no matter the level of appeasement their insatiable appetite for attention will require outrage.
That hunger is a means of living for some. Throughout America, an entire industry has been made out of advocacy for various types of aggrieved peoples. These controversy-seeking victim industries paired with idle time can lead to all kinds of causes for manufactured outrage.
Take the NFL’s Washington Redskins for example.
For 82 years, the team has played under the name of the “Washington Redskins.” In the last four years, the word “Redskins” has been portrayed as the most important outrageously outrageous symbol that must be eradicated if we are to evolve as a society.
Once that battle is won, there will be another reason for outrage, then another and another and so forth. Sooner or later, that movement is going to be looking upon the South, and in particular Alabama, at some of its traditions.
The Wall Street Journal last week keyed in on Alabama’s celebration of Jefferson Davis birthday. To honor the Confederacy’s only president, state offices in Alabama are closed, giving the state’s 30,000 employees two consecutive three-day weekends (Memorial Day and the Jefferson Davis holiday) in most years.
The Davis holiday is not the only Confederate-themed holiday officially observed by the state government. Robert E. Lee shares a day with Martin Luther King in January. In April, Confederate Memorial Day is observed.
Whether it’s fair or not, the implication is that Alabama is so racist, we honor the likes of Jefferson Davis because that’s what racist people do, right?
Perhaps a case could be made to honor those who died fighting for the South in the Civil War on Confederate Memorial Day. You probably could even justify honoring Robert E. Lee. But from a historical standpoint, Jefferson Davis was not exactly a great leader. He was the loser of the Civil War. The South got its butt kicked and some would attribute that to Davis not having drawn up the winning game plan.
So why is it that 125 years after his death the state still insists on celebrating his birth?
There are a lot of the things in the South associated with the Civil War that Southerners are either resistant or reluctant to change — the display of Confederate flags in public places, confusing holidays honoring Confederate figures, highways named after Lee, Davis, Stonewall Jackson, etc., have nothing to do with an actual honest remembrance. However, neither do they have anything with promoting a racist society, as an outsider might suggest.
People just don’t want to be told what to do.
So it becomes a pushback against forced political correctness and then the fight escalates. Suddenly, more and more Confederate flags are popping up on the side of major highways throughout the South as an “in your face” gesture to say you can’t tell us what to do in a free country.
That rebellious attitude bleeds over into the youth of the South in some locales. Last year on a trip to a town tucked up in the northeastern corner of Mississippi called Corinth, one out of every five or so children under the age of 25 were wearing clothing with some sort of Confederate flag on it. That was definitely a culture shock to someone who has spent the better part of the last decade in Washington, D.C.
But even Washington isn’t immune to these relics. Across the Potomac River in the national capital’s largest suburb of Arlington, Va., two of the city’s major thoroughfares are Lee Highway and Jefferson Davis Highway.
You heard it here first. Inevitably, the grievance industry will be seeking out a new cause with which to stoke the fires of righteous indignation and these seemingly harmless state-endorsed elements tied to the Confederacy will be in their crosshairs.
As tempting as it might be to take this fight on Ben George-style and take to public forums and protest these outsiders trying to tell us what to do — ultimately that fight will be lost. The outrage component of the grievance industry is not going to die. Yet, it’s hard to imagine a sustainable movement existing to preserve Jefferson Davis Day.
When, not if, this fight comes, rather than have to face what could be a powder keg drawing all kinds of attention that will probably reopen all the wounds of the South’s indiscretions during the Civil Rights era, it would be a better use of time to seek out ways to honor the Confederacy that are not tied to the government.
In 2010, the University of Mississippi had to retire its long-time mascot Colonel Reb out of similar concerns. It’s unclear how Colonel Reb symbolized racism, but rather than try to change that perception, the school aired on the side of discretion and opted for a Black Bear to replace the colonel.
Now instead of having to recruit athletes at the bottom rung of the talent food chain, the Ole Miss moves up a notch or two and avoids that controversy.
The impartial observer in some other region of the United States without a dog in the fight is going to perceive it as the government or the state of Alabama endorsing racism. Even though that is not the case, it is going to be a hard sell to convince them otherwise.
This could be an issue with which the people of the state of Alabama will have to grapple a year from now, or it could be a generation from now. But when the time comes, remember that the other side doesn’t accept defeat.