Distracted by Flags and Fountains

by William Skink

Montana’s leading Democrat blog, MT Cowgirl, has squeezed as much local political juice as possible from the tragedy that occurred at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, last month. Of the 4 posts about a “confederate fountain” in Helena, this one has the best comment thread. I found myself nodding in agreement to this lengthy comment from Rob Kailey:

I’m beginning, more and more, to see this kerfuffle as a game of words, as if words actually control thinking, and not vice-versa. Don actually made a terrific point above in pointing out that Montana no longer uses disparaging words to refer to objects, things. We are right to do so because words like “squaw” are demeaning and diminutive to people who still walk and breath and join the American experience.

The Confederacy no longer exists. That was settled, as noted above, at the Appomattox Court House. It was settled by executive order from President Lincoln. There is no longer a Confederacy, it is just history. Yet history can’t be compartmentalized, sanitized. The very same South Carolinians who fired first on a union fort in Confederate territory were the sons and daughters of the South Carolinians who fought savagely, brutally, against the British who occupied “US” soil as according to the Declaration of Independence. Heroic traitors to traitorous monsters in less than a hundred years, right?

150 years after that, we are getting upset that a water feature bears the name of a long gone regime. Meanwhile, we have buildings, hospitals, lakes, monuments and roads bearing the names of Copper Kings and mining barons, the very people who hired thugs to kill workers for the love of money. Marcus Daly? Clark? Holter? Davis? They jumped claims, stole, murdered and incited riots. But they’re good Montanans so no outrage is forthcoming concerning the legacy of their words. Or … it’s possible that people are comfortable with a legacy that’s gone, just a part of history. Another example. Many of you may have visited the “Big Hole Battlefield”. It wasn’t a Battlefield, it was a slaughter of innocents. The visitor’s center makes that quite clear, but yet on every map you still see those words. “Big Hole Battlefield”. It’s strange to me that people are getting so het up about the words “Confederate fountain”, words that are meaningless to anyone save that they refer to a water feature in a park in Helena. So het up, in fact, that other commenters are willing to wish damnation on those who don’t find this a *really big deal*.

There is a part of me that absolutely agrees with Greg Strandberg, above. Who’s going to pay for these alterations that give folk the good feels? The folk of Helena will pay for the placard update, a small price, no doubts. The Democrats of Montana will pay for wasted effort on a another PC boondoggle. It won’t cost money, it will cost votes. Ultimately, it costs vision for the future of Montana because people are so concerned with it’s fantasy of past.

When the fight against racism is relegated to words and symbols, the fight against structural racism is ignored. That’s not to say there isn’t benefit to chalking up a victory in the symbolic fight, with the Confederate battle flag finally being removed the capitol of South Carolina. It feels like tides are turning when even Republicans acknowledge fighting for the Confederate flag is no longer a defensible position.

That said, as the optics and rhetoric adapt to the persistent eruptions of violent, overt racism, it should be asked: is substance following suit? And if not, why?

Here’s Paul Street describing America’s subterranean racism:

A different level of race and racism has to do with how the nation’s daily capitalist institutions, social structures, and ideologies function. Here we are talking about how labor markets, the financial sector, the real estate industry, the educational system, the criminal justice complex, the military state, the corporate system, and capitalism more broadly work to deepen, maintain, and/or reduce racial oppression and inequality.

At the first, surface and symbolic level, racism has experienced significant defeats in the United States since the rise of the Civil Rights Movement in the middle and late 1950s. Public bigotry has been largely defeated in the nation’s corporate-crafted public culture. Prejudiced whites face public humiliation when they voice openly racist sentiments in a nation that took “Whites Only” signs down half a century ago. Favorably presented Black faces are visible in high and highly public places across the national media and political landscape. The United States, the land of slavery, put a Black family in the White House six years and eight months ago. The new attack on the Confederate Flag is another moment in this long Civil Rights revolution over public-symbolic racism.

At the deeper, more covert institutional and societal level, however, racism is alive and well. It has not been liquidated beneath the public and representational surface – not by a long shot. It involves the more impersonal and (to be fair) the more invisible operation of social and institutional forces and processes in ways that “just happen” but nonetheless serve to reproduce Black disadvantage in the labor market and numerous other sectors of American life. These processes are so ingrained in the social, political, and institutional sinews of capitalist America that they are taken for granted – barely noticed by the mainstream media and other social commentators. This deeper racism includes widely documented racial bias in real estate sales and rental and home lending; the funding of schools largely on the basis of local property wealth; the excessive use of high-stakes standardized test-based neo-Dickensian “drill” and grill curriculum and related zero-tolerance disciplinary practices in predominantly black public schools; the concentration of black children into over-crowded and hyper-segregated ghetto schools where a highly disproportionate share of the kids are deeply poor; rampant and widely documented racial discrimination in hiring and promotion; the racist “War on Drugs” and the related campaign of racially hyper-disparate mass black incarceration and criminal marking. The technically color-blind stigma of a felony record is “the New N word” for millions of Black Americans subject to numerous “new Jim Crow” barriers to employment, housing, educational and other opportunities.

At this deeper level, the symbolic victories hold less traction. Removing flags won’t change the persistence of structural racism and adding a plaque to a water fountain won’t stop the push by white supremacists to make the Northwest their new Rhodesia.

The Civil War was fought to preserve an economy based on overt slavery, the kind with shackles and receipts of sale for human beings. The only way to justify this economic system was for whites to believe the pigment of their skin endowed them with superiority. This belief not only continues, but, I would argue, is exacerbated by economic conditions and cultural ignorance.

This is where Democrats fail.

What’s the point of celebrating symbolic wins when the structural reality persists? As white liberals celebrated Obama’s electoral victory, Obama chose to protect the Wall Street perpetrators of a subprime loan system that was overtly racist. This has been proven in court, and some of the banks have had the proverbial slap on the wrist, like Wells Fargo in 2012:

Wells Fargo settled a lawsuit brought for by the Justice Department for pitiful sum of $175 million dollars yesterday. Why do I describe the sum of $175 million dollars pitiful? Well first, this is Wells Fargo, one of the megalithic banking organizations that dominate the financial sector in our country. $175 million is a slap on the wrist for the, merely the cost of doing business.

However, the primary reason is what they did. Wells Fargo deliberately and illegally put minority home buyers in more costly sub-prime mortgages than other home buyers. In short, they used the race of their mortgage customers as the determining factor in how much they would charge them for these crap mortgages they peddled, which is outright racial discrimination on a mass scale.

Year after year, Obama made a lot of noise about going after perpetrators of mortgage fraud. But that was mostly all that happened, noise. Some may even be tempted to call Obama’s claims lies:

Two recent reports show that Obama and his Administration lied when they promised to prosecute Wall Street executives who had cheated outside investors and deceived homebuyers when selling mortgages to them.

On May 20, 2009, at the signing into law of both the Helping Families Save Their Homes Act and the Fraud Enforcement and Recovery Act, President Obama said: “This bill nearly doubles the FBI’s mortgage and financial fraud program, allowing it to better target fraud in hard-hit areas. That’s why it provides the resources necessary for other law enforcement and federal agencies, from the Department of Justice to the SEC to the Secret Service, to pursue these criminals, bring them to justice, and protect hardworking Americans affected most by these crimes. It’s also why it expands DOJ’s authority to prosecute fraud that takes place in many of the private institutions not covered under current federal bank fraud criminal statutes — institutions where more than half of all subprime mortgages came from as recently as four years ago.”

Then, in the President’s 24 January 2012 State of the Union Address, he said: “Tonight, I’m asking my Attorney General to create a special unit of federal prosecutors and leading state attorneys general to expand our investigations into the abusive lending and packaging of risky mortgages that led to the housing crisis. (Applause.) This new unit will hold accountable those who broke the law, speed assistance to homeowners, and help turn the page on an era of recklessness that hurt so many Americans. Now, a return to the American values of fair play and shared responsibility will help protect our people and our economy.”

However, two years later, the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Justice issued on 13 March 2014 its “Audit of the Department of Justice’s Efforts to Address Mortgage Fraud,” and reported that Obama’s promises to prosecute turned out to be just a lie. DOJ didn’t even try; and they lied even about their efforts. The IG found: “DOJ did not uniformly ensure that mortgage fraud was prioritized at a level commensurate with its public statements. For example, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Criminal Investigative Division ranked mortgage fraud as the lowest criminal threat in its lowest crime category. Additionally, we found mortgage fraud to be a low priority, or not [even] listed as a priority, for the FBI Field Offices we visited.” Not just that, but, “Many Assistant United States Attorneys (AUSA) informed us about underreporting and misclassification of mortgage fraud cases.” This was important because, “Capturing such information would allow DOJ to … better evaluate its performance in targeting high-profile offenders.”

Democrat apologists can say what they want about Obama’s record, but to me, the record speaks for itself. While the optics of Obama eulogizing one of the nine dead black victims of the Charleston massacre may be nice to see, on the surface, beneath the surface structural racism persists, while opportunities to make substantive changes have been squandered by the Obama regime.

There’s been a lot of talk about the post-Civil War propaganda to recast the Southern cause as one of States Rights instead of slavery. I think that’s the wrong conversation for us to be having. Instead I think we should be discussing how the Civil War didn’t really abolish slavery, it just forced one of the more odious methods of labor exploitation to evolve into using other means to oppress minority populations, like the criminal justice system’s reliance on the racist drug war and an economic system that uses debt to enslave entire countries.

But then that would bring up Democrat complicity in the perpetuation of these systems of oppression, and that’s just not good for Democratic electoral politics, right?

About Travis Mateer

I'm an artist and citizen journalist living and writing in Montana. You can contact me here: willskink at yahoo dot com
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15 Responses to Distracted by Flags and Fountains

  1. It appears to me that party politics is in large part nothing more than a quest for perceived moral superiority. As I like to stop, Demcorats are morally inferior to Republicans, and vice versa.

    For myself, I worry very little about race other than to be sure equality in the eyes of the law is enshrined. Everything else is up to people on the ground. You cannot do for others what they must do for themselves. No matter how badly you want to do the right thing, It does not work. The schoolyard bully only stops when his victims stand up to him.

    Chris Rock does a devastating routine on why blacks dominate sports and why they don’t dominate scholastically. I won’t repeat it here, as people would be offended. But do look it up. Rock has a way of saying things that are true without getting himself shot. (I like his line about marriage: “Remember, you were not her first choice.”)

    Here’s the link with a space in tech middle so it won’t play here. It’s blunt. https://www.you tube.com/watch?v=DLKvYB7CeAY

    Regarding “recasting” the Civil War as being about states rights, that is the most obvious part of the constitution that Lincoln violated, as those states absolutely had the right to secede. But that was a minor shredding or a larger document that was routinely torn apart with every Confederate victory. And it would not hurt to read the Southern side of that war, as the version we read these days has been Spielberged, or turned to sloppy sentimentality. It’s far more complex than mere slavery. Racist attitudes dominated the north as well as the south.

  2. Rob Kailey says:

    Very well said. Craig Moore and I have now been banned from that website because we would not join the Democratic campaign of optical illusion, and ‘right-thinking purge’. ‘We care so much about race, and prove it by railing against a fountain bearing words’, they say. Yet Montana, with the fourth largest Native population, still fights over white control of water. Water. All the while, it seems, Montana Democrats think re-fighting the civil war with the Confederates turned to monsters (Vampires maybe?) will somehow correct the number of seats in legislature that they’ve bled for 25 years.

    • the behavior of that moderator is weird, for sure. the snarky tone is especially odd.

    • Craig Moore says:

      Rob, I see where you are once again allowed to comment, for now. I am still blocked. IF an apology is what is required, that will never happen in this situation as I did not offer any offense. I wll not genuflect before such a display of mendacious tyranny.

  3. Eric says:

    Many people believe that the Dems think that adding an attack on Southern Culture to their playbook will garner them support somehow. I think they are wrong.

    As I see over a dozen GOP candidates smelling blood in the water, and drooling over a chance to run against Hillary, I’m thinking that the whole Confederate flag issue may be just a distraction, something to delay Presidential politics. It’s a tactic that’s worked for the Clintons before, if you take the Ken Starr investigation, their tactic was delay, delay, delay, until finally the Starr Report came out, and they started yelling about how little THREE YEARS of investigation turned up. Or President Clinton bombing an aspirin factory three days after his Grand Jury appearance.

    It’s been the same on recent issues, like Benghazi, Hillary’s email scandal, etc., where once again it’s been to dodge and delay.

    So I’m thinking there is deeper political reasons for the new assault on Southern Culture – but the pieces aren’t all in place yet.

  4. steve kelly says:

    It is time in the election cycle to calm things down, which apparently requires a ban the online distupters. 4 & 20 must have been deemed beyond control. Maybe this is so the data mining operation and new algorhythmic models can be tweaked to near perfection for millions more individual voters in 2016. You and I are being “followed,” and not just by the NSA.

    “Few events in American life other than a presidential election touch 126 million adults, or even a significant fraction that many, on a single day. Certainly no corporation, no civic institution, and very few government agencies ever do. Obama did so by reducing every American to a series of numbers. Yet those numbers somehow captured the individuality of each voter, and they were not demographic classifications. The scores measured the ability of people to change politics—and to be changed by it.” http://www.technologyreview.com/featuredstory/509026/how-obamas-team-used-big-data-to-rally-voters/

  5. Big Swede says:

    Breaking news.

    “Seven people were killed this morning when a Confederate flag walked into an Alabama shopping mall and started shooting.

    According to local reports, the flag entered Cherrywood Mall outside Huntsville armed with two AK-47 assault rifles, a P 228 handgun and several grenades. It immediately proceeded to unload its ordinance on unsuspecting shoppers.

    In addition to those killed, 23 people were injured and are currently being treated in area emergency rooms. Several are in critical condition and not expected to survive.

    The flag’s motivations are uncertain at the moment. However, according to witnesses the flag did specifically target White people with Northern accents.

    “The flag chased us down the hallway screaming ‘Die, Yankees Die!’, says Justin Anderson, an aeronautical engineer originally from New Hampshire. “Luckily flags don’t move very fast, so my girlfriend and I managed to outrun it.”

    Lucy Patterson, a homemaker from New Jersey wasn’t so lucky. Both her legs were blown off when the flag lobbed a hand grenade at her feet.

    “It looked straight into my eyes, pulled the pin, and threw a deathball my way,” she says. “It was so cold-blooded. Almost as if it weren’t human.”

    Shortly thereafter the flag turned the gun on itself, shooting itself in the pole several times. Rushed to Huntsville Beth-Israel Medical Center, it was pronounced dead on arrival.

    Confederate flags have increasingly been committing mass shootings in the South. Although retailers like Wal-Mart and Amazon have belatedly banned their sale, the existing stockpile of flags should be considered armed and extremely dangerous.

    “It’s a real tragedy,” says Bret Michaels, the CEO of retailer Wal-Mart, “We should have stopped selling Confederate flags sooner. Think of how many flag-on-human shootings we could have prevented.””

  6. Rob Kailey says:

    A terrific article in the Atlantic about Lincoln Heights, precisely illustration your point, Lizard.


    • Big Swede says:

      Let’s end racist zip codes.

    • Craig Moore says:

      Rob, thanks for the link. Very informative.

    • Black have two choices: Wait for whites to nicen up, or take matters into their own hands.

      The former will never happen. When they did the latter in the 50’s and 60’s, FBI and company systematically murdered their leaders. The government has always feared an uprising, and has been proactive about it.

      It sucks to be a black person in the USA.

      • Eric says:

        That’s not possible Mark.

        The USA elected Barack Hussein Obama twice, and he was to be the post-racial, post-partisan healer of this nation. Blacks, Whites, Latinos, and Asians are now sitting around in a circle singing Kum Ba Ya together, the nations of the world love us, and thanks to the Stimulus, the economy is roaring, with sagging unemployment, high wages, and peace throughout the world.

        Did I miss anything? Here’s a good excerpt from ‘American Thinker’ a week ago –

        Exchanges established by the federal government are exchanges established by the state. Rachel Dolezal is black. Iran will honor an agreement not to develop nuclear weapons. ISIS is a JV team. There’s an epidemic of sexual assaults on college campuses. Michael Brown had his hands up and pleaded “don’t shoot.” Caitlyn Jenner is a woman. Obamacare is working. 2+2 doesn’t necessarily equal 4. The polar ice caps are disappearing. The IRS is doing a decent job. The border is secure. We’ve ended two wars responsibly. Hillary Clinton turned over all work-related e-mails. An $18,200,000,000,000 debt can grow without mention. People who burn down buildings and overturn cars aren’t thugs. The OPM hack is manageable. We’ve reset relations with Russia. Entitlement reform can be kicked down the road. We’re more respected around the world. Lower GDP is the sign of a better economy.

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