Live Not by Racial Lies
By George Jefferson
One of the worst mistakes one can make in human relations is to presume familiarity and things in common with another person when, in fact, such commonality does not exist. He who offers this presumption shows thoughtlessness at best, and the recipient of this thoughtlessness (or worse) usually reacts with resentment-and rightly so.
A good illustration of social presumption is the recent statement of the Southern National Congress that “black and white southerners share a common culture, including religious faith, manners, and attitudes toward life that are part of our distinctiveness.”
This group apparently hopes to improve relations between blacks and whites in the South, a very fine goal. Certainly, it behooves men of good will to find some other basis for race relations in Dixie than the poisonous morass of white guilt and black resentment.
But good intentions never bring good outcomes if undertaken at the expense of truth. Let’s start with the word “Southerner.” Until recently, it was understood to mean a white native of the South. Generally, that’s the way people still understand it, particularly Southern black people. Simply poll them and ask how many view being a “Southerner” as an important part of their identity. Pretty darn few, you’ll find. To put it mildly, the word calls up images that don’t resonate in the black community. Honesty requires that we discuss Southerners and Southern blacks.
And do these two groups share a common culture? Well, in some respects. But the differences are real and far more than skin deep. Just consider the following questions. What do the two groups think about the proper role of the federal government? What do they think about Southern history (particularly the Confederate and Reconstruction eras)? Further, are they really the same in terms of such key cultural indicators as family life, work ethics, music and other entertainments, and speech? Anyone who knows the South knows the answers.
And if it can be said that Southerners and Southern blacks share the same protestant faith, one must note that they express that faith in highly divergent ways in terms of worship-style, emotional tenor, and emphasis of doctrine.
Many Southerners now, out of fear, push the line that they and Southern blacks are the same. And what are they afraid of ? Once their ancestors fearlessly advanced through hails of minnie balls and jagged steel. Now they are terrified by a simple six letter word: racist. This verbal bludgeon was the invention of the Communist Leon Trotsky. It was a propaganda assault-word to discredit peoples resisting Soviet power in defense of their culture and ethnicity. Nowadays it informs white people everywhere that their love for their own kind is genocidal hatred.
To placate the ghost of Trotsky, Southerners now invent legions of “black Confederates” who fought with their ancestors from Sumter to Appomattox. Like the alchemists of old, who sought to turn base metal into gold, they strain to transform Southern blacks into Southerners. Yet try as they may, they are no more successful than the alchemists.
The way out of these fruitless pursuits is the admonishment of Russian dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn: Live not by lies. One sin Southerners truly commit against Southern blacks is not being honest with them. Not too long ago, blacks often remarked that they preferred Southerners to Northerners because the Southerner, like him or not, would “let you know where you stood with him.”
Southerners, if they have any of their ancestors’ character left in them, might well seek the manhood to be so candid again, tempering that truthfulness, of course, with benevolence and diplomacy. Honest acknowledgment of differences-and the desire to preserve them-might do wonders to bring reconciliation on the basis of mutual respect. Two peoples might live in the South in reasonable harmony while appreciating, and even celebrating, their distinctions.