Let us know how we're doing! Take Pipe Dream's Readership Survey
Opinion

Opposite sides of history combined, poorly

A lot of us have had the pleasure of visiting the Deep South at some time in our lives, enjoying the hot sun and comfort food. Many even experienced a combination of disgust and amusement at the sight of Confederate flags flying with pride.

While here in New York we recently celebrated Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday by remembering his tremendous success in advancing the Civil Rights Movement and showing our gratitude for his part in creating the country we live in today, the holiday is celebrated a little … differently elsewhere in the United States. Surprise, surprise: it’s the South that once again refuses to accept history.

As irony would have it, Dr. King’s birthday is only four days apart from notable Confederate Army General Robert E. Lee’s. So why not just combine the two men’s birthdays into one day off from school or work? Come on, we do it every year with Abe Lincoln’s and George Washington’s birthdays!

Absurd? Racist? Or completely appropriate? That is up for discussion, apparently. King’s birthday may be a national holiday, but in many schools in states such as Arkansas, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia and Virginia, Lee and King’s birthday celebrations are combined. How, though, is it possible to celebrate a man who devoted his life to fighting for racial equality and a man who devoted his life to preserving slavery together?

It’s true that Lee was a great commander, commended for his work by many. But if it’s your job to maintain and spread the suffering of millions of people, should your success be celebrated? In reality, is it any less ridiculous to celebrate Lee’s birthday than to celebrate any of those tried at the Nuremberg Trials? They all worked for the same basic outcome: the complete and utter disregard for human life — a mass genocide.

The Holocaust will forever be an embarrassment to Germany, as will slavery to the United States. The historical lessons from these events must be taught forever, but in no way does that mean they deserve celebration. Celebrating Lee’s birthday at all is offensive in itself, but to combine it with King’s birthday is nothing short of disgraceful, not to mention awkward.

This is a huge slap in the face not only to King, but also to all those who risked their lives to fight for equality and anyone today who appreciates the dedication of those who came before us. It is a clear, but nonetheless typical, attempt by some Southerners to distort history and hide from the humiliation that came from their ancestors, while still flaunting their racism proudly.

The hypocrisy of embracing the history of the United States by celebrating someone who devoted all of his talents and skills to destruction is just baffling and paradoxical. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is an American hero and General Robert E. Lee is literally an American traitor. Celebrating these two leaders together sends a very confusing message, giving contradictory views of what’s right and wrong.

As the rest of the country progresses, a large portion of the South truly just refuses to let go, and the regional divide is growing wider by the year. Just this past May, the polling firm Public Policy Polling revealed that 29 percent of likely GOP voters in Mississippi believe that interracial marriage should be illegal. In 2012, Todd Akin, a Missouri congressman, and Richard Mourdock, the treasurer of Indiana, shocked the country with their remarks on rape; unfortunately, they were far from the craziest candidates coming from the South.

A personal favorite would have to be Charlie Fuqua, a legislative candidate from Arkansas who endorsed the death penalty for rebellious children (while obviously maintaining his anti-abortion stance) and the deportation of all Muslims. Fuqua received 30 percent of votes in his district — 30 percent!

The Civil War ended in 1865 and here we are 148 years later with what can at times seem like two entirely different worlds. Stereotyping all people in the southern United States as racist and outdated would be an astounding generalization and just blatantly false. As would it be to say that racism doesn’t exist in the North. But to ignore the overwhelming pattern would just be idiotic.

Views expressed in the opinion pages represent the opinions of the columnists.