(Readers of this post will be interested in the story of Curtis Flowers, a native of Winona, Mississippi who will soon go on trial for the sixth time on the same murder charges.)
According to a Rasmussen poll, only 18% of Texans would vote to secede from the United States of America if the vote were taken today.
An additional 7% would like time to mull it over.
In short, one quarter of the Texas voting population is willing to follow Governor Rick Perry into a new Texas Republic.
My guess is that the overwhelming majority of the secessionist folks are Republicans. Since the solid Republican base has been estimated at about 39% of the electorate it could be argued that Perry’s party is evenly split on the issue.
Maybe the Governor is just talking like a proud Texan. Everybody knows that native Texans feel more tied to their state than to their country. But successionist talk has been a common staple of the Southern neo-Confederate movement since the days of Brown vs. Board. Successionist rhetoric has traditionally been the province of those who long for the restoration of the Confederacy.
I just finished reading Neo-Confederacy: A Critical Introduction: a fascinating study of the most sophisticated strain of Southern racism written by a group of authors, many of them at least loosley affiliated with the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Edward Sebesta, a Dallas-based researcher who is probably the national authority on the issue, was part of the editorial team. I had never heard of either Sebesta or neo-Confederates until he contacted me a few weeks ago.
You can find Ed Sebesta’s blog here and his extensive essay on the prevelance of neo-Confederate mythology here. It’s pretty dense stuff, but the Dallas writer breaks some important new ground and deserves a hearing.
Sebesta has coined the term “banal white nationalism” to describe the unexamined assumption, especially common in the South, that America is a white nation, created by white folks primarily for white folks.
Banal white nationalism is contrasted to the kind of explicit white nationalism you will get from hardcore neo-conferate groups like the League of the South, the Council of Conservative Citizens and the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
There is nothing faintly banal about these organizations. They are committed to the values of the Old South, they feel utter contempt for the civil rights movement, they associate northerners with godless socialism and the Southland with orthodox Christianity, and they are committed to the principle of white supremacy. If neo-Confederates had their way in this wicked world they would re-establish the Confederacy in a heartbeat. Non-caucasians wouldbe allowed to live in this new-old realm so long as they understood that white is the color of normal.
Failing that, neo-Confederates will settle for “states rights”.
Banal white nationalism is a largely unexamined and unacknowledged creed rooted in the assumption that white people are normal Americans.
White nationalism is shaped by the kind of Confederate mythology usually associated with Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind, and D.W. Griffith’s the Birth of a Nation: a highly sentimental and idealized vision of a pristine Southland despoiled by the Yankee invader. In the popular mind, this mythos is wedded to public school mythology about Plymouth Rock Puritans, the heroes of the Revolutionary War, and the glories of Manifest Destiny.
When all of the heroes you read about in the history books are white you naturally assume that America is essentially a white nation. You will continue to think this way even if you are told repeatedly that you live in a pluralistic nation united by a common adherence to the American Constitution.
Stories trump abstractions every time.
I see three varieties of white nationalism.
First, there are crude racists of the KKK variety; the folks that attract attention by dressing funny and mouthing slogans that are no longer palatable in the public square. These are the people Americans love to hate. In fact, they are the only species of racist most people acknowledge.
Then you have the explicit white nationalists who are dedicated to the principle of white supremacy and dream dreams of a new Southern Confederacy. Explicit white nationalists denounce the civil rights movement as a federal conspiracy, lament the profligacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., and perpetuate every minority stereotype in the book. However, since they are well educated, write and speak standard English and don’t dress up in funny clothes most white Americans see them as normal Americans no matter how undemocratic and intemperate their rhetoric becomes.
Finally, we have Sebesta’s banal white nationalists, everyday Americans who see white as the color of normal. Although these people tend to be non-ideological, they have imbibed the public school historical mythology and embraced its implications. The television teaches them to honor civil rights icons like Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks and they willingly comply. Banal white nationalists see American as a white nation that is friendly to racial minorities.
A solid majority of white Americans fall into one of these three categories. Banal white nationalism is dominant in the Northern states. In the Deep South it’s okay to embrace explicit white nationalism so long as you choose your nouns and adjectives with care.
Suppose I am right; what impact would the prevelance of white nationalism have on the behavior of police officers and how would it impact the legal system?
Black defendants would be at a huge disadvantage with white prosecutors, judges and juries. At best, they are seen as resident aliens with only provisional rights.
If the tenets of white nationalism are fundamentally patriarchal, anti-egalitarian (and therefore undemocratic) what is the practical import of the due process protections hallowed by the US Constitution. As a practical matter, do these lofty principle really apply to black and brown people?
Now, where does Governor Rick Perry fall on the ideological continuum I have just described? Does he see America as a gloriously pluralistic mix of color, culture and ethnicity, or is he some species of white nationalist.
In the tradition of the Southern governers who have gone before, Perry is speaking the language of state’s rights. That doesn’t necessarily make him a racist or a white supremacist. There is nothing inherently racist about seeking a balance between federal and state power. But we all know what Southern governers meant by state’s rights in 1860 and 1957, and concerns should be raised when politicians toss around this kind of rhetoric.
When they’re talking secession it just gets worse.
Two points. First, Governor Rick Perry is a proud member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. Second, the SCV has been moving in a radical, neo-confederate direction since 2002 and is now run by blatant racists.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that Perry can be identified with the SCV’s recent extremism. In the 1990s, the group had a strong anti-racist faction and received commendations from Bill Clinton. Maybe Governor Perry would be shocked if he knew what was going on.
But until the Governor’s allegiance to an increasingly racist organization is clarified friends of justice will be left with an uneasy feeling.