Many Americans have been compelled by the recent mass protests to seek a fuller understanding of United States history and particularly the African American experience in that history, up to and including ongoing racism, discrimination, and violence against people of color. Black bookstores in particular are being flooded with orders for literary works that portray African American experiences, historical studies that chronicle U.S. history from an African American experience, and books that offer sociological analyses of race and racism in the U.S. Even Amazon Prime created a category featuring films and television shows about African American life, culture, and history.
A fair portion of the nation, across racial and political lines, is attempting to re-examine U.S. culture, society, and history through the lens of race, and more specifically through the lens of an African American perspective in particular.
This hopefully critical re-examination has extended, of course, to monuments that don’t just memorialize certain dimensions of U.S. history but in fact honor them. Americans are reflecting not just on what happened in U.S. history but also on how we remember it—and what values our memorialization of history transmits in the present and going forward.
It’s one thing to remember the roles that the likes of Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee played in history for leading and fighting for the Confederacy. It’s another to heroicize them as having fought for the righteous and noble cause of enslaving other human beings.
The state-sponsored murder of George Floyd has arguably brought many in the nation to a tipping point, a potential great awakening when it comes to a willingness to accept the reality of racism in the U.S. and to interrogate and critique it.
Republican South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham is not among those many Americans willing to do some serious searching of his and the nation’s soul.
Quite the opposite.
Appearing on Fox & Friends, Graham descended into spewing a rant of hatred and racist incoherence, highlighting his disconnection from the national mood of reflection.
Perhaps he is playing to the Trump base and what he perhaps views as his electoral base in South Carolina, where he finds himself in a dead heat against Democratic contender Jaime Harrison for his Senate seat. But he’s even out of touch with NASCAR, which took the step recently of banning the Confederate flag at its events and stood behind African American driver Bubba Wallace, who recently found a noose hanging in his garage space.
His rant revealed the incoherence of racism itself. Here’s sample of his hate-filled diatribe against protesters seeking to have monuments celebrating pro-slavery militants from U.S. history removed:
“. . . The people doing this hate our country. They hate the way we were founded. They hate capitalism. They have no respect for religion. They have no respect for diversity of thought.”
“These people are the most radical people known to America . . . They want to destroy America . . . They hate America, and every symbol of our country, from our flag to a statue. They hate. They want to turn us into a socialist nation. They want to destroy the family unit as we know it.”
Basically, Graham’s engaging in a thoughtless, or thought-free, kitchen-sink approach in this debate. He will simply throw every rhetorical flourish and supposedly sacred icon at his opposition without providing any argument or explanation for his claims.
Those who do not want to honor figures in U.S. history who fought militantly for the right enslave African Americans somehow hate capitalism, religion, the family, and America. And they want to turn America socialist.
A lot of argument and explanation would be necessary to give any coherence to this perspective. Even if he explained himself with any shred of coherence, of course, he would only further reveal his own deep-seated racism—because that is what he defending.
Do we have to be racist, to yearn for slavery, to respect family, nation, and religion?
South Carolina voters will answer this question this November.
Let’s hope they answer with a modicum of wisdom.
Tim Libretti is a professor of U.S. literature and culture at a state university in Chicago. A long-time progressive voice, he has published many academic and journalistic articles on culture, class, race, gender, and politics, for which he has received awards from the Working Class Studies Association, the International Labor Communications Association, the National Federation of Press Women, and the Illinois Woman’s Press Association.
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