Feature

Is 'Confederate History Month' racist?

The governor of Virginia has faced charges of racism for designating April as "Confederate History Month" without mentioning slavery. Did he need to?

Restarting a controversial tradition that began in the 1990s but died eight years ago under his Democratic predecessor, Virginia's Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell has designated April "Confederate History Month" as a tribute to the soldiers who fought and died for the South in the Civil War. Unlike the last such proclamation, however, McDonnell didn't mention slavery, explaining that it wasn't among the "most significant" causes of the Civil War for Virginia. He subsequently reversed himself and added anti-slavery language, but critics are still accusing him of racism. Are Confederate History Months — celebrated in several Southern states, with and without nods to slavery — inherently racist? (Watch an MSNBC discussion about Confederate History Month)

It's offensive to celebrate slavery: Confederate History Month is a "glorification of slavery, racism, and treason," says Frances Martel in Mediaite. And it's hugely offensive, even if, as McDonnell claims, it's "just for the money" tourism will bring to the state. No one is arguing that the Confederacy should be "erased from memory," or school history lessons, but dedicating an entire month to it "implies a level of admiration." "Virginia to celebrate treason, defeat with Confederate History Month"

It's worse to ignore the Confederacy: McDonnell was "dead wrong not to mention slavery," says Rick Moran in The Moderate Voice, but not for commemorating the courage and sacrifices of Southern soldiers who picked the wrong side of history. Many of them were "obscenely racist," but fewer than 10 percent owned slaves, and for the rest, the war really was about protecting "hearth and home," not slavery. "Is there any room in our common heritage for the Southern soldier?"

"Veneration of the Confederacy" is racist by definition: Whatever they believed personally, the Confederate soldiers waged war against the U.S. for "the 'freedom' to own black people as property," says Adam Serwer in The American Prospect. And if McDonnell and other Southerners are going to "honor" that fight, they should have the guts to say what it was about. "A four year war ... for independence."

There was a much better way to do this: McDonnell did belatedly nod to the "evil, vicious, and inhumane practice" of slavery, says Ed Morrissey in Hot Air, but it would have been better if he'd never picked this "needlessly provocative" fight over "slavery, racism, and...states rights issues." He could have saved himself, and Republicans nationwide, a big headache if he'd just proclaimed "a Civil War History Month." "McDonnell proclaims Confederate History Month in Virginia"

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