The Confederacy, Oscars, and Social Justice

By February 4, 2016Blog


“Social Justice” is one of today’s manipulative phrases. In this case “justice” is defined as the equal distribution of wealth, opportunities, and privileges among all groups in a society. In past generations, the concept of “social justice” was referred to as “leveling”; a more accurate, and certainly more honest, description. Leveling is one of those Utopian goals often sought, but never attained. However, social justice zealots insist that until society’s resources and benefits are equally distributed, society’s defects will never be resolved. Coupled with this realignment of society is the discrediting of historical figures perceived as being out of step with today’s fashionable social trends.

Until fairly recently, the Lee family of Virginia has commanded the respect of the nation. Richard Henry Lee drafted the resolution proposing separation from England. His resolution led to the Declaration of Independence. Henry Lee III , known as Lighthorse Harry, was lauded for his bravery in the Revolutionary War – He was unanimously selected by members of Congress to write and deliver George Washington’s funeral oration. And, of course, Robert Edward Lee , Lighthorse Harry’s son, has been held in the highest esteem by Americans for a century and a half after his death.

In prior years you would find newspaper articles about Robert E. Lee during January, his birthday month. But today’s newspapers, even those in Southern cities, are reluctant to print tributes to General Lee. Some newspapers will still permit columns favorable to Lee, but they are not always printed on January 19th, this great man’s birthday. They are usually printed on a later date, instead, so as not to interfere with the overblown coverage of Martin Luther King Day. MLK Day celebration occurs on January 18th, but media coverage begins long before that day and continues without let up during the days following.

Excessively hyped eulogizing of MLK Day and the disdainful rejection of Robert E. Lee Day are commonplace with today’s journalists. Media believes that appeasing a “previously disadvantaged group” justifies the negative treatment of other groups. A complaint from a minority group, regardless of its merit, can set off a full-blown socio/journalistic protest movement. And the remedies demanded are usually out of proportion to the grievance expressed. The South has long been the principal victim of this media condescension, but the stratagem is being expanded.

Complaints about the paucity of Oscars received by minorities forced the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to propose extreme measures to insure that future awards always include minorities. The proposals involve doubling the number of women and minority members over the next four years; removing voting rights from members not involved in a film within the current decade (this will primarily exclude votes of experienced older white males), restructuring committees to reflect diversity, and more.

Future annual Oscars for minorities should be assured once these alterations are implemented. But if minorities still feel that they are not receiving enough awards, further changes must be made to the Academy’s procedures. And this is what has happened with the discrediting of Southern heritage. Regardless of the magnitude of heritage eliminations, the offense felt by minorities was not satisfactorily allayed. More sanitizing of Southern heritage was always demanded.

A negative aspect of the Academy’s hastily made changes to placate minorities is that the changes will be an encroachment on the rights and attainments of other members. This mirrors the downside of the ongoing elimination of Southern traditions and heroes. The capitulation to minority complaints reached the point where the rights of others were being impinged on. Still media consistently upholds the Jihad against all things Southern and, so far, it has defended the assaults on the selection of the Academy’s Oscars.

The complaints directed against the Academy didn’t just concern actors and actresses but also minorities involved in other components of film-making, including directors. So we should anticipate more awards for minority-directed films, especially films with slavery and racism-related themes. These types of films have been around for a while, always set in Southern states of course, as the North’s use of slaves has not been found objectionable.

These films persist because many Americans have basically a one-dimensional view of history. Most know that the immense wealth of New England families resulted from the slave trade. But they may not be aware that after the slave trade was outlawed, the North continued to profit from slavery. As the South was primarily an agricultural region, Southern plantations relied on the financing of commercial interests in the Northeast. Banks loaned the planters money; insurance companies insured slaves and crops, industrial organizations manufactured cotton gins and other necessary equipment, shipping companies shipped cotton to overseas markets, brokers handled the planters’ investments, and so on.

It is estimated, that as a result of the exorbitant commissions and fees charged by Northern commercial organizations, 40 cents of every dollar earned by Southern planters ended up in Northern pockets. Ironically, although North and South were both involved in and benefited from slavery, the North has somehow been absolved of any culpability in the institution. The South alone bears the guilt of slavery and, consequently, its heroes are being discredited.

Discrediting Southern historical figures is often a political ploy to curry favor with certain voting blocs. This is the case with Georgia Governor Nathan Deal’s furtive removal of Robert E. Lee’s birthday from the official State holiday list. In a truly democratic society, a radical alteration of state holidays should be subjected to a state-wide referendum, rather than surreptitiously imposed behind closed doors. But Governor Deal and the Atlanta bureaucrats assumed that Georgians would be too docile to complain. Indeed, many Georgians did not complain, but others refused to thumb their noses at Southern heroes. They instituted their own celebrations of the anniversary of Robert E. Lee’s birthday, without State sanction.

Governor Deal’s presumptuous attempt to eliminate the Lee holiday is part of a national trend to disparage hallmarks of American culture: literature, films, monuments, holidays – anything that conflicts with social zealots’ notions of what is appropriate. However, the public didn’t offer any serious objections as long as aspects of the South’s culture were being extinguished. But when the public heard demands that the Washington Monument and the Jefferson Memorial be eliminated, it realized that cultural genocide had gone too far.

Washington, Jefferson, and Lee are great American heroes. Outstanding men, who should be judged on the entirety of their lives rather than selected aspects that are at variance with today’s political sensibilities. It is illogical and unfair to judge persons of past generations by the standards of the current generation. Faulting Washington, Jefferson, and Lee for not rising above their time and place pertaining to slavery, is like condemning Jane Austen for not being a Feminist.

Much to the chagrin of social justice busybodies, Americans haven’t been convinced to reject their Founding Fathers. And opinion polls show that the majority of Americans still believe that the South’s past represents heritage rather than hate. Also, the tenacity of the South’s respect for Robert E. Lee and Southern heritage is still intact, too solid to be dismissed as a shibboleth.

Gail Jarvis

Gail Jarvis is a Georgia-based free-lance writer. He attended the University of Alabama and has a degree from Birmingham Southern College. As a CPA/financial consultant, he helped his clients cope with the detrimental effects of misguided governmental intrusiveness. This influenced his writing as did years of witnessing how versions of news and history were distorted for political reasons. Mr. Jarvis is a member of the Society of Independent Southern Historians and his articles have appeared on various websites, magazines, and publications for several organizations. He lives in Coastal Georgia with his wife.

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