I completely understand. Many people, faculty and students have no love for the right in American politics today. After all, I will be the first to tell you that we deserve whatever is coming in 2020. However, there’s been a troubling hyperbole being pushed inside a classroom here at Bates that I wish to address. Some readers will look at the title of this article, smirk, and be on their merry way. But for those of you that have made it this far, allow me to explain why throwing the South under the bus just because you don’t like the right is a lazy and simplistic way to lay the blame for today’s polarization on a society and a way of life that died a long time ago.
Think of the first caricature that forms in your brain when I say the word “Southerner.” Many of you see what you’ve learned in history class: a white mob standing around the body of a lynched black man. A generation ago that is what Southerners were. That is the picture that a recent article examined in Professor Stark’s Moral Philosophy class painted. Let me be clear, Professor Stark can teach anything she wants in her class, it is after all her job to do so. I will also state that college is where you come to hear ideas that you might find repulsive and to sharpen your own minds as citizens.
Nevertheless, do take issue with this article entitled, “The Reasonable Rebels: Conservatives say we’ve abandoned reason and sivility. The Old South used the same language to defend slavery.” Written by Eve Fairbanks, a resident of the D.C. suburb of Manassas, Va. and for the past 10 years a resident of South Africa, this article seeks to draw an ethereal line between the rhetoric of conservatives such as Dave Rubin, Christina Hoff Summers, and Jonathon Haidt with pro-slavery racists like Senator John C. Calhoun. Not only do I find this narrative personally offensive, but Fairbanks article is little more than an extended hyperbole and hysteria about our political climate. It offers no solutions to solve the this polarization, instead choosing to contribute to it.
Fairbanks’ article is largely based off of two key assertions, both of which are factually false. She begins by labeling the argument for less government in cities, localities, and in individuals’ lives as “Antebellum Reasoning” designed in the South to combat abolitionist calls to outlaw slavery. Never mind the fact that this anti-federal government reasoning had existed since the United States’ founding and has been used as justification for any anti-government action including the Whiskey Rebellion of 1791, when brewers angry at federal taxes on whiskey rioted in Western Pennsylvania. The anti-government, “Don’t Tread on Me” narrative is one of the major narratives pushed by the colonies during the American Revolution and many far right groups today. It was not “invented” by the slave-holding South.
Using this mischaracterization of American history, Fairbanks asserts that Abraham Lincoln “feared standing for freedom, reason, and civility” because Southern slaveholders would characterize them as “hardliners who sought to curtail freedom” and “this is the reason slavery was not abolished through the political system like in Britain.”
These two statements are not historical facts. There were multiple attempts to halt the spread of slavery and eliminate it: The Compromise of 1820, The Compromise of 1850, and the failed Crittenden Compromise of 1860, authored by an ancestor of mine. The failure is not because of “Antebellum Reasoning” or the “Southern Martyr Complex,” but it falls upon abolitionist Senators such as Daniel Webster, Charles Sumner, and Stephen Douglas.
Indeed, historical fact shows that Douglas undermined the Compromise of 1820 due to kickbacks he received from railroad companies building through the Kansas-Nebraska territory. Corruption and greed within the abolitionist factions undermined their own end goal. Secondly, to compare the U.S. and Britain abolishment of slavery is ridiculous. Even after the abolishment of slavery in Britain, the children and underclass remained in a state of slavery in factories for decades. I won’t even mention what the British did to the Irish, as these two examples are clearly a form of institutional slavery. Karl Marx published his Communist Manifesto about the suffering of workers in England in London.
I will address the author directly, even if it is highly unlikely she will pay this article any attention. I would point out that if a person of color wrote this piece comparing the speech of conservatives today to antebellum slaveholders, the POC would state that all speech, Democrat or Republican, is that of the White Oppressor. I would advise the author to go speak with the Native Americans out west who were slaughtered by former Civil War generals like Ulysses Grant and Phil Sheridan and put into concentration camps (apologies, reservations). Ask them whether they think that today’s conservative sound like slaveholders. But according to this author, slandering every conservative southerner is fine, because of course they have to all be racist.
In this polarizing and caustic political climate we live in today, many Bates students regardless of their political beliefs, avoid talking politics because they don’t want to be lumped into the always changing categories of left and right. To equate the worst of one side of the political spectrum to everyone that falls on that side of the political spectrum is neither helpful nor needed at a time when political animosity is at an all-time high. All this article does is continue to encourage self-censorship due to the fear that your views will be lumped together with the extremists on whatever side of the political spectrum you fall on.
I will say to everyone at Bates, even to my friends on the left here that have plenty of animosity towards me, that you are worth so much more than any caricature of your race, where you come from, or your life experience. Your diversity is what empowers not only this campus, but this country and no one can devalue your identity or existence unless you let them. So, I say to people that equate today’s right wing with the slave-holding Southerners of my state’s past, you don’t really know anything about the South today.
Using the Antebellum South as a liberal whipping boy to attack conservatives today is lazy, false, and ignorant. I would suggest that Professor Stark spend less time pushing factually incorrect articles in her class and more time getting to know the students right in front of her. The only reason I became aware of this article in her class is because several Bates students came to me in the first place.
I reached out to Professor Stark over email to sit down with her, but I received no reply.