Dig­nity, grace in the South

Los Angeles Times - - OP - ED - JONAH GOLD­BERG jgold­berg@latimes colum­nists.com

‘ Lots of folks ex­pected us to do some­thing strange and break out in a riot. Well, they just don’t know us,” the Rev. Norvel Goff told the packed, mul­tira­cial con­gre­ga­tion of Emanuel African Methodist Epis­co­pal Church in Charleston, S. C., on Sun­day. It was the first ser­vice since the hor­rific slaugh­ter of nine in­no­cent souls by a racist fa­natic.

Not be­ing a Chris­tian, I can only marvel at the dig­nity and courage of the vic­tims’ rel­a­tives who for­gave the shooter. If I could ever man­age such a thing, it would prob­a­bly take me decades. It took them lit­tle more than a day.

Less shock­ing, but al­most as up­lift­ing, was the con­duct of the broader Charleston com­mu­nity, which has been uni­fied and dig­ni­fied, de­spite the ex­pec­ta­tions of some in the media — and the ac­cused gun­man, who had sin­gled out Charleston be­cause of its suc­cess at racial in­te­gra­tion.

And this points to Goff be­ing right, not just about Charleston but about the South in gen­eral.

There are few sub­jects that ig­nite more ca­sual, un­in­formed big­otry and con­de­scen­sion from elites in this na­tion than Dixie. “Prac­ti­cally the whole re­gion has re­jected nearly ev­ery­thing that’s good about this coun­try and has be­come just one big nu­clear waste site of cho­leric, and ex­tremely racial­ized, re­sent­ment,” the Daily Beast’s Michael To­masky wrote last year.

How then to ex­plain the tens of thou­sands of South Carolini­ans, white and black, march­ing in unity across the Ravenel Bridge on Sun­day night? Did the city bus in de­cent North­ern­ers?

The Washington Post’s Sally Jenk­ins glibly as­serts that “the Con­fed­er­ate bat­tle f lag is an Amer­i­can swastika, the relic of traitors and to­tal­i­tar­i­ans, sym­bol of a bru­tal regime, not a re­pub­lic.”

If it were left to me, I would take the f lag down ( for the rea­sons South Carolina Gov. Nikki Ha­ley laid out Mon­day). But this kind of cheap moral preen­ing is galling. Is it re­ally too much for peo­ple to muster the moral imag­i­na­tion that the is­sue isn’t nearly as sim­ple as that?

A Novem­ber poll of South Carolini­ans found that 61% of blacks wanted it down. That means nearly 4 in 10 blacks felt dif­fer­ently. Are they de­luded? Are they the moral equiv­a­lent of self­loathing Jews, happy to live un­der a swastika?

It’s a sure bet that some of the white South Carolini­ans march­ing across that bridge and at­tend­ing ser­vices at Emanuel AME Church also sup­port keep­ing the f lag. That doesn’t mean they’re right, but they surely aren’t the Amer­i­can SS of Jenk­ins’ imag­i­na­tion ei­ther.

Blog­ger Glenn Reynolds noted that when the South was solidly Demo­cratic, we got “Gone With the Wind” nos­tal­gia. Now that it is pro­foundly less racist, but less use­ful to Democrats, it’s the en­emy of all that is de­cent and good.

If we’re go­ing to of­fer ridicu­lous f lag com­par­isons, a bet­ter one would be the Ja­panese im­pe­rial f lag. Af­ter World War II, the U. S. banned it un­til 1949. Dou­glas MacArthur then opted to let a de­feated, once- au­thor­i­tar­ian so­ci­ety keep a few sym­bols of its past in or­der to build a bet­ter fu­ture.

Can any­one ar­gue that the South hasn’t done like­wise? White North­ern lib­er­als ex­plain how the South is an ir­re­deemable cesspool of hate, while ig­nor­ing the fact that blacks are aban­don­ing the North­ern blue states in huge num­bers to move to the South.

De­mog­ra­pher Joel Kotkin found that 13 of the 15 best cities in the coun­try for African Amer­i­cans to live in are now in the South. Over the last decade, mil­lions of African Amer­i­cans have been re­vers­ing the Great Mi­gra­tion of a cen­tury ago to live in Dixie. A big part of that story is eco­nomic, of course — the “blue state” model has failed gen­er­a­tions of mi­nori­ties — but it’s also cul­tural. Word has got­ten out that while the f lags may be around in some places, the Old Con­fed­er­acy is gone.

When­ever con­ser­va­tives com­plain that blacks vote mono­lith­i­cally Demo­cratic, lib­er­als are quick to ar­gue that this is a ra­tio­nal de­ci­sion given the re­al­i­ties of the black com­mu­nity. Surely, the same thing holds when they vote with their feet?

No, the South isn’t per­fect; name a re­gion that is. But it does have good man­ners, which is why it rou­tinely acts with more dig­nity — and in Charleston, with more grace — than its crit­ics to the north.

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