“Mainstream” Southerners today – that is, Southerners who are largely accepted by polite American society despite maintaining some overt Southern signalling – are quite the curious breed. Most are true thedish Southerners, born and raised in culturally strong Southern areas. Perhaps strangely, most must necessarily actively choose to retain their Southerness; on television, in books, and in school, Southerners are almost without exception presented as the Other. This awkward self-awareness presents the intelligent Southerner with a choice to be made very early on in life: actively resist the often unconscious impulse to suppress Southerness, or actively purge Southern characteristics which may out one as Other. Fortunately, more than a few choose the former.
However, this presents additional difficulties. One who hesitates to jettison all Southern signalling will often be made an object of derision; harmless joking at best, or outright ostracizing at worst. The strong-willed will nonetheless hold the course, to their credit. Unfortunately, even for the non-history-minded there is one large spectre which will always hang over them, preventing them from going too far in overt endorsement of their homeland and their ancestors – racist slavery. The sin of sins.
This creates a strange creature. The mainstream Southerner can only stay mainstream by maintaining a highly irregular, psychologically speaking, interpretation of his people’s history. He can appreciate only a very limited and self-flagellating view of the past. He may endorse his grandfather as a good man, perhaps his great-grandfather, but to go farther back than that is to get into some very morally murky water – racism! the Klan! Jim Crow! lynchings! and ultimately… slavery! How does the mainstream Southerner come to terms with this?
In short, he doesn’t. He is forced to divorce himself from his not-so-ancient ancestors, in much the same way a regular American is divorced from his European origins. To him, the slaveowners were not us; they were fundamentally different, perhaps a mutation of some sort; a primitive or maybe degenerative people with whom we only bear a passing resemblance. We share a geographical region and maybe some blood – if I could count how many times I’ve heard said “Of course my family didn’t own slaves” – at most. This may be all well and good, were it true. In reality, we are them. The slaveowners, the Klansmen, the Confederates are our close ancestors and differ from the modern Southerner in few, if any, appreciable ways. To study them honestly is to study ourselves. To divorce from them is to confound our understanding of ourselves and the world we inhabit. Further – it is to ensure the ultimate destruction of our worldview.
To even ask the question – was slavery actually an evil practice? Was Jim Crow segregation driven by anything other than blind hatred? Could there have been – gulp – noble Klansmen? To even contemplate the question is to reveal yourself as not simply the Other, but the Enemy. You are one of those vile racists who have polluted the Southern image! The mainstream Southerner is practically obligated to battle against The Asker of Questions if he has any hope of retaining his mainstream status. This creates a strong incentive against the Asking of Questions and ensures that the Southern worldview, deprived of historical nourishment, will continue to fade.
Slavery, Jim Crow, KKK, etc. are currently used as cudgels to bludgeon mainstream Southerners from straying too far outside of the progressivist interpretation of the South by preventing those Southerners from even questioning it in the first place. “Oh, you think the Old South had some points in its favor? I guess you want to bring back slavery!” Normal people don’t want to be accused of these things and thus find it is far easier to just. Not. Ask. Questions.
How to undermine the power of these cudgels? It’s quite simple, but it requires two things not so easily attained: a willingness to be forcibly removed from the mainstream, and an truly open mind. They are both necessary to allow oneself freedom of movement to investigate these matters in full and gain confidence in your conclusions. Let’s say you find that slavery was, in the end, as great of a moral evil as Garrison would have you believe. Even though your view of history may not have radically changed, the very act of giving Fitzhugh, Hammond, Dabney, and Bledsoe a fair hearing will magically remove the power of the cudgels to influence your thought in any direction whatsoever. This assumes, of course, that you don’t use your newfound perspective to empower the cudgels’ usage on others.
Having performed this same procedure, as near as I might, I have arrived at nearly the opposite conclusion. I may say in honesty that the cudgels have no power over me. Of course, my views are as far from mainstream as you can get, but I may posit that I’ve acquired enough perspective to be able to intrigue people I converse with enough so that they begin questioning some of their deeply-held beliefs. Our initial task with regards to recruitment should be to promote the simple Asking of Questions, rather than immediately winning all of our acquaintances over to our side. To do this ably requires a strong knowledge and perspective on both the Leftist and Rightist interpretations of Southern history.
For those interested in sources, I may refer you to my Recommended Reading page. Additionally, I have a How to Become a Southern Reactionary post in the works, but I will have to put it off for the time being, as I’ll be travelling for the next week. See y’all when I get back.