Sam Francis—if the name registers with you, then you either relish his intelligently impish indictments of modernity or take offense at his studied lack of contemporary political sensibilities. Either way, you cannot in good faith deny the crispness of his prose and the lucidity of his thought. In a collection of his essays entitled Shots Fired: Sam Francis on America’s Culture War, though several essays were published more than twenty years ago, their vitality and pertness remain. With “In Defense of Symbols: Southern and Otherwise,” though the reference in question concern the Confederate flag in relation to the South Carolina capitol, one can easily extrapolate the rhetorical force and apply it to the recent removal of the Confederate statues in New Orleans. With customary insight, he writes that “while many Americans seem to think of the flag controversy simply as a Southern or racial issue, the truth is that it is a national issue, one that concerns them as well, and…the attack of the Confederate flag and Confederate symbols is merely a prelude, a kind of dress rehearsal, for a larger and even more radical attack on all the symbols of the American heritage and America civilization” (278). In other words, those who want to remove all vestiges of Confederate history are, in actuality, seeking to rewrite or erase American history.
In line with the therapeutic society that we have become, there has arisen the belief that if history is not affirmative (read: offends group du jour or reminds group du jour that it once also committed vile acts or reveals to group du jour that it may be achievement-deficient in some area or another), then it must be negligible and, thus, removable. Granted, histories and mythologies serve many of the same ends, primarily helping a people group better understand itself—or at least understand itself in an idealized manner. This will ineluctably lead to whitewashing of star group’s atrocities and the, uh, blackfacing of competing groups’ attempts to survive and thrive. Perhaps the problem lie with a history that tries comprehensively to reconcile groups that differ radically in regional origin, temperament, and views of the good life. Referring, once again to the movement to remove the Confederate flag from the South Carolina capitol, Francis writes, “What is also going on with the attack on the Confederate flag, on the part of groups like the NAACP and the blacks it represents, is a kind of racial secession from American society” (285). I cannot pretend to understand what a black feels—if anything, in all honesty—when he/she sees the Confederate flag or the Mississippi flag; perhaps if I were black, I would want to remove all instances of St. Andrew’s Cross as well. The point, though, is not for us to try to walk a mile in another’s skin everytime someone gets offended; rather, the piercing point is to recognize that perhaps different races/cultures cannot fundamentally understand each other in significant areas. This is not to say that different groups cannot live together in at least the semblance of neighborly peace, but this peace may exist only when there is a clearly dominant group at the head of the table and when the other groups know their respective places at said table. Such a dining arrangement is what we are seeing upset in the US. Conviviality abhors a vacuum, so more and more groups are vying for fuller plates and glasses and shinier silverware and more advantageous seating arrangements. (Okay, I think that I have extended this metaphor meal as far as it can go.) Okay, one more: more and more groups are now demanding that they decide the menu options.
In a way, I would prefer groups to declare boldly secessionist intentions, rejecting the social and governmental services from a country they find hostile. Yet, as Francis notes, this is not what we are seeing: “[M]any of the blacks are not really announcing their secession from the nation. What they are announcing is their intention to reconfigure the nation, to use political power based on their own racial solidarity to redefine the nation and its heritage in terms that will be acceptable to them. At the same time blacks also demand racial integration, affirmative action, and reparations, they are also demanding that the whites with whom they are to be integrated and from whom they are demanding special privileges give up their own symbols and heroes…” (285). While I think that what Francis writes about blacks still applies, any number of racial and sexual “rights”-interest groups could be substituted. Though we are seeing more and more groups demand sundry forms of exclusivity (e.g., campus days without whites [whiteout?] or all-black dorms), as far as I know such groups are not rejecting the benefits of the reigning regime, such as subsidized housing, Medicaid, school breakfasts and lunches, TANF, food stamps, police protection, etc. Minority groups do not want to start ex nihilo, and who would? Imagine Survivor on a national scale. Rather, they want to move into existing institutions and make them their own, either through legal channels or through demographic changes. As it is, whites seem more than willing to accept displacement. If a racial awakening ever occurs, though, the fallout—mostly for minorities (until whites become the minority group, I suppose)—will not be pleasant. Can we say “greatly unpleasant”? Truth be told, I want to see neither white displacement nor racial war. However, for as much as I used to shake my head at the idea, perhaps secession movements along, very roughly speaking, ethnic lines may be the only way to avert a truly great unpleasantness. However, this is all provided that a wave of grace is not, graciously in the fullest sense, unleashed upon this country like a spiritual Hurricane Katrina. For, as St. Thomas Aquinas reminds us, it is the nature of grace to unite, but nature of matter to separate. This climate of constant differentiation, especially given the underlying ferocity that often accompanies it, reveals a spiritually parched landscape indeed.
The real question: will robots care what color we are when they conquer us?