cross-posted from U.S. of J
Adam Serwer has more on Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell’s announcement that April is Confederate History Month:
The “state’s rights” in question involved the ownership of black people, and the “federal intrusion” the Confederacy opposed was the efforts of the federal government to secure the rights of black Americans. Through the distance of time, veneration of the Confederacy has become part of white identity politics, an self-defining act of cultural grievance that locates one within the boundaries of a political culture where being authentically American is premised on being white — or at least on acceptance of that concept. McDonnell is signaling to these people that he is one of them, or that he is sympathetic to their views.
I really wish we could retire the phrase “states’ rights.” Not only does it obscure the chief underlying issue behind the Civil War — slavery — but it is a huge rhetorical concession to Confederates and their present-day sympathizers. Invoking “states’ rights” allows Confederate sympathizers to present themselves as principled defenders of local autonomy and freedom, which is complete bunk. In the years preceding the Civil War, southerners used every available tool to maintain and expand slavery, including the power of the federal government.
The Fugitive Slave Act used the force of the federal law to protect slaveowners as they crossed state-lines and dragged free blacks and escaped slaves back into bondage. In the decade leading up to the war, slaveowners demanded that the federal government protect the legal expansion of slavery, and proposed constitutional amendments aimed at preserving slavery for the duration. States’ rights were almost only invoked when the federal government took action against slavery, or even towards maintaining the status quo. Indeed, for more than a century country’s, white supremacists rallied to the banner of “states’ rights” whenever the federal government took steps to protect its black citizens from political disenfranchisement, economic exploitation, and terrorist violence.
There is absolutely nothing principled about “states’ rights,” and I pray for the day when we can cut the bullshit, and acknowledge that “states’ rights” is little more than an elaborate cover for white supremacy.