a look back at charlottesville: contextualizing southern white supremacy

The following essay was originally published one year ago, in three parts. On this anniversary of what many think of as a coming out party for white supremacists, from the shame of the shadows into the brazen light, I think it important to revisit the historical tensions that set the stage not only for racially driven violence, but for the more gentle debate about Confederate monuments, and what those monuments signify about our shared history. We simply cannot heal if we can't understand or face our history. It is glorious, it is terrible, and it serves as both our origin story and a script we won't escape if don't find the courage to see the evil in our past.

Three weeks ago, we witnessed a tableau of hate, violence and tension as white supremacist groups and others protesting them descended on the campus of the University of Virginia, Charlottesville.  At the center of those gathered was a statue of Robert E. Lee, Commanding General of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia.  The violence on display there was despicable, but beneath all of the hate and frustration lurks a question haunting every American: What do we do with our past? 

In Charlottesville and in many other cities, citizens are asking and yelling answers to the question of how we deal with the many confederate monuments littering our town squares. America has a wonderful history of liberation, sacrifice and generosity.  We also have a lengthy past of violence against people of color, greed and hypocrisy.  For the most part, we have not found a way to explore these conflicting legacies in our churches, classrooms, or in the public sphere. 

Abraham Lincoln famously signed the Emancipation Proclamation; Lincoln also less famously argued that if he could preserve the Union without ending slavery he would do so.  The conflict he experienced and the priorities he gave his passions can serve as a metaphor for our current conversation.  Most Americans agree that slavery was bad, but many refuse to admit that the idea of the South to which they cling produced the odious institution of slavery.  If monuments celebrating the Confederacy only represented slavery, people would be less likely to overtly defend their places of honor.  These mementos do not only represent one story though, and if we examine what they signify we might better understand the debate surrounding them.

I believe the magnitude of passion surrounding this issue is due, in large part, to the national angst felt about the Civil War.  Was secession a hateful and treasonous act of aggression in order to protect the cruel practice of slavery?  Was it a noble stand to preserve states’ rights and defend against Northern aggression?  Having studied many angles of American history and the conflicts that resulted in and were partially resolved by the Civil War, I would like to contextualize this debate by revisiting the history that is memorialized by the argued-over monuments.  I do this hoping we can be more precise in what we are arguing about, and to help articulate precisely the history for which we advocate.

In the decades leading up to the Civil War, Southern states and their congressional representatives began to realize that they were in danger of becoming a minority in the United States’ Congress.  This reality, along with the impact of William Lloyd Garrison, Sojourner Truth and Frederick Douglass, whose abolitionary voices were growing louder, and the active resistance of the slaves themselves, led the Southern states to actively advocate for new states to enter the Union as slave states.  Battles over this desired balance led to legislation like the Compromise of 1850, the Missouri Compromise and the Kansas-Nebraska Act.  These acts upheld the precarious balance of states, providing equal numbers of slave and free states, and importantly, protection for the rights and legislative power of slaveowners.  The South seceded when threats to that balance—and the power it protected—finally seemed to permanently favor free states. 

The economic stability of the country, both in Southern plantations and in Northern factories, was dependent on harvested cotton.  Harvested cotton was entirely dependent on the practice of slavery.  Indeed, the work product of slavery had paid off American debts after the Revolutionary War, and continued to be crucial to the economic foundation of our country.  Knowing this, many defenders of Confederate monuments, and lovers of a romanticized Southern past, remember that slavery was not only a dirty pleasure of the South, but a necessity for the United States of America.  These Americans feel unfairly blamed for slavery, as if white Southern ancestors were evil and greedy, rather than making the best of a system the entire citizenry willingly endorsed and relied on for decades. 

It is likely that America’s survival as a postcolonial powerhouse would have been impossible without the foundation of slavery.  Slaves provided the expertise and labor that made the South financially great and culturally worth remembering.  Our country was built by, on the bodies of, and under the creative leadership of African and African American men and women who were owned by white people.  The entire country benefitted from this institution, and white Southern defensiveness about being solely blamed for two centuries of an atrocious moral lapse is logical when seen in this light.  However, when powerful voices began to acknowledge the horrific nature of slavery, and tried to take active steps to free slaves and extricate themselves from this outrageously destructive bind, Southern states defended the practice to such an extent that they seceded from the Union that gave them their American identity.  Despite the justifying narrative of Christian paternalism, the Confederacy was established and built on the idea of white supremacy and cruelty against slaves.  Indeed, the Vice-President of the Confederacy, Alexander Stephens, in his Cornerstone speech, asserted his new government was built “upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition.” Confederate soldiers fought and died to uphold a racial hierarchy, and the monuments at issue here are, by definition, representatives of this view. 

Although the South lost the war, a new war quickly began for the memory of who the South was, how slavery functioned in it, and why the physical war occurred.  In the words of Robert Penn Warren: “in the moment of its death the Confederacy entered upon its immortality.”  Peter Kolchin, in his definitive history American Slavery, explains that during and after Reconstruction, and later while monuments were erected, “white scholars, politicians, and publicists celebrated the virtues of a Southern civilization now ‘gone with the wind’ and sang the glories of the ‘lost cause.’ An uninformed observer of the South in 1910 might well be pardoned if he or she concluded that the Confederates had won the Civil War.”  The placement of Confederate monuments all over the South solidified this created—and now lasting—memory of Southern nobility, and the "racial mastery" of those who lost the Civil War (Blight).

In forming our views on the monument debate, it is worthwhile to examine our own thoughts about the South, the reasons for secession, and the place of white supremacy in our past and present.  After the Civil War, the Confederacy was in shambles, economically ruined.  Although the Union won, the union of states that survived was deeply weakened by the death toll, the loss of a free Southern work force, and destroyed landscapes.  In an intentional choice to reconcile, the congress passed laws to forgive confederate treason, allow former confederate leaders to run for federal office, and for the South to create their own racially based laws as they reorganized as a society.  The South, shocked at having been defeated, reeling from the abrupt erasure of the foundation of their economy, and outraged at their forced submission, was desperate to redeem the noble purpose of the cause for which they fought the war in the first place.  As the Civil War came to a close, a new war began for the memory of the war, and the South won this conflict handily.

The narrative of the Lost Cause, shared through Southern publications, memorial days, books, films, and throughout the political arena, created a memory of the antebellum South in which slaves were fiercely loyal to their masters, masters were good Christians who took care of their slaves with gentle, fatherly guidance, and all Southerners were committed to hospitality, Christianity, and kindness above all.  Historian David Blight explains,

            The Lost Cause took root in Southern culture awash in a mixture of physical destruction,                the psychological trauma of defeat, a Democratic Party resisting Reconstruction, racial                  violence, and, with time, an abiding sentimentalism.  On the broadest level, it came to                    represent a mood, or an attitude toward the past…For many Southerners it became a                      natural extension of evangelical piety, a civil religion that helped them link their sense of                loss to a Christian conception of history.

The Lost Cause represented a Christian narrative in which masters and slaves were friends whose relationship was built on mutual sacrifice and steady loyalty.  This narrative was undermined by the fact that hundreds of thousands of slaves abandoned their masters and their plantations during the course of the war.  Nevertheless, the Lost Cause asserted slaves were not mistreated, but they, being either helpless children or wayward beasts, needed the paternal guidance a white Christian male could offer them.  Slavery simply provided the framework that allowed generous white people to care for lost and lazy black people.  

In their view, and for many Southerners today, the Civil War was not fought to selfishly protect slavery, but to defend a state’s right to do what is best for its people. Historian Walter Johnson clarifies,

            when slavery was over and the slave market was closed, former slaves and slaveholder                    alike found themselves marooned on a shoal of history.  The longings of slave holders to                hold onto the past as it receded from their grasp are well-documented.  Well-known, too,              is the disbelief they experienced, the sense of betrayal they talked about, when their                      slaves left them behind. 

The narrative of the Lost Cause created a context in which a man who owned slaves, committed treason by seceding, and led an army who killed others to protect the right to own, abuse and economically benefit from forcing others to do labor from which they would not profit, became a sympathetic character.  After all, he was just protecting his people—slaves and family—from an overreaching North.  He had worked so hard to take care of these poor wayward black folks, and he sacrificed himself to protect a way of life they appreciated.

Those who nurtured the thinking of the Lost Cause soon created societies and clubs committed to memorializing their heroes.  The first Confederate statues were put in place in the 1870s, but most were erected after 1890.  Although confederate soldiers were not granted pensions at the same rate as their Union counterparts, they were memorialized, honored and held up as the best of the South.  The organizations who commissioned them, like the United Daughters of the Confederacy, endeavored to remind every person who walked by the town square that the South laments the death of and memorializes the life of these great men who lived honorably and fought nobly for a sweet Southern, Christian way of life that honored everyone involved, black and white.

The North, anxious to put the country back together, allowed such intense memorializing to occur.  Indeed, twelve Confederate monuments were built for every one Union monument, shocking numbers when we remember the Union, who fought quite literally—in the words of Isaiah in foretelling the birth of Christ—to “release the captives”, won the war.  Indeed, “The Lost Cause left just such a legacy; it was not essentially inhuman in character, but its very existence depended on dehumanizing a group of people” (Blight).  Part of our American history is that the South was encouraged in this revising of history, and that they built monuments to men who defended the right to ignore and erase the dignity of other human beings in the public square.  While it is perhaps true that many white Southerners cherish these monuments because they celebrate a beloved South, the monuments themselves were erected to memorialize a mostly fabricated version of the South.  In this way, the monuments symbolize the collision of Christianity, white supremacy, and loyalty, ideals that Southerners conscientiously admired and promoted.  Blight argues this movement, “reinvigorates white supremacy by borrowing heavily from the plantation school of literature in promoting reminiscences of the faithful slave as a central figure in the Confederate war.  Together, these arguments reinforced Southern pride.” 

The monuments’ place in society is problematic not because liberals want to rewrite history or because African Americans are sensitive; their place is fraught because of what they commemorate, then and now.  Consider this: At the unveiling of General Stonewall Jackson’s monument in Richmond, Virginia in 1875, the KKK, the sponsoring group, was present. They wore hoods and carried arches which read: “Warrior, Christian, Patriot.” Knowing this past, should patriots—and Christians especially—be troubled by the version of history commemorated by confederate monuments?  If we are concerned about erasing history by removing them shouldn’t we ensure we have learned all the lessons embedded in the history they honor? 

Confederate monuments were erected as a permanent public reminder of the Lost Cause, which revised the history of the South, making it a kind and loyal place, gently controlled by Christian men who protected their women and nurtured their slaves.  Many of the organizations that funded the monument movement were openly founded on the Christian legitimacy of the South and on the supremacy of the white race.  We now find ourselves in a battle over this contested past.  Many proponents of the Lost Cause, mostly white people who love their Southern heritage, are understandably frustrated that some non-whites, liberal whites, or Northern whites, want to remove Confederate monuments, erasing history.  They feel defensive, as if their entire legacy is being vilified and erased by people with no right to speak into Southern history.  This viewpoint makes perfect sense if the only history of the South is the Lost Cause. 

However, most Southerners—of all races—do not know the full history of the South.  They don’t know that most plantations were owned by absentee landlords, and were simply plots of land, worked by people under the lash of an overseer, with no “humanizing” white family nearby.  They don’t know that Christianity and baptism were twisted and manipulated, finally shared with slaves only when evangelism could be used as a tool of coercion against the new converts.  They don’t know that the vast majority of white people did not own slaves, and were victimized by a system that allowed huge plantations with a self-replicating work force to thrive while they struggled to get ahead.  They don’t know that the institution of slavery fueled, funded and built every economic gain America experienced, and that America itself owes a deep debt of gratitude to the people of color who made America great and possible in the first place.  They don’t know that statues of men who prioritized personal gain over loyalty to America were erected to honor a fabricated Southern legacy.  This historical ignorance must be confronted in order to think clearly about the current Confederate monument debate.

Here are the two sides of this debate as I understand them:

For many, the Civil War and the Confederacy are part of our history, and the men who fought in the war were valiant warriors loyal to their families, fighting for the rights of those in their states.  Honoring them has nothing to do with slavery, but instead commemorates the noble leaders who fought and died for their values in the bloodiest war America has ever known.  They are part of our history, and should be remembered.

For others, the monuments of Confederate leaders honor men who betrayed their country through legislated mutiny, and then fought for the right of their fellow statesmen to own, abuse, and control every aspect of the lives of their human chattel.  For these folks, the antebellum South, the Confederacy, the flag, and the soldiers who fought for the states who seceded are all fruit of the poisoned tree of slavery.  This past is fluid and invasive and one cannot separate part of the memory for honor when slavery was the reality that created the whole.

So what are we to do with this history?  I do not think that we can praise every confederate honoree as an unblemished hero or as a despicable tyrant who should be shunned.  That said, we cannot pretend that this debate is about a choice to honor history when the statues themselves were created to erase history.  America is a mixed bag; we are brave and free and fair, while also being cowardly and abusive and greedy.  The idea that this debate has a side who want to ignore or erase history (those in favor of removing them) and a side who wants to learn from or honor history (those who want to leave them alone) is problematic.  The history memorialized by confederate statues is a history created after the Civil War to erase the evil of the history that established, paid for and built our country.  

As a Southern American, I agree that we cannot erase or ignore history by removing confederate statues.  We have inherited a legacy of erasing and white washing the very histories of hierarchies based on race left to us by our ancestors, and this debate gives us a chance to reckon not only with our past, but with the ways we continue to remember and disremember that past.  We are responsible, each of us, for what we do with the legacy left to us by our ancestors.  For my part, I do see a place for confederate monuments in public life, but only if the following changes are made:

1)   The monuments should be joined by other conflicted “heroes”, like slaves, slave rebellion leaders, abolitionists, and leaders who spoke truth to the power of white supremacy when it was dangerous to do so. (It still is dangerous to do so, in fact…) The commemoration of others will create a robust dialogue about the role of individuals in promoting or confronting systems of injustice.  America has a legacy of abusive oppression, but we also have a legacy of resistance and seeking justice for all.

2)   Existing monuments should be moved to museums or accurately contextualized with posted explanations.  Nathan Bedford Forrest was a brave confederate general AND a violent promoter of racial hatred as a slave trader and the Grand Wizard of the KKK.  Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence AND forced a teenage slave he owned to have sex with him and bear several of his children, whom he freed while continually writing that interracial mixing was an abomination and abhorrent to God.  Robert E. Lee was a tenacious general who believed slavery was “evil”, supported abolishing it, AND held racist views that slavery civilized Africans and that he would kill soldiers who fought to abolish it.  The question about moving statues to a museum instead of honoring them in public parks in not a question of who is willing to remember history, it is a question of who is willing to place these statues in the historical context in which the men they honor lived and died, rather than the manipulative context in which they were originally placed. 

Our history is neither all progress nor all degrading shame; we are and always have been mixed bags.  We would do well to take an honest look at what our “heroes” accomplished on their best and worst days, allowing that knowledge to explain the legacy we all carry, and what we are to do with it today.

charlottesville: Part 2

On Context and Moral Equivalency

We cannot talk about all the talk about Charlottesville without first talking about the context of this cultural moment.  In 2012, Trayvon Martin was killed in Florida.  In the aftermath of his death, many voices blamed him for his nonverbal cues of threat: He was black, walking at night in a majority white neighborhood, and he was wearing a sweatshirt with a hood.  This blaming of the victim exists largely because of the strength of cultural normativity.  In America, the largest group of people with power—white people above the poverty line—get to decide what normal, safe behavior looks like.  This standard, while messily and informally arrived at, is very powerful, and difficult to change.  In a setting in which a teenager is blamed for his own death at the hands of a man who violated explicit orders from police, the blaming can be understood when placed in the context of normative safe behavioral standards.  “Safe” people, in the context of majority norms, are white people, whose belonging is almost always unquestioned (and who do not wear baggy clothing with hoods).  Martin was deemed “unsafe”, having violated all the standards of normative behavior, and was therefore preemptively followed, and, as a result, killed. 

The acquittal of his killer created a new context in which Alicia Garcia, Opal Tometi and Patrisse Cullors started a hashtag that birthed a protest movement that has helped define the last 4 years of American cultural discourse: Black Lives Matter (BLM).  This phrasing is important contextually because white supremacists chanted “White Lives Matter” (WLM) in Charlottesville last weekend.  The phrases are similar, only three words each with two shared in common.  Claims have been made drawing a moral equivocation between BLM protests and alt right rallies; however, this equivocation can only exist outside of context, for the types of people who claim these phrases want very different things, making moral equivocation absurd.  BLM is an assertion of the value of people of color, a plea for equity and a place in a shared society.  WLM, on the other hand, is a defense of supremacy, and a plea to continue excluding others (“You [Jews] will not replace us!”).  The former group is asking for a seat at the table.  The latter is demanding the door be locked so no one else can get in.  BLM can resonate because the policies, norms, policing and economic standards of our country suggest black lives do not, in fact, matter as much as their Caucasian counterparts (more on this in next week’s essay).  WLM must be seen as immoral because of the clear rebuttal it offers black—and all “other”—lives.  In America, as a rule, the value of “white life” has not been systemically questioned in the same way that “black life” has been seen as expendable.  Any survey of American history—despite massive gaps—reveals that most power, wealth and normative standard-making rests in white hands.  To be sure, America has deep class divides, and many white folks feel powerless and undervalued.  Still, the vast majority of oppressive violence has been acted upon black bodies by white hands throughout our history.  One cannot take on the mantle of victimization when there are actual victims in the room!  I don’t say this to incite defensiveness or reopen old wounds; rather, these simple facts are critical to a thoughtful response to Charlottesville.

The former group is asking for a seat at the table.  The latter is demanding the door be locked so no one else can get in.

This is the context we must recognize when thinking about Charlottesville and our lack of moral authority.  Foundational racism in our society is demonstrated in the fact that the cultural norms invoked by many in the majority to condemn Martin and BLM protests have not been applied to white supremacists and their protests.  No one seems to have noticed that the coalition of white men who marched made intentional choices that placed them in a context deemed unsafe, even by white, normative standards:

Foundational racism in our society is demonstrated in the fact that the cultural norms invoked by many in the majority to condemn Martin and BLM protests have not been applied to white supremacists and their protests. 

Jason Kessler, who requested the permit for his self-named “Unite the Right” rally, argued he was trying to have “a pro-white demonstration” (Business Insider).  Many of the men who attended wore clothing that signaled the KKK and neo-Nazi groups, hoisted confederate and nazi flags, and carried semi-automatic assault rifles and bullets.  The men also marched after sunset, carried lit torches reminiscent of KKK gatherings where minority men were lynched, and chanted phrases documented to have come from Nazi Germany and the Confederate South, two societies sustained by the violently enforced supremacy of Caucasian Christians.

These men sent every sign that they were placing themselves in a specific historical context in which white males had all authority to attack or end the life of anyone they did not appreciate. This context must be a part of the conversations we are having on moral authority and equivalency. 

These men sent every sign that they were placing themselves in a specific historical context in which white males had all authority to attack or end the life of anyone they did not appreciate. This context must be a part of the conversations we are having on moral authority and equivalency. 

In a just and fair society, there are laws protecting freedoms like our first amendment right to free speech and a permitting process guaranteeing our right to assemble.  However, moral authority recognizes that “all things are permissible, but not all things beneficial” (1 Corinthians 10:23).  Normative standards in America state that an act can be legal and condemnable.  It is true that our freedoms are meant to protect lives, not feelings; that said, legal acts, like marching with torches and guns while shouting racial slurs and white superiority, are morally reprehensible, and must be denounced as such by our leaders, not dismissed as the equivalent of movements to elevate all lives. 

We all seem to be lacking in context these days, however, and in that way our president reflects us.  As we try to make sense of what happened in Charlottesville and struggle to address the monument issue, we need the moral discipline to place every event in its proper context, the wisdom to analyze the moral authority of that context (is it fair for all or just normal for powerful people?), and the words to denounce hate, legal though it may be.  We cannot ask our leaders for what we do not demand of ourselves. 

Next week, we will revisit the debate around BLM and All Lives Matter, mining that conflict for the foundational context it laid for the present.

charlottesville: Part 1

on authenticity and moral authority

In the last week, we have witnessed our leaders, and, more importantly, our friends, struggle to access moral authority in the wake of violent protests and counter-protests in Charlottesville, VA.  Moral authority is a tricky thing, and the outrage resulting from elected leaders’ slippage with the concept reveals many of us are not exactly comfortable with the idea either. It should also be acknowledged that the term ‘moral authority’ is itself fraught, having been misused for centuries to protect power and restrict the freedom and dignity of others.  Indeed, as a person of faith very aware of my own failings, I don’t often wield the sword of moral authority unless it is to help powerless people.  In the context of this week in American public discourse, I find myself defending the idea as a positive counter to ‘moral equivocation.’  Our discomfort, and hypocrisy, in using moral authority stems from a racial and power divide that has holds America.  The majority of those in power—white people—tend to believe that laws are just and that justice prevails.  Those whose primary identity rests in their distance from such power though, understand that a thing can be legal and morally repugnant.  These disparate approaches to justice and the law create a need for moral authority that affirms the dignity of all people, and understands historical context and the fluid nature of normative trends.

These disparate approaches to justice and the law create a need for moral authority that affirms the dignity of all people, and understands historical context and the fluid nature of normative trends.

In his most recent press conference with reporters, held in the gilded halls of the elevator bank of Trump Tower in New York, the president presented a view of his moral framework based more on equivocation than authority:


I will tell you something…you had a group on one side that was bad and you had a group on the other side that was also very violent. And nobody wants to say that. But I’ll say it right now….You had a group on the other side that came charging in without a permit and they were very, very violent.

While this offers a condemnation of physical violence, the moral authority is based on the false notion that when we say words that “nobody want to say”, they must be true. The 2016 election exposed this new basis of moral authority for most in our country:

1)    Authority comes from truth.

2)    The best way to spot truth is to look for authenticity.

3)    Authenticity is best measured by a leader’s willingness to say something no one else wants to say. 

Here we find the flaw that has most recently corroded moral authority.  Framing a statement as hard to say does not make it authentic or true.  Sometimes ideas are not repeated in the public sphere precisely because they lack a moral foundation.  Sometimes ideas can be widely shared and be morally reprehensible.  Racism and white supremacy are two of those ideas.  When brash ‘authenticity’ replaces factually grounded historically contextualized statements as the arbiter of truth and fairness, we have lost our grip on moral authority as a society.

In the last 48 hours, much has been said of the moral equivalency drawn by the president between white supremacists and activists promoting the equality of all people.  These groups clashed in Charlottesville, and then:

REPORTER: Mr. President, are you putting what you are calling the alt-left and white supremacists on the same moral plane?

TRUMP: I am not putting anybody on a moral plane. What I’m saying is this: You had a group on one side and you had a group on the other and they came at each other with clubs and it was vicious and horrible. And it was a horrible thing to watch. But there is another side. There was a group on this side, you can call them the left. You have just called them the left, that came violently attacking the other group. So you can say what you want, but that’s the way it is.

REPORTER: You said there was hatred, there was violence on both sides?

TRUMP: Well I do think there’s blame. Yes, I think there is blame on both sides. You look at both sides. I think there is blame on both sides. And I have no doubt about it. And you don’t have doubt about it either.

His argument rightly condemns physical violence as a “horrible thing” to watch.  However, the statement, straining to clearly denounce violence and hatred, misses the mark for at least two reasons.  One, the authority on which the statement rests is the president’s willingness to say the thing that others won’t say (“you can say what you want, but that’s the way it is”).  As we just discussed, this is not a sound basis for moral authority.  Second, his statement lacks moral authority because of a willful ignoring of context.  The historical contexts of slavery and the ways in which we have acknowledged and ignored America’s relationship to racism are the contexts we must understand if we are to talk about the way that Charlottesville is a response against and a reflection of the specific cultural moment in which we find ourselves.  More of this in Tuesday’s essay. 

For now, I think our discourse as a society will improve if we examine the relationship each of us have independently established between authenticity and truth telling.  Many of us, longing for community and easily distracted by consuming bits of knowledge, look to social media for our points of connection.  We are more engaged than ever before, and yet depression and anxiety rates are higher—and diagnosed younger—than ever before as well.  These platforms create crucial environmental realities that nurture a desperation for authenticity.  For instance, because we are each now actively involved in producing images and records of our lives, we perform our identities.  These acts demonstrate for us the performative nature of the act of telling, subtly undermining our trust in the truth of the stories others tell.  Our own complicity in telling polished stories about ourselves creates a craving in us for authenticity.  Further, the ubiquity of platforms reveals that every site, author and source possess a bias.  We know this, even if we love reading news that confirms our own bias! The plethora of angles and analysis allows people to consume “facts” about the world that fuel the outrage enjoyed by their particular brand of moral authority.  These realities have created an environment in which we crave authenticity, reordering our priorities to the extent that we applaud authentic hate simply because it feels like the opposite of political correctnessCan we not pursue authenticity and kindness simultaneously?  Must compassion be thrown out as falsely produced weakness?

We applaud authentic hate simply because it feels like the opposite of political correctness.  Can we not pursue authenticity and kindness simultaneously? 

As we examine the cultural moment in which we have allowed authenticity to become a placeholder for truth that can sustain the kind of moral authority we need in the wake of Charlottesville, I’d like to suggest we scrutinize the ways in which we evaluate claims of authenticity.  Are we willing to praise statements that overlook toxic hatred because they feel authentic?  Unchecked, our love of authenticity removes our ability to be outraged by morally repugnant ideas, simply because they are universally held and must therefore be inauthentic.  We have already lost our grip on moral authority; must we also allow meanness to replace honesty as the measure of a person’s authenticity? 

On Tuesday, context for Charlottesville and moral equivalency.