It’s always gratifying to receive email from readers who express appreciation for my articles. Even email from those who take issue with my opinions are valued because it indicates that, at least, they didn’t stop reading half-way through the column. But recently I received an email from a college student, who, after reading one of my columns, wants to use me as a prototype for her term paper. Now this should be especially flattering. So why am I not smiling?
Actually, the young lady and I exchanged a few emails before she decided on me as a subject for her thesis. I will share our emails with you because I feel sure you will find them provocative. She has requested anonymity so I will not divulge her identity or facts that might reveal it.
The column that got her attention was: "Never Enough Slavery Museums" which is in the LRC archives. In this article I complained about the proliferation of slavery museums; the existing ones as well as those in the planning stages. It was my contention, not so subtly implied, that there was an ulterior motive for such a great number of slavery museums. My cynical nature caused me to suspect that the purpose for so many museums was to produce guilt in the white population sufficient enough to garner support for reparations for slavery. After all, if Southern heritage had to be trashed because it was a "reminder of slavery," why would there suddenly be a demand for slavery museums?
My article prompted this email from the young lady. (our emails are reproduced as written without changes)
"Ignorance is the most destructive disease plaguing the human race. I read your article and apparently you have that disease. Have you ever researched exactly how many African American museums are out there? The Holocaust, most definitely, is the most talked about crime against humanity. 219 museums world wide. 66 in the U.S. There are only 35 African American museums in the U.S. and only ONE focuses solely on slavery. About reparations, are you daring to imply that the African people do not deserve reparation for what the entire world did to them? Before you go adding to the misconceptions and ignorance of the world, you may want to get your facts straight. Black history month, is exactly that, one month. Throughout high school and middle school, every month is filled with bogus "facts" about the U.S. history, some even blatant lies. I am unable to even fathom the platform on which you choose to stand and spout such trash. Apparently you are a racist from what I can deduce. Not every "white" person wishes to hear what you say and/or believes in your ideas. The world should not have to be subjected to your ignorance, but you too have freedoms and we must deal with what you choose to share."
Being a Southern gentleman, my upbringing will not allow me to be rude to a lady, whether she deserves it or not. That is a rule I follow. Most of the time. Also, I have learned that very little is accomplished by responding to irate readers. But I decided to make an exception this time, so I responded as follows:
"I suggest you read my article again — a little more carefully this time. You will read about the "plans" to construct slavery museums all around the nation. Regardless of what they are called, their main focus will be slavery. Their purpose is to try to put a "guilt trip" on Whitey! Regarding reparations, see my other article below:" (I sent her a copy of my article, "Where African-Americans Rank," which compares the wealth and standard of living of African-Americans with other nations. This comparison shows that African-Americans rank somewhere between the 11th and the 15th wealthiest nations — way above Africa. My point being; how can reparations be justified for one of the wealthiest groups in the world?)
Her terse reply was:
" u2018Whitey’ and all those who participated in the slave trade, SHOULD FEEL GUILTY!!!!!!!!!!!! I read your article below and oddly enough, African Americans live in the United States. Africa is a nation, just wanted to be clear about that."
I should have stopped our correspondence at this point but I felt I should try again to make my point about reparations. So I sent her this reply:
"Yes, Africa is a nation and African Americans are a "hypothetical" nation, as I stated. The point is that descendants of Africans who were brought to America have substantially more wealth and a much higher standard of living than Africans living in Africa. Maybe "Whitey" should be the one demanding reparations."
Her reply made it clear that she’d had it with me.
"I wish not to continue such conversations with you. Your ignorance is deep, VERY DEEP. Continue to exist in your "hypothetical" reality. Things are as bad as they are in Africa because of "Whitey" foolish man."
Our unresolved dispute was ended, or so I thought. However, on the following day I received this email from my adversarial pen-pal.
"I was so intrigued by your apparent sense of entitlement that it compelled me to write my current thesis paper about people like you and your strong (yet ignorant) beliefs. I am discussing the direct link between, entitlement, racial ignorance and fear culminating into racial hate. I am conducting a study of people who believe as you do. I am curious to know, what exactly is it that you are afraid of? What compels you to believe as you do?"
Although I was a little leery of the way she had framed her questions, I still wanted to respond. First, I had questions for her, which I asked in my reply:
"I’ll be happy to answer any questions you may have and will be responding to the two in your current email as soon as possible. Also, I’d like to know more about who I am corresponding with." (At this point, based on her email address, the stridency of her responses, etc., I decided to use my Sherlock Holmes’ powers of deduction to identify her.) "I assume that you are a black female, approx 18 to 19 years old and a student at the University of —————. Is this correct? What is your major?"
This time her reply was a little more civil:
"Thank you for your willingness to participate in my thesis. I chuckled at your assumptions, you know what they say about assuming. I am 27 years old (28 in less than a month), of mixed Caucasian descent. (Not all "Whites" believe as you do, or at least not the people I matriculate with). I am married with a child (and no, my spouse and child are not black either)." [so much for my Sherlock Holmes’ powers] "This is my second "go-round" in college. I am attending—————–. First time out my major (although very helpful in life) was not very practical unless a PhD was obtained (psychology). I had many anthropological courses, human growth and development, ect ect. It is very useful knowledge when dealing with people, understanding why they think the way they do and how beliefs trickle down to younger generations. I am now studying the fine arts, possibly looking to teach. I am taking a composition course, hence the thesis paper. I work at a private school, ————-. Thank you again for your willingness to participate."
As I was still concerned about the way she had worded her two questions, I equivocated with my answers. However, I fully intended to provide her with the information about me and my beliefs (which I did in a later email). But, first I sent this guarded reply:
"Your question: "What exactly is it that you are afraid of?"
"This is one of those loaded questions (When did you stop beating your wife?) with a built-in presupposition; the implication being that I am afraid of something and that causes me to believe as I do — in this case, my views on racial issues. But fear of something is not the motive for my views on this subject."
"Your other question: "What compels you to believe as you do?"
"The word "compels" is a little troubling because it implies that my beliefs may not be rationally derived but a result of some force or event, possibly beyond my control. I don’t want to nit-pick but, at the same time, I don’t want my opinions reduced to some specious psychological interpretation. My beliefs are based on what I have experienced in my lifetime; this involves schools and colleges, self-studies and, primarily, "real world" knowledge as opposed to "textbook" knowledge."
"These two answers are not very detailed but if you ask more specific questions, I will respond as best I can. " (Then I asked her a couple of questions)
– "Do you live in —————- or ——————-?" (two states)
– "If I write an article about our exchange could I use your name or would you prefer to remain anonymous?"
The young lady was understandably put-off by my tip-toeing around her questions but she persevered.
"Well, you danced around those questions a bit with no real answer. "Compel" is not a negative word. I am asking what has caused you to believe the way you do. You stated that "life experiences" have led you to where you are now, i.e., college and self-studies. What exactly would those self-studies be? You spoke of life knowledge versus textbook knowledge; textbook knowledge is only as good as the way in which it is applied to "real life."
"I am in —————- but originally from the New England area. Write what you wish, you were granted that freedom. I do request you do not use my name. I prefer to not be associated with ideas such as yours, truthfully."
(She ended her email with this little zinger) "Also you spoke of real "world knowledge," how much of the world have you traveled to gain this knowledge? I noticed you live in South Carolina, not exactly a pillar of knowledge and liberal thought."
Her sarcasm didn’t bother me because I occasionally receive slurs like this from people who disagree with me. The implication being that I can’t be taken seriously because I am probably the product of some backwater crossroads in the deep South. Once again, being a Southern gentleman, I made no rebuttal. And, because I made a commitment, I sent her a narrative containing information about myself and my beliefs. I also referred her to some of my articles that touched on the issues we discussed.
Our two final emails are too lengthy to reproduce here, so I will simply report highlights.
In my final email, I noted our age differences (I am more than twice her age) and the fact that, being a Southerner, I experienced some of the civil rights turmoil first-hand and was offended by mainstream media portrayals of the events. (I referred her to my article, "Birmingham: The Rest of the Story.") I also stated that media reports of America prior to the 1960s tend to be subjective and selective. I maintained that segregation in the South was ending and would have ended without government coercion. I felt it necessary to state that I am not a racist and have been instrumental in improving conditions for blacks. (I have hired and promoted blacks throughout my career. In one company, my black secretary was the first black hired by the organization.) However, I am opposed to racial preferences, cultural cleansing of Southern heritage, and reparations.
I discussed how sociological theories change from generation to generation. The emphasis is on genetics and racial traits in one generation and the denial of the importance of such factors in the next and then back again in the subsequent generation. (The Bell Curve) In closing, I stated that of all the factors hindering black achievement today, White racism would be at the bottom of the list — a conclusion reached by many black scholars.
Her response contained these comments:
"I have adopted siblings who are black and I have personally seen the way the world treats them. I also have a brother and sister who are white, they do not get treated as my black siblings do."
"My father walked down a street with my brother in Iowa in the early 80’s and a pick-up truck full of young boys drove by, called him the "N" word and threw beer cans and bottles at him."
"What would a white male in South Carolina really know about racism other than watching it happen to others, never experiencing it directed at you personally. How often did a group of blacks get together and hang every white man they could find?"
"The reason the southern white male is perceived as the root of the mistreatment of African Americans is because the "South" wouldn’t let go of slavery. If you recall, the "South" fought and continues to fight (i.e. confederate flag and your beloved Dixie song) to keep the "old way." That is why the "South" has been labeled as it has been."
"Slavery museums are not designed to celebrate slavery, they are to educate and make people aware of the atrocities that took place. The confederate flag and the song Dixie celebrate such atrocities."
"This concludes my need for interaction with you. I have enough to complete and conclude my paper."
I have respected her wishes and made no further attempt to contact her. However, I wish I could have responded to some of her statements. Isolated racial incidents in Iowa, South Boston, or Detroit should not be used to censure the states or cities where they occurred. Likewise, the entire Southern region of the United States should not be disparaged because of the behavior of some bigoted riffraff. And, certainly, I would have relished the opportunity to call her attention to the callousness and cruelty of the New England slave traders who initiated our slave trade and brought slaves to America, chained together in the dark holes of slave ships.
My correspondent should also be informed that large plantations no longer thrive in the South. Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler no longer sit on verandas sipping mint juleps while watching slaves pick cotton. In fact, I would characterize the current relations between blacks and whites in the South as excellent; indeed blacks are migrating to the South in record numbers.
So, how to make sense out of my exchange with this young woman? I think certain general facts should be considered. First and foremost, our extreme age difference. I grew to adulthood in the South before the civil rights movement. She was born in New England after the onset of political correctness. My views were primarily shaped by observation; hers’ primarily by news media and academia. I grew up when newspapers were locally owned and operated and there were still "two sides to every story." She was born into an age after locally owned media had been taken over by huge conglomerates. There are no longer "two sides to every story," but only correct thoughts or "incorrect thoughts."
But, I believe our exchange should not be characterized as a difference between generations or regions. Some people in my age group share some of her opinions and I frequently receive email from persons her age and younger who agree with me. These emails are from all around the country including New England.
Also, I admit that some of her views are shared by many who reside in Southern states. (In the little Southern town I live in, an operator of a small gift shop for tourists featuring Southern memorabilia is not allowed to display a replica of the Confederate flag by his door.) Contrariwise, I don’t believe her views are shared by the majority of people living outside of the South, with the possible exception of parts of the East Coast and Hollywood.