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Issue more than skin-deep


Issue more than skin-deep

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Dr Karl Watson obviously is endowed with the thickest of skin. While correct intellectually in his assessment of Horatio Nelson (Nelson Protest, Back Page, November 30 DAILY NATION), for the crime of not kowtowing to populist sentiment, he may now expect to be vilified not only by the uninformed masses, but also by reputedly educated persons with a vested interest in maintaining certain narratives for their own ends.

Just as in the United States recently with the controversy over Confederate flags and monuments, painting individuals as unrepentant, pro-slavery racists (as a certain notable academic has referred to Dr Watson) is intended solely to squelch nuanced debate on these issues.

When General Robert E. Lee surrendered his Confederate flag a Appomattox 150 years ago, the Civil War did not truly end. It has continued to smoulder for generations, like a low-grade fever, sometimes flaring in the unimaginable violence of Reconstruction, the Jim Crow era and the civil rights struggle. It smoulders still.

In a piece in The Atlantic titled The Civil War Isn’t Over, historian David Blight pointed out that the most fundamental conflict between the Union and the rebels was never fully resolved: the balance of power between the federal government and the states.        

That, at bottom, has been what the Confederate flag and monuments have represented to those who hold it dear: defiance. The refusal to surrender, despite a long series of defeats to the “Northern aggressors” and their liberal ideas and values – universal equality, social change and centralised government as a force for good. The Confederate flag and monuments represent the notion of “states’ rights”, an upraised finger that says: Don’t come to our state and tell us what to do.

Politicians and academics who should understand this sentiment, and who should be in the forefront in leading the debate, have allowed themselves to be shamed by those crying “racism” into distancing themselves from the flag and monuments, but the rebellion against federal power will continue. In America today, the revolt is not limited to the South; it takes the form of indignant opposition to same-sex marriage, any form of gun control, Obamacare, federal poverty programmes, immigration, climate change regulation and what is known as Common Core educational standards. Having never been honestly addressed, such festering social issues were largely responsible for the election of Donald Trump.

In a very real sense, America is still at war with itself. They are split into red and blue, rural and urban, religious and secular. The electorate, Congress and the Supreme Court are all utterly polarised.

If one takes a step back and makes an honest assessment, similar issues are creating similar fissures in Barbados. In both countries, the necessary discussion needs to be without fear, favour or rancour if truth is to prevail. Continuing to let potentially divisive issues fester is no longer an option.