Author's Note: I'm writing this for my Northern friends, but those of you south of the Mason-Dixon would do well to read this, too.
If you've never heard me say it before, I'm a born and raised Miamian. Yes, Miamian. As in Miami, Dade County, Florida. 305. The Magic City. The Capital of Latin America. The real largest city in Florida (suck it, Jacksonville; you'd be no bigger than Tampa if you hadn't incorporated all of Duval County).
Now, as you might imagine, Miami is about the furthest thing there is from being a Southern town. There's a reason I like to call it "New York South:" it basically is. We're both massive metropolitan areas. We're both cultural melting pots. We're both very cosmopolitan. And we both despise Boston with a passion... though, let's be fair, Yankees fans: we Dolphans have far more to complain about, being that you only have to put up with the Red Sox while we have to put up with the Cheatriots.
All that being said, Miami is not representative of the rest of Florida. Calls for the region to secede and create its own state have been popular practically since Tuttle, Brickell and Flagler all signed on the dotted line. South Florida is its own little habitat separate from the rest of the state. We've never really gotten along with those crackers, and we never will. And before you get offended at my use of the word cracker, let me remind you that, being a native Floridian, I am allowed to use it.
Florida for the most part -- save for a few havens of sanity in the other major metros -- is still very much a Southern state. It was, after all, the third state to secede from the Union (and the third to be readmitted). Touristas are mostly spared from it, but if you travel to the rural areas, it's painfully obvious. And I don't mean "painful" as in "wow, this is an embarassingly stereotypical Southern design aesthetic," I mean "painful" as in, "oh, wow, there are still Tennessee Army battle flags and overt racism flying proudly here."
There was even a Stainless Banner hanging over the west entrance to the state capital from 1978 until 2001. It was part of a display alongside the French, Spanish and British flags as a commemoration of previous governments that had ruled the state, but the Confederate flag, in particular, was always controversial. It was Jeb Bush who, as governor, ordered it and the others removed with the intent of placing them in a museum instead.
Given this disparity between my hometown and my home state, it's entirely accurate to say that I am from The South, but I'm in no way a Southerner. In fact, it wasn't until I moved to North Carolina and lived there for three years that I really had my first intimate experiences with Southern culture. And even then, it was a somewhat watered-down version that isn't truly representative of what one would call the Deep South.
That move, however, did give me the incentive and opportunity to study the history of the Confederacy from people who had grown up immersed in a modern culture that both embraced and rejected it.
It was the first time I had ever learned that what people today call "the Confederate flag" is not, in fact, The Confederate Flag, but rather the aforementioned Battle Flag of the Army of Tennessee. The real Confederate flag was originally the Stars and Bars (yep, you've learned that one wrong, too), then the Stainless Banner, then the Blood-Stained Banner. At no point was the Tennessee Army battle flag ever an official flag of the Confederate States of America.
It was also the first I had learned of the true economic disaster that the South had become. Not as a result of the Civil War, but as a result of the fact that the Confederates were just plain terrible at running an economy, much less a country.
It was also the first I had heard the argument that the Confederacy was about states' rights rather than slavery. Which, I have to admit, is a compelling argument. And, to a certain extent, it's true.
Now don't jump out of your seat and scream at me. Sit down. Cool your jets. You didn't really think I was going to leave it at that, did you? Because, if so, you really need to get to know me better.
Fact is, slavery was the issue. That was always the case. That's undeniable. Every historical record from both sides plainly and clearly explains that the cause for the states' rights argument was slavery.
The framing of the argument over slavery is where the states' rights argument comes into play. It is true that the Southern states saw growing abolitionism amidst increasing federal control over the states as a threat to the very core of their economy -- which, of course, it was -- and they took the stand that the states should make the determination for themselves on a state-by-state basis about the rights of their own people.
So when you hear someone say that the Civil War was actually about states' rights... they're telling you half of the truth. It's an attempt to influence you toward the belief that Washington has grown out of control and reached that point long ago. Which isn't in and of itself entirely wrong; Washington is out of control, and that growth in power has been happening essentially since the Constitution was ratified.
Which brings us to the root of that argument: federalism. You have to remember that we as a nation existed for several years as a confederation before we became the federation that we are today, and that the Constitutional Convention only came to the three-fifths compromise because the South refused to participate if the North insisted on counting slaves as people. They were opposed to federalism from the very beginning because they knew that abolition was going to happen eventually, and that would have been the first step.
Hell, why do you think the phrase "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" was used in the Declaration of Independence rather than the original "life, liberty and property" wording? Abolition was in the plans all along, and the South wouldn't have even participated in the Revolution if slavery were to be abolished right out of the gate.
This proves definitively that the states' rights argument between North and South was always about slavery. Don't let anybody tell you otherwise.
But the argument against federalism simply does not stand up to scrutiny anyway. We transitioned to a federal form of government because the confederation was collapsing due to its inability to get anything done... history from which Montgomery and Richmond obviously did not learn jack squat. The Confederate States of America collapsed for, essentially, the exact same reasons; that collapse was merely exacerbated by the fact that they were fighting a war for their very legitimacy as a government at the time.
So using the Confederacy as an argument against federal control today doesn't make any sense at all.
Neither does using "the Confederate flag" (which it isn't) as a "symbol of Southern heritage." Since that heritage is entirely centered on slavery, one cannot make the argument that it has nothing to do with race without inherently contradicting themselves. And yes, there are more than plenty of people -- some of whom I know personally -- who still make that argument. I have no problem telling them that they're wrong.
I'll do the same to anyone I see displaying the Tennessee Army battle flag here in Hillsdale County, as well. And yes, I've seen it flying in areas of this county. As I'm fond of telling friends who've never been here, there are parts of Michigan where you could take a wrong turn and think you somehow wound up in Alabama.
Fact is, that flag is toxic. I don't care how you think of it, I don't care what sort of modern-day twisting of intent with which you attempt to excuse yourself, I don't care what ignorance of history you might claim. If you display that flag, you are not only declaring your allegiance to a racist country (the entire purpose of flying a flag to begin with), you are displaying the wartime flag of a military unit that killed people to uphold that racism. It is the identifying symbol of deadly force used to enslave black people. That is its entire purpose. It exists for no other reason.
I can say that authoritatively, not because I'm a Yankee from the South, but because the Confederates, exactly like the terrorist who recently killed nine black people in a South Carolina church, made their racist motivations clear by -- of all things -- literally opening their mouths and saying so.
Yes, the flag in front of the capital building in Columbia does have everything to do with the murder in Charleston. They both are rooted in racism. Period. End of discussion.