(via Field Negro)

One of the most disturbing aspects of moving to the South after a lifetime of Yankeeitude is seeing advertisements promising the "Old South experience!" at various resorts, tourist areas, and historical sites. The Old South experience. You know, the one with segregated bathrooms. Or perhaps you're more of a Gone With the Wind fan, in which case the experience requires slaves.

Charleston, South Carolina (not coincidentally the last state to officially display the Confederate flag on its Capitol grounds) recently hosted a conference of the National Federation of Republican Women. I know nothing about this group except that their convention theme was "The Southern Experience." That means lots of biscuits, charming hospitality, and doilies, right?
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Oh. That "Southern Experience." That's the president of the South Carolina State Senate, for the record, dressed as a Confederate General.

The baffling part is not that this happened – we all know what to expect when upper-crust Republicans from South Carolina congregate and feed off of one another's crazy. But how in the name of god did they find two black people willing to do this? "Hi, we're a national Republican group. We need two older colored folks to dress up like field slaves and take pictures with our members and guests. Interested?" One would think that even a very Republican black person would refuse a request by his or her ideological brethren to don Aunt Jemima garb and shuffle on down to the country club to pose with ol' Jeff Davis.

"Uncle Tom" might be inappropriate here, since I assume that Uncle Tom had a limit. But one thing's for sure: the GOP mission to win the black vote continues apace.
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  • Uncle Tomming isn't necessarily dignified, but it's a survival mechanism. A lot of us have to make the best of an incredibly shitty situation and snicker under our breath.

  • I could have sworn it was the Union in blue and the Confederates in gray (at least, that's what my Civil War Chess Set taught me). Why is that guy dressed as a Union trooper? Did he try to burn the building down, for historical verisimilitude?

  • It's South Carolina, Ed. That's the full explanation for this photo.

    I have some friends that live in North Carolina, just a few minutes outside Charlotte. You know, one of their primary cities. And in this area, just a few minutes outside one of the state's primary cities, it's rare to find an actual paved driveway.

    It's similar here in Georgia. My family lives out in the country near Atlanta, about fourty minutes or so out from the city. And in that place, it's not uncommon to find homes that are little more than slowly-rotting shacks, next to the burned out remnants of what used to be a convenience store.

    People that are that desperate? Yeah, they'll take a few bucks to dress up as slaves to amuse some pompous Republicans.

  • I've seen this posted on various sites, but you're the first person who has asked the question that's been swimming in my head, "Why would anyone agree to dress up as a slave in this situation?" I guess it was probably easy money, which is difficult to come by in this economy, so I won't cast any judgment on those folks, especially because I'm kind of uncomfortable throwing around the "Uncle Tom" slur.

    The people running the event though… It just boggles my mind. But in the age of media's false equivalency, I'm sure they will have some Michael Steele-esque defense of this to the tune of "This had NOTHING to do with slavery, it's just old Southern Culture! I think it's quite a leap to say that this event had something to do with glorifying slavery and slave-owners." and anyone who criticizes the event will be accused of playing the race card themselves. Hell, Michael Steele will probably give that defense himself, like he defended Gingrich's assertion that Obama has an anti-colonial Kenyan view on the world. Psssh, that had nothing to do with race, Steele says.

    Like I said, I'm uncomfortable using the Uncle Tom slur, but if I were to ever apply it to anyone, Mr. Steele would be numero uno. I just feel so badly for the guy. I feel like you can almost see his soul die a little every time he's asked to explain yet another outrageously racist thing someone in his party says, but he puts on the blinders and explains it away anyway because, what's he going to do, get a real job?

  • Why do women agree to do humiliating porn? Why do people sign up for drug experiments? Who do 90% of us show up to jobs we can't stand every day?

    We need to eat and have a place to live. Times are tight and these poor saps had an opportunity to make a few bucks in spite of the humiliation. I'm sure you remember the Ipecac video you posted a few days ago.

    Ethics and moral outrage only exist when you have a few bucks in the bank and, based on reality TV, there are very few people with those options these days,

  • 16shellsfromathirtyaughtsix says:

    I don't think it's degrading. Black actors play black slaves all the time in movies/plays. It wasn't degrading for Denzel Washington to be in 'Glory.' Not saying there isn't a ton of racist assholes in the GOP, but you can't assume that based on this photo.

  • I think it would not be degrading to play an ex- slave turned avenging soldier like Denzel Washington did in ' Glory', but to play " step- n- fetchit" for some rich white asshole seems like it certainly would be.
    Also, confederate generals often wore their old Federal uniforms early in The Great Southern Fuck- Up. I don't know if the asshole in the picture knew that or was so drunk he put the wrong coat on for the party. He got the hat right, though.

  • @John: You probably have the correct answer. The rural poverty in N.C., S.C., & GA is deep and ubiquitous. It is not just a lack of money. It is a poverty ingrained for generations that never recedes. Prejudice is also ingrained, so much so it is called culture. Combine the two and this photo is explained.

  • Ah, yes. As long as we leap to the unsubstantiated conclusion that they are desperately poor, the photo makes perfect sense. Especially since poor people will do anything for money.

  • You are on the prayer list for a full tenured professor position at where, Indiana or Northwestern? Both are fine schools, No?

    When people NFAH (not from around heah) start ragging on the South in general or GA in particular, I am usually quick to agree w/ them. "You and your family probably wouldn't like it here. The schools are bad and the weather is lousy." I really want people to be as happy as possible and the burden of living here shouldn't be an adder.

    I have no particular reason to defend or put down what I see in the picture, but I would like a little more explanation of the context. I just don't know what I am looking at beyond the surface.

    Picture is worth 1000 words, but I'm too dense (or evil or bigoted or…) to get 'em all without a little more help.


  • bb,

    If you had but used the most basic simian skills at your command, and pressed finger to mouse button while hovering arrow over link Ed provided at top of test, eventually you would have reached this url:

    Ah, see? They are "re-enactors" from the slavery era. Weird. I would think most re-enactors would choose a triumphalist role. Something in their ancestral past to pretend that at some point, someone somwhere somehow wasn't a compleat dipsshite. (Olde Enlgishey style, eh wot?)

    I've but to wonder. But then, maybe they take turns and McConnell dresses up all medieval serf like and the black couple get to be, what? Moors or some kind of shit like that? Or mabe Mcconnell is a Neanderthal and they get to be Cro-Magnon? Dunno. Like I say, weird.

  • You know, in these creative anachronism re-enactments, somebody has to play the losers, otherwise it's just really pathetic, charging at imaginary enemies. Do you think when they do the Hiroshima re-enactment, they save themselves a step and recruit from local burn wards?

  • bb, I understand you feel no need to bridge the gap, but do you see how bad it would be for an outsider to thrill to the Confederacy? Given that it has gone down in history as the side that fought to keep slaves, you may not welcome the type who are attracted to such images, rather than repulsed.

    Generally: other sources have said that the performers work with The Gullah Lady, whose goal is to educate through historic performance. Some detractors say that learning about their past is a glorification of slavery, others say it's the only past we have and we'd better know it. I frequently read the Hattie McDaniel quote: "I'd rather play a maid than be one."

    I think we can all agree that slavery is evil, and glorifying it is ugly. Unless we are part of the SC government, which might have to put it to a vote — or those despicable conservatives in Texas, who want to refer to it as "Atlantic triangular trade", to take the ugly out of it, raise a generation of kids who equivocate on evil.

  • @ED: "But how in the name of god did they find two black people willing to do this?". I did not mean to imply these particular folks were poor or wealthy. There is a culture of poverty and prejudice in part of the south that enables content like this photo. "Rich people will do anything for money." is closer to my point.

  • @Ed, not sure if I'm overreacting to your comment, maybe it was just directed towards one commenter but… I love the site here, but your petulance towards your commenters is becoming downright obnoxious. Why is it not okay to say that a reason someone might do this is because they need the money, but it's okay for you to immediately leap to the racial slur, "Uncle Tom"? Or worse actually, since you say even Uncle Tom had limits and these people are even more shameless?

  • I live in South Carolina.
    I am black.
    Would I, for one minute, think of dressing as a slave to be paraded around for a bunch of rich (or poor) white folk's political amusement?
    Hell no.
    But in fairness, here is what the actual folks in the photo had to say :
    From the article:
    McConnell and a handful of white Civil War-era re-enactors were invited along with Gullah storytellers Frank and Sharon Murray, who portrayed traditional Lowcountry blacks from the 1860s, to participate in "A Southern Experience," …………………….
    Sharon Murray said she and her husband were neither portraying freedmen nor slaves. They were invited to teach the women about the Gullah culture, she said. Their garments were replicas of clothing worn by skilled craftsmen of the Civil War era.

    The Murrays were paid for their time, and Sharon Murray said the night also offered the couple a chance to network with political activists who might, in turn, become educated on the Gullah culture and help promote efforts to preserve the history.

    "My husband and I are preservationists," Murray said.

    So there you go. Whether or not the people attending the event were of a mind to actually be educated about Gullah culture is up for debate, but that was the Murray's intent, and I can respect that. @ Mangrilla – did you READ the lamebrain comments on yesterday's post? I think Ed has shown great restaint, not petulence. If it were my blog I'd of told more than a few ignoramuses to f*** off for being complete idiots.
    And Uncle Tom, while not a compliment, is not a racial slur… referers to a perceived set of behaviors BY a race. It is not the same as nigger, coon, junglebunny, jiggaboo, etc.

  • @Denise: I don't typically read comments ever, especially yesterday because I didn't find the topic to be particularly intriguing. Not much to say after Ed made the very correct point that no matter what, illegal activity is illegal activity. I follow G&T on Facebook and pretty much only ever see his, "Oh, my commenters are so awful" posts on there so I decided to take a gander today. Whether or not "Uncle Tom" is viewed as a racial slur (and I really don't see how a statement that refers to and insinuates that a black person is selling out his race to ingratiate him/herself with whites ISN'T a racial slur, but, as you say, you're black so I guess you're the arbiter of these things), you still have to agree that getting bent out of shape because some people say, "Perhaps they were just making some money in a down economy" while at the same time basically calling two strangers race traitors is kind of beyond the pale, no?

    Point, though, we're all idiots because, Northeastern liberal elitist transplant to GA that I am, I had never even heard of Gullah culture.

  • 'But how in the name of god did they find two black people willing to do this?'
    14.7% poverty levels in the US? But it is similar to yesterday's post inasmuch as it appears that people have to demean themselves to make a buck. Something like this:
    'A US television network has commissioned a new series that crosses a wedding competition with extreme plastic surgery in order to give women the chance to be "the perfect bride".' ~

  • @ Mangrilla – no ,I'm not the arbitter of these things, black or otherwise, and that was a "beyond the pale" stupid statement for you to make. I'm just saying, Uncle Tom is an insult, but it is not a racial slur. We could argue the point all day and I'm sure we'll never agree, and that's fine.
    In the end, my opinion is that while I understand the Murray's desire to promote and preserve the (obviously) little-known Gullah culture, I highly doubt this particular audience had much intrest in being educated about it, they were there for the spectacle and their own agendas. It's 2010, and that kind of "Southern Experience" is best left to history books……….sadly, though, as one commenter pointed out, the Texas State Board of Education is busy re-writing the nation's history books in a manner which will attempt to whitewash (if you'll exscuse the pun) slavery and teach our children that Jesus shared the flat earth with dinosaurs. Hooray.

  • The weird part is how happy they look. Like they're genuinely pleased to be there.

    Maybe they run a professional "Southern Experience" group, and they charge big money for business conventions, and they're actually

  • @ Larry – thanks for the Jefferson Thomas link on your Tin Can. I, like much of America, missed that passing….the Lohan saga is SOOOOO much more newsworthy. :(
    And thank you very much for the compliment, sir. Just speaking my sometimes addled mind.

  • I'm Jewish and I wouldn't dress up in concentration camp prisoner garb next to a guy dressed like an SS officer. Not even for seventy bucks.

  • I can only hope that the message was properly received and does not become part of the Southern mythos that Black people were not ill-treated or even really slaves, because now not only do they have the heart-felt belief that Blacks fought for the South and slavery, but now there turns out to have been skilled craftsmen amongst them, as well.

  • "I'm Jewish and I wouldn't dress up in concentration camp prisoner garb next to a guy dressed like an SS officer. Not even for seventy bucks."

    Jesus Christ, read the link in Denise's comment. They weren't playing slaves, they were portraying members of the Gullah culture during that era. So the point of your analogy is what, exactly?

    And Denise, thank you for providing that link. It's nice that somebody took the time to seek out these people's own version of events before making unsubstantiated accusations about them.

  • @ Brandon – In all fairness, the photos have been buzzing about the internet for a few days due to the attendee who thought it would be a good idea to post them on FaceBook, and my first reaction to them was a big fat judgemental "WTF, black people?!?!?" and probably would still be, if someone hadn't tracked them down, interviewed them, and published it. I think that McConnell guy has his head up his ass if he really think that picture demonstrates "if anything, how we cross the culture lines." What a stupid asshat.
    But right now, frankly, I'm a little more interested in what's going through the "minds" of these idiots:
    Any thoughts, Ed?

  • Anglos irritate me…

    The Beckerhead/Rush/Palin (ad nauesuem, ad infinitum, ect…)
    current interpretation of race and racism is an outside, base and as uninformed worldview as one may proffer. What is at play here is Institutional Racism. The Institution is, and always has been about power and privledge. To assume the economic status of the actors in the role of the Enslaved is itself, an affect and propagation of Institution Racism (@Mangrilla). The fact that this image has generated such attention bears witness to the endemic and pervasive ideology which inundates ALL merkins

    The "racism lite" is much easier to disseminate and consume and that may explain why the concept is in such play by the conservative and regressive factions and is illustrative of just how precious little has actually progressed. This is why Good ole boy Chip and Rush could, without fear of repercussion, release into the mass culture "Barak, The Magic Negro," or the current replublican Gubernatorial candidate can propagated an image of the First Land and her husband as a "pimp-n-ho."

    Please rexamine the image and commentary in the harsh light of power and privledge, past, present and future. I'm sure this would be a wholly differeent dialogue. Without too much digression, the same ideas apply to women and and "Other"

    As for Gullah, the culture is in danger and will become extinct. Developers and local power are raising property taxes out of the range of traditional populations in an attempt to convert the prime beach to a top dollar resort area. This effort has been in progress for at least two decades. A Gullah primer would be Julie Dash's "Daughters of the Dust"

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