Do They Love Their Ancestors Or Not?

Let’s set aside, for the sake of argument, the question of whether someone can actually love a person who lived 150 years ago.  Neoconfederates often proclaim their love for their ancestors while denying historical truth about them.

Tonight I attended a fine lecture given by Ta-Nehisi Coates, Senior Editor at The Atlantic.

0214031957  He made the point that one way to know that you love someone is you’re willing to look them in the eye and tell them hard truths about themselves.  He made the point in relation to loving one’s country and criticizing it–looking it in the eye and telling it the hard truth about itself.

He’s a fellow student of the Civil War and talked about his interest in the war, how it came about, and some of the things he’s done.  It all got me to thinking about neoconfederates and their professed love for their ancestors.

If we take Ta-Nehisi’s criterion for knowing if one loves someone else as valid, then we have to question how much neoconfederates actually love their ancestors when they make claims that slavery had nothing to do with the Civil War, that it was all about tariffs, and that it was all about State Rights [which State right in particular, by the way?  Hmmm?]

What do you think?  Is the inability to tell the hard truth about their ancestors an indicator that neoconfederates really don’t love those ancestors?


  1. Al, I thought I would run into this in my discussions of anti-black racism among Irish immigrants or the enslavement of native American by Latinos in New Mexico. I was happy to see that I did not lose Latino or Irish American readers when I published more than half a dozen articles on these topics. Folks understood that it is important to explore there dark areas of our history. The head of a local Irish studies program told me he was happy to share the articles because they helped modern Irish Americans understand the attitudes members of there own families expressed when they were children.

    Weirdly, I got more resistance from fans of Grant when I wrote about his nativist views and anti-semitism.

    Exploring the past often exposes us to the hearts of darkness of people we otherwise admire or identify with. My legal briefs line up all the evidence on the side of my client, my historical writing can only show respect for people whose voices can no longer speak by exposing their complexity.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Pat. I agree completely that it’s important to explore the dark areas. What I think is more important is to be open about them and to accept those we love for who they are (or were), warts and all. Self-appointed “defenders,” in my opinion, aren’t doing their ancestors any favors.

      1. We all love our ancestors whether they were Irish,Italian Polish, German, Scot, English ,French immigrants ect ect Southern or Northern. Just realize most were far from perfect and had their share of short comings. Most fell victims to their cultures, locations and times. I have always felt If I were around in 1860 my views would have been dependent on where I was born and the culture I was raised in.

        1. Can we really love someone we’ve never met?

          Can we really love someone whose daily existence was alien to us?

          At some point we’re descended from some human who lived thousands of years ago. Do we love that person, even if we don’t even know their name?

          1. Sure, It’s on a spiritual level. My grandparents on my mothers side passed before I was born ,I have always felt love for them. Many of us donate money, time and other resources to charities, food and clothing banks to help people we have never meet and never will meet. Why? Because we love and care about those we have never meet who are in need. Guess I look at my ancestors as passing life down to me, and for that I love them. That’s doesn’t mean I justify everything they did. And I fully understand all do not feel the way I do.

          2. On the other hand , if we look at our ancestors from a mathematical view , going back 12 generations we have 2048 direct ancestors. That’s a lot of direct ancestors 🙂

  2. Sorry for the errors. My iPhone autocorrect undermines me again. Damn you Steve Jobs!

  3. Jimmy Dick · · Reply

    I think modern politics has a great deal to do with it as well. I also think most people have no real understanding about their ancestors. Statistically speaking many people in the South should be claiming Confederate deserters as ancestors as well as many who refused to fight or fought for the North. You don’t see that coming up very often do you? Most of the ancestors would have been poor struggling farmers as well. Supporters of the Lost Cause myth really ignore a lot of history in order to present the fictious version they support.

    1. Thanks, Jimmy. I agree that modern politics plays into their positions quite a bit. I think that calling their self-proclaimed “love” for their ancestors into question highlights that something else is actually at work.

  4. Filiopietism seems endemic to certain groups, but maybe you are right and it has more to do with criticizing our evolving sense of equality, and “amalgamation”, than with a real historical sense.

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