We can thank HBO Max for solving all our racial problems in 2020. They followed in the footsteps of CMT, who stepped up and resolved the significant race issues of our time by pulling the Dukes of Hazard from reruns in 2015, HBO Max pulled Gone With the Wind from its service. They plan to re-add it with an introductory video putting it in context. This grand new introduction will doubtless blow the minds of fans. It’s sure to reveal: a) that the way that Blacks were portrayed in 1939 was not okay, and b) that the movie was perhaps a tad bit biased in favor of the Confederate cause.
Many have mocked and needled for HBO for their action. They fully deserve it. Gone With the Wind isn’t above reproach or criticism, it certainly is not. The real concern is this action; as the actions of so many, it distracts from serious issues. We’ve seen this happen before.
The mass shooting in 2015 that killed nine people at Emmanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, S.C., reminded America of the challenges our country still faced in dealing with racism. American media and political leadership responded with a combination of performative wokeness and symbolic gestures surrounding the public display of the Confederate Flag and Confederate monuments. We saw the removal of Confederate flags on public grounds and Confederate monuments from public property. We saw bans on the use of Confederate flag on websites that were so over the top that they took down Civil War strategy games.
Who benefited from this? First, former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, by getting the Confederate flag removed from Statehouse grounds, avoided questions from reporters about her support of the flag’s presence before 2015. Second, Donald Trump benefited as it helped make his supporters’ case that political correctness had run amuck and needed to be countered by someone who never apologized for anything.
Does anyone think we’ve reduced racism or racial tension in this country in the past five years? If not, why are we doing the same things that haven’t worked? The killing of George Floyd was a unifying moment. At first, everyone was horrified, from Rush Limbaugh on the right to U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., on the far left.
We had a real opportunity to address some of the nation’s open racial wounds after George Floyd’s death. The moment has been hijacked by people who want to turn it into another series of culture war squabbles, virtue signaling, and preening.
The country group Lady Antebellum changed its name to Lady A. The problem? Lady A is already the brand of a Black musician who has operated under the name for two decades.
In some ways, this is the perfect analogy for what’s been wrong with so much of the reaction to the Floyd killing. So much of the response has been that white people are doing things that make themselves feel virtuous and annoy other white people while failing to build up black people. That’s a funny response when this is supposed to be about addressing the concerns of Black Americans.
The debate should not be about the merit of the ideas, but whether they’re an appropriate response to Black Americans’ problems. For example, the idea to remove Confederate monuments, particularly those set up during the Jim Crow era to remind Blacks who was in charge. Imagine for a moment that America removed every Confederate monument, painting, and symbol tomorrow. Black Americans would be just as likely to suffer unnecessary escalation from law enforcement, be pulled over for “driving while black”, or to attend a failing public school.
Why should the focus be on symbolic gestures that will be divisive but do little to nothing to address Black Americans’ problems? Real leadership would bring Americans together around policies that would directly address the issues raised in the wake of the George Floyd killing rather than focusing on tangential issues. This approach would be politically easier.
According to a poll this month, a plurality of Americans view confederate monuments as a symbol of Southern patriotism, with 32 percent of registered voters favoring their removal. Another poll found only 33 percent of registered voters in favor of renaming the military bases named after Confederate generals. On the other hand, a HuffPost/You Gov poll regarding six common-sense police reforms garnered between 59 and 73 percent support for ideas that included ending qualified immunity to a ban on chokeholds. A plurality was in favor of ending the no-knock warrants that led to the death of Breona Taylor (49 percent) and limiting the transfer of military-style weapons to police departments (46 percent).
Real leadership would bring Americans together around common-sense reforms addressing the problems raised by the death of George Floyd. If that doesn’t happen, it will be because we have leaders who major in the culture war and have forgotten how to unite people to bring real, positive change.