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Est. April 5, 2002
 
           
September 17, 2015 - Issue 621

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White Banal Nationalism
And
The Richland High School Rebels

 

By Ed Sebesta


"The impact of Confederate symbols, monuments
and other manifestations of Confederate identity,
when used by institutions and government, is the
normalization of the Confederacy. It sends the
message is that the Confederacy isn’t so bad since
if it was certainly we would avoid this identity."


Haltom, Texas, a suburb of Fort Worth, has a population of around 42,000 that is almost 70% white and just 4.1% African American, according to the 2010 Census. In Haltom, Richland High School of the Birdville Independent School District (ISD) has long been associated with the symbols and imagery of the Confederacy. Until 1993, Richland High flew a Confederate battle flag over its grounds, until the school district decided to take it down. Although the flag was removed, the school, which was opened in 1960, has kept other symbols of its Confederate identity. There is a rebel mascot. The sports teams are the Richland Rebels. The logo for the school is clearly derived from the Confederate battle flag, using its colors and a vertical stripe identical in design to the cross stripes of the battle flag with the blue letters RR for Richland Rebels over a red background. The school has a Johnny Reb spirit group, and a Dixie Belles drill team. [1]




[There are variants of this logo with the
vertical blue strip not outlined in white.]

Rev. Kyev Tatum, president of the Fort Worth chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, asked the Birdville ISD to ensure that Richland High School end its identification with the Confederacy and remove Confederate symbols and identifiers from both its campus and its lexicon. On July 10, 2015, he filed a complaint with the Texas Educational Agency and with the U.S. Department of Education when the Superintendent of the Birdville schools refused to meet with him. [2]

Earlier a Richland High School softball coach, Brenda Jacobson, was alleged to have made multiple statements regarding African Americans for which she was reprimanded by the school district. These alleged statements, denied by Jacobson and reported in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, were:

  • Telling a black player that “the sun is more attracted to you because you are black.”

  • Referring to a black player’s hair as “nappy and nasty.”

  • Saying that a black player wouldn’t do a certain drill “because there is water on the ground and black people don’t like water.”

  • Telling a black player, “see, everyone is white on the inside,” after the player cut her leg after sliding into a base.” [3]

Rev. Tatum announced that he and his organization were going to further investigate this matter. [4] The subsequent investigation included a call for the rejection of the entire Confederate identity of Richland High School.

Rev. Tatum’s call to drop Confederate symbolism and other identifiers resulted in students, parents, alumni of Richland High School, and the Birdville ISD making excuses and rationalizations for the Richland High School Confederate symbolism and identifiers. The web page of the Richland High School of the Birdville ISD, for example, was updated to state the following:

Contrary to recent misrepresentations, the Confederate flag has not been a symbol of Richland High School for almost 25 years. As a parent so eloquently stated, “Rebels mean choosing your own path and defining your own future.” Richland Rebels stand up for what they believe, and they accept that being different is okay.” [5]

Mark Thompson, a spokesperson for the Birdville ISD reiterated this justification and stated for the press, “They [school officials] feel our students define rebel as choosing their own path and defining their own future.” [6]

A Facebook page in defense of the Richland High School Confederate identity had 4,000 supporters by July 11, 2015 and Sunday July 12, 2015 there was a rally in defense of these symbols and the Rebel mascot. [7] Some attendees at the rally thought the issue was the defense of the Confederate flag, as reported by Ryan Osborne in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram:

The first woman to speak asked whether the Confederate flag ever meant racism at Richland. The crowd responded with an emphatic “no.” Osborne further reports:

Then why is anyone trying to take it away?” she said. “Because they don’t understand where we come from. We come from a Southern heritage. We love our country.”

In this case, “our country,” seems to be the Confederacy and “Southern heritage” also appears to be a synonym for “Confederate.” Another speaker strongly rejected the idea that the Confederate flag was involved, as reported by Osborne:

It’s not about the flag,” Duer shouted over the crowd.

Duer said the rally was about preserving the mascot, not defending the Confederate flag.

The flag was debated years ago,” Duer said. “The Confederate flag was taken away. That was a fight we lost, and that’s fine. But the Rebel mascot, the Dixie Belles, and the Johnny Rebs are what they’re trying to take away … [those] have never been a racist symbol for us, and that’s what this rally is about.” [8]

It is interesting that Duer feels that “we lost” when the Confederate flag was removed from Richland High School. For speakers who suggest that the identity of the school is wholly distinct from a Confederate identity, complaining that “we lost” when the Confederate battle flag was taken down is a curious defense, after all “they” are taking these Confederate symbols away from “us,” people who have “never” understood Confederate imagery as “racist symbol[s].”

The claim that these symbols do not have anything to do with the Confederacy and do not have any racial meaning at Richland High School is nonsensical. Further, when an external audience sees Richland’s flag, its “Johnny Reb” mascot and “Dixie Belle” group, these other schools, organizations, institutions, and business, will likely understand such as Confederate or Confederate derived symbols and identities.

Such Confederate derived symbolism is worth further examination. A school’s symbols are designed for the purpose of indicating its identity. In many ways, the manner in which a school presents itself through symbols and builds a school identity can be said to parallel national identity.

What is Banal White Nationalism?

In February 1861, the Texas secession convention stated in its Declaration of Causes:

In all the non-slave-holding States, in violation of that good faith and comity which should exist between entirely distinct nations, the people have formed themselves into a great sectional party, now strong enough in numbers to control the affairs of each of those States, based upon the unnatural feeling of hostility to these Southern States and their beneficent and patriarchal system of African slavery, proclaiming the debasing doctrine of the equality of all men, irrespective of race or color—a doctrine at war with nature, in opposition to the experience of mankind, and in violation of the plainest revelations of the Divine Law. They demand the abolition of negro slavery throughout the confederacy, the recognition of political equality between the white and the negro races, and avow their determination to press on their crusade against us, so long as a negro slave remains in these States. [9]

Confederate flags, symbols and identifiers, in short, indicate the national identity of the Confederacy which, as the Texas declaration makes clear, was a nation created to preserve white supremacy and slavery. Yet the students, the alumni, the parents, and the administrators of the Richland High School who wish to be “rebels,” don’t see any problems with seeking to be “rebels” derived from the Confederacy. In addition, this issue doesn’t seem to be a matter of much concern to the general public. Why are public schools identified with the Confederacy the objects of general indifference? The reason is, I suggest, white banal nationalism.

Michael Billig in his landmark book, “Banal Nationalism” discusses the fact that the discussion of nationalism usually resolves around extremists to the exclusion of seeing the banal nationalism in everyday life. Billig contrasts the focus of the usual analyst of nationalism to the analyst of banal nationalism as follows:

The analyst of banal nationalism does not have the theoretical luxury of exposing the nationalism of others. The analyst cannot place exotic nationalists under the microscope as specimens, in order to stain the tissues of repressed sexuality, or turn the magnifying lens on to the unreasonable stereotypes, which ooze from the mouth of the specimen. In presenting the psychology of a Le Pen or Zhirinovsky, ‘we’ might experience a shiver of fear as ‘we’ contemplate ‘them’, the nationalists, with their violent emotions and ‘their’ crude stereotyping of the Other. And ‘we’ will recognize ‘ourselves’ among the objects of this stereotyping. Alongside the ‘foreigners’ and the ‘racial inferiors’, there ‘we” will be – the ‘liberal degenerates’, with ‘our’ international broadmindedness. ‘We’ will be reassured to have confirmed ‘ourselves’ as the Other of ‘our’ Other.

By extending the concept of nationalism, the analyst is not safely removed from the scope of investigation. We might imagine that we possess a cosmopolitan broadness of spirit. But, if nationalism is a wider ideology, whose familiar commonplaces catch us unawares, then this is too reassuring. We will not remain unaffected. If the thesis is correct, then nationalism has seeped into the corners of our consciousness; it is present in the very words which we might try to use for analysis. It is na´ve to think that a text of exposure can escape from the times and place of its formulation. It can attempt, instead, to do something more modest: it can draw attention to the powers of an ideology which is so familiar that it hardly seems noticeable. [10]

If there can be a banal nationalism, could not there be a banal white nationalism? Would we be able to see it? As with banal nationalism, could there not be such ordinary, so familiar and routine words, actions, symbols, objects, that we can’t see them for the white banal nationalism that it is?

A nationalism which creates a historical narrative which constructs a heroic white nation and obscures the history of race in the nation is a powerful form of white nationalism. It might be a white nationalism in which non-whites are accommodated because a white nationalist imagination envisions itself to be magnanimous. Or it could be a nationalism where African Americans are simply nullities, not to be treated with hostility, but just of no concern, something other than being part of our common humanity or nationality, in short, a nationalism that imagines African Americans as the others (‘they’ who are not like ‘we’ are). It is a consciousness in which non-whites are ‘them,’ but not part of ‘us’ however solicitous ‘we’ might think of ‘them.’

In regards to the students, the alumni, the parents, and the administrators of the Richland High School who wish to be “rebels,” they are indifferent to the fact that they derive their rebel identity (one that flew in plain sight until 1993) from those who wanted to establish a white supremacist slave nation and committed massacres of African American Union troops. They don’t see a problem since Confederate imagery has “never been a racist symbol for us,” a stance that could be understood as black lives don’t matter because there isn’t a feeling of a shared, common humanity with African Americans. African Americans are not part of ‘us’. These supporters of Johnny Reb imagery are not openly hostile to African Americans, and they do not see themselves as racists. It is more that they just don’t care, and the acceptance (and defense) of Confederate and Confederate derived symbols is one manifestation of this.

This position is enabled by the general stereotype of who is a racist. Most people presume a racist is a belligerent person, screaming hostile slogans of white supremacy and racial slurs, perhaps someone of lower education or income than themselves. Members of racist groups are generally understood to be people who have been marginalized in society and are of no political influence. In sum, the public has the concept that a racist is someone outside normal society, someone they wouldn’t like anyways, and not someone they would know. Emphasis is placed on the racists as being disconnected from sane society.

These stereotypes of who is a racist have significant negative effects. The first is that people can avoid confronting their own attitudes on race because they see the racist as their “other,” an individual with whom they don’t share any characteristics. They can believe that they themselves aren’t racists since they don’t shout and they are educated and they have good middle class decorum. The second is that they don’t recognize, let alone challenge, racism in people they know. Since their friends, spouse, relative, co-worker, boss, subordinate, neighbor with racist attitudes usually doesn’t fit the stereotype. Similarly, violent and extremist white supremacists in America comfort ‘ordinary’ people that they themselves are not racists, since they are not like these extreme groups.

Yet, the impact of Confederate symbols, monuments and other manifestations of Confederate identity, when used by institutions and government, is the normalization of the Confederacy. It sends the message is that the Confederacy isn’t so bad since if it was certainly we would avoid this identity.

Confederate symbols have the power direct American race relations. British journalist of Barbadian descent Gary Younge experienced this in Richmond, Virginia, while walking amidst a series of one-hundred-year-old statues depicting Confederate leaders :

I turned around to walk back up Monument Avenue, feeling angry and confused... I had spent about an hour walking along a road in which four men who fought to enslave me... have been honoured and exalted. I resented the fact that on the way to work every day, black people have to look at that. Imagine how black children must feel when they learn that the people who have been raised and praised up the road are the same ones who tried to keep their great-great-grandparents in chains. [11]

To see that a government has decided to construct a landscape to honor the Confederacy, as in Richmond, or see that an institution embraces the Confederacy in its symbols, nicknames and imagery, as at Richland, demonstrates to many African Americans that those who build the landscape, instill a local identity, and control powerful institutions have little or no regards for African Americans’ humanity. Anyone would be upset if their local schools, streets, and parks stated that their humanity is of little concern, and reiterates this in the banal places of everyday life.

If the humanity of African Americans counted, then why are the Confederate monuments still standing, why do institutions and governments not give up Confederate identities and symbols and names?

Confederate monuments and symbols serve to instruct everyone. They poison the minds of white people by saying the concerns over the humanity of African Americans are not important. Every Confederate monument whispers, “Civil rights may be the slogan of the day, but white supremacy is for the ages.”

The students, the alumni, the parents, and the administrators of the Richland High School who wish to be “rebels,” aren’t seeking to take some hostile action against African Americans, simply to them black lives don’t matter. The indifference to African American humanity shown by white student bodies and white school administrations when they engage the Confederacy for their own purposes, whether consciously for racist ends or simply through indifference to African American concerns, cannot be tolerated.

The very fact that that there even needs to be a civil rights leader, such as Rev. Kyev Tatum, to raise the issue is a commentary on how much the humanity, beliefs and feelings of African Americans are valued by the Birdville ISD, the students of Richland High and others. The dismissive attitude of the Richland High School students, alumni, parents of students, and the Birdville ISD of concerns over their high school’s Confederate identity reveals their banal white nationalism. The lack of wide spread outrage in regards to Richland High School in the Fort Worth – Dallas metro area further reveals that black lives don’t matter to the general public.

Every child in America deserves an educational opportunity without having to go to an environment which obviously rejects their humanity. No child should be placed in an environment which subtly instructs them in racism or other prejudices.

The various rationalizations or thoughtless excuses for Confederate symbols and monuments and names need to be treated with contempt.

Those who choose to continue to defend that Richland High School rebel identity need to be recognized as the white banal nationalists that they are.

Footnotes

  1. Mosier, Jeff, “Richland High Rebels debate going to school board, but no vote planned,” The Dallas Morning News, July 22, 2015. For the date in which the Confederate battle flag ceased being used by the Richland High School, Moiser, Jeff, “Activist opposing Richland Rebels name threatens boycott,” The Dallas Morning News, July 23, 2015.

  1. Osborne, Ryan, “Richland softball coach reprimanded for racially insensitive remarks,” Fort Worth Star-Telegram, July 7, 2015. For more about the remarks by the Jacobson, see Osborne, Ryan, “Richland softball coach accused of making racially insensitive remarks to players,” Fort Worth Star-Telegram, April 29, 2015.

  1. Osborn, Ryan, “Civil Rights Group to investigate comments by Richland softball coach,” Fort Worth Star-Telegram, July 8, 2015.

  1. No author given, “Richland High School/ Overview,”.

  1. Mosier, Jeff, “Richland High Rebels debate going to school board, but no vote planned,” The Dallas Morning News, July 22, 2015.

  1. Save our Richland Rebels. Signature count reported, Osborne, Ryan, “Rally Held to support Richland High’s Rebel mascot,” Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

  1. Osborne, Ryan, “Rally Held to support Richland High’s Rebel mascot,” Fort Worth Star-Telegram, http://www.star-telegram.com/news/local/article27097243.html. Printed out 7/25/2015.

  1. Texas Secession Convention, “A Declaration of the Causes Which Impel the State of Texas to Secede from the Federal Union,” February 2, 1861,” William Winkler, Journal of the Secession Convention (Austin: State Library, 1912), pages 61-65. Prior to the Civil War the United States was referred to as a confederacy, so the secessionist are complaining about abolitionists wanting to abolish slavery throughout the United States. Lower case spelling of negro in the original.

  1. Billig, Michael, “Banal Nationalism,” Sage Publications, London, 1995.

  1. Gary Younge, “No Place Like Home: A Black Briton’s Journey through the American South,”(Jackson : University Press of Mississippi, 2002), 67.


BlackCommentator.com Guest Commentator, Ed Sebesta is an independent researcher. Co-editor of Neo-Confederacy: A Critical Introduction and The Confederate and Neo-Confederate Reader: The ‘Great Truth’ About the ‘Lost Cause’. Author of chapter about the Civil War and Reconstruction in the notorious Texas teaching standards in Politics and the History Curriculum: The Struggle over Standards in Texas and the Nation. Click here to contact Mr. Sebesta.

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