CVIndependent

Wed08052020

Last updateMon, 20 Apr 2020 1pm

On this week's Twitter-fact-checked weekly Independent comics page: The pandemic and our political reality seem to be affecting the author of This Modern World; Jen Sorensen talks to an "expert" about which deaths matter; The K Chronicles lets itself go during quarantine; Apoca Clips watches as the return of Jesus goes terribly wrong; and Red Meat enjoys the park after being cooped up for so long.

Published in Comics

There’s this story I’ve been obsessing over lately. It’s equal parts hilarious, pathetic and infuriating. It’s an example of how indefensibly awful governmental decision-making can be—and more important, emblematic of how institutional white supremacy can be so pervasive.

This is happening in my backyard—North Carolina—so let me get you up to speed. There are two things you should know about my state: Like other Southern states, we have an odious legacy on race—slavery, secession, the Wilmington coup of 1898, segregation, “urban renewal,” Jesse Helms, the whole deal. Unlike other Southern states, however, we have a mostly progressive education legacy, centered on the oldest publicly chartered university in the country, the University of North Carolina.

Our story begins where these two threads converge. In 1913, the United Daughters of the Confederacy donated a monument to UNC. At its commemoration, Civil War veteran and local businessman Julian Carr—there’s a town named for him a few miles down the road—fondly recalled the time he “horse-whipped a negro wench until her skirts hung in shreds.”

The statue, depicting a Confederate soldier, became known as Silent Sam and stood there for 105 years, until protesters toppled it in August 2018. In January, UNC-Chapel Hill’s outgoing chancellor—she’d given her notice that day—had its base removed. The monument was stashed away, and that was that.

Or so everyone thought. But let me back up.

Silent Sam had been the target of protests for decades, but things heated up a few years ago. After white-supremacist Dylann Roof murdered nine black people in South Carolina, and Southern states began reconsidering their Confederate symbolism, North Carolina’s right-wing General Assembly passed a law in 2015 barring the removal of Confederate monuments. Two years later, after neo-Nazis marched in Charlottesville, protesters in Durham ripped one down anyway. That fueled the fire around Silent Sam.

For a year, the demonstrations became increasingly tense: There were protests and counter-protests, cops and tear gas, white supremacists and neo-Confederates. The statue turned into a PR nightmare for UNC. By the time it came down, almost everyone on campus was glad to see it go.

That wasn’t the case with UNC’s Board of Governors, however. The BOG, which manages the 17-campus UNC System, is appointed by the General Assembly. So when the General Assembly took a hard right turn in 2011, so did the BOG. And when UNC-Chapel Hill’s chancellor removed Silent Sam’s base in January, the BOG promptly removed her, months ahead of her scheduled departure. Several members insisted that Sam be returned to his former home—the hell with what students and faculty thought.

As it happens, neo-Confederates felt the same way. And here’s where things get weird.

Jump ahead to Nov. 27, the day before Thanksgiving, when, out of the blue, UNC announced that it had reached a “settlement” with the North Carolina division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans over the disposition of Silent Sam. This was strange, considering no one could recall the SCV filing a lawsuit over the statue. Stranger still were the terms of the deal: Not only did the neo-Confederate group get custody of the monument; it was also going to receive $2.5 million to build a facility to house it.

Yes: a $2.5 million gift from the state to an organization that romanticizes and mythologizes the slave-holding South, with the money specifically going to further spread those racist myths. That seemed bad. It soon got worse.

By the weekend, we’d learned that the SCV’s lawsuit, UNC’s answer, and the consent decree—i.e., the settlement—had all been filed within minutes of each other. By Monday, we’d discovered that UNC’s interim president and the BOG chairman had signed the consent decree days before the lawsuit was filed. And that’s not the best part.

An area attorney and former BOG member published a leaked message from the SCV’s “commander” to members detailing the group’s secret negotiations with UNC. I’ll gloss over the details, but here’s the gist: The SCV had been looking for a way to sue over Silent Sam since it was toppled, but the group found that it didn’t have a case. It didn’t even have the legal standing to sue. Nonetheless, when the BOG learned about the possibility of a lawsuit, it pre-emptively approached the neo-Confederates about a settlement. So long as Silent Sam didn’t end up back on UNC’s campus—too dangerous—UNC was willing to give the SCV whatever it wanted to avert a lawsuit that UNC knew it had no chance of losing.

I’ll note that UNC didn’t admit black students until the 1950s, and by 1963, it only had 18 black freshmen. The money it paid the SCV could cover the average debt of about 120 UNC graduates. Instead, it’s going toward a shrine for a treasonous white-supremacist insurrection.

So far, no one at the BOG has tried to defend this shit sandwich, but as best anyone can tell, they simply wanted the Silent Sam migraine to end. If it took paying Confederate fetishists a few million bucks to make that happen, so be it.

This is how institutionalized white supremacy works.

First, there was the presumption that objects meant to honor—not remember, but honor, which is what monuments do—those who fought to preserve chattel slavery should be protected by the state, and with it came an implicit message that the descendants of the slaves are worth less than the descendants of the soldiers who fought to keep them in chains.

Second, there was the failure to think about the moral implications of giving neo-Confederates money that could have helped disadvantaged communities or pay for scholarships or go literally anywhere else, knowing the money will further racist lies about the Lost Cause.

These considerations, if they were ever considered at all, were dismissed as unimportant. Because, to the white people making these decisions, they were.

Contact Jeffrey C. Billman at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in National/International

The week after Donald Trump launched his racist attack on U.S. Representative Elijah Cummings, which came on the heels of his racist attacks on four nonwhite Democratic members of Congress, my hometown paper gave its resident MAGA apologist, J. Peder Zane, ink to argue that the president and his Republican Party are not, in fact, racist, but rather the victims of a “false narrative” painted by Democrats, who are the real racists.

While Trump may have been “insensitive” in calling a mostly black congressional district with a median income above the national average “a disgusting rat- and rodent-infested mess,” Zane tells us, a “fair-minded person, while hoping that the president would be more precise, should see that he is not a racist.”

Four days later, a Trump-loving white-nationalist murdered 22 people in an El Paso Walmart after posting a manifesto explaining—in language that uncannily mirrored Trump’s immigration rhetoric—he was fighting an ”invasion.”

Funny how the racists think Trump is one of them.

Lots of papers have hacks like Zane, men (always men) who crib their sophomoric understanding of U.S. history from low-rent hucksters like Dinesh D’Souza and regurgitate the outrage du jour from the Fox News/talk-radio set. These columns tend to land somewhere between intellectually vapid and irresponsibly dishonest; papers publish them as a fig leaf to the MAGA crowd, an effort to assure them that they’re not part of the Liberal Media.

Like most, Zane is rarely worth rebutting. Here, however, he’s recycling an argument common among Trump acolytes, which in light of El Paso warrants scrutiny. His point is this: Republicans should ignore Democrats/liberals/the media when they say Trump is racist, because Democrats/liberals/the media always say Republicans are racist.

As Zane puts it: “Before Trump, Democrats leveled the same despicable smear against Mitt Romney—Vice President Joe Biden warned African-Americans that Romney ‘would put y’all back in chains!’” (Not to be pedantic, but Biden said Romney’s policies would allow big banks to do so.) Before that, Zane continues, they called John McCain racist, and George W. Bush racist, “and so it goes with most every Republican back to Richard Nixon.”

Quick history: Whatever Nixon’s personal feelings were (he really didn’t like Jews, FYI), beginning with his 1968 campaign, racial appeals became central to GOP politics. See, for instance, Republican operative Lee Atwater’s infamous quote: “You start out in 1954 by saying, ‘Nigger, nigger, nigger.’ By 1968, you can’t say ‘nigger’—that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things, and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.’”

Ronald Reagan denounced mythical welfare queens. George H.W. Bush ran the Willie Horton ad. George W. Bush’s campaign smeared John McCain with rumors about his adopted black child. McCain elevated Sarah Palin to the national stage, where she accused the first black major-party presidential nominee of “pallin’ around with terrorists.” Romney kissed Donald Trump’s ring while Trump was pushing the racist birther effort. Trump launched his presidential campaign by calling Mexican immigrants rapists and pledging to ban Muslims.

What Zane doesn’t consider is that GOP leaders have been accused of racism because they’ve employed racism to win votes. Trump has been accused of racism more frequently because he says and does overtly racist things more frequently.

Indeed, Trump’s entire political career has been built on racial demagoguery—and studies suggest that he owes his victory in 2016 in part to his voters’ racial attitudes. But for his supporters to admit that would mean admitting an uncomfortable truth about themselves. So instead, they define the R-word so narrowly as to render it meaningless.

Truth be told, however, I’m less interested in what the J. Peder Zanes of the world tell themselves about Donald Trump’s racism than in the effects their denial has on the rest of us. It’s no surprise, for instance, that Republicans don’t want to talk about guns after El Paso. More unnerving has been their widespread reluctance to acknowledge the crisis of the increasingly violent white-supremacist movement in the Trump era.

As a former FBI supervisor who oversaw terrorism cases told The Washington Post: “I think in many ways, the FBI is hamstrung in trying to investigate the white-supremacist movement like the old FBI would. There’s some reluctance among agents to bring forth an investigation that targets what the president perceives as his base.”

If we can’t even address white terrorism with offending Trump’s supporters, how can we possibly begin to address complex, systemic issues of racial and social justice: wealth gaps, education gaps, opportunity gaps, affordability crises, etc.?

The thing about Trump is that he says the quiet parts loud—often through a megaphone. He’s fundamentally incapable of hiding who he is. And that makes the choice ahead of us crystal clear: Between now and Election Day, we as a country will have to confront a lot of uncomfortable truths about who we are—and who we’re going to be.

Contact Jeffrey C. Billman at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in National/International

On this week's wet, moist and tropically humid weekly Independent comics page: Jen Sorensen quizzes a Trump supporter on racism; The K Chronicles wishes people were more skeptical; This Modern World enjoys a Donald Trump Decoder Ring; Red Meat listens as Milkman Dan tells Karen a cottage cheese-tinged story; and Apoca Clips ponders Li'l Trumpy's racism.

Published in Comics