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John Kelly’s words on Civil War a declaration of racist principles: Paradkar

John Kelly’s insistence of goodness on both sides of the Civil War reflects principles that underpin the U.S. administration’s motives.

John Kelly’s insistence of goodness on both sides of the Civil War isn’t about the nitty-gritty of historical facts, writes Shree Paradkar.

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John Kelly’s insistence of goodness on both sides of the Civil War isn’t about the nitty-gritty of historical facts, writes Shree Paradkar.

It was the end of “Mueller Monday,” a bruising day for U.S. President Donald Trump, and all eyes were on John Kelly, Trump’s chief of staff, the man some media called “the adult in the room” to comment on the shocking developments.

Days later, nobody remembers what Kelly had to say about the federal indictments of Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort and Robert Gates, accused of money laundering and committing crimes against the United States, among many charges.

What caused shock waves were his views on the Civil War, which he attributed not to slavery, but a “lack of an ability to compromise,” on Fox News. “And men and women of good faith on both sides made their stand where their conscience had to make their stand.”

Very fine people, on both sides.

People gasped, historians groaned. Descendants of abolitionist Frederick Douglass — who escaped slavery himself — called it emblematic of “historical whitewashing.”

Even the descendant of Confederate general Robert E. Lee said Kelly would be better off keeping Trump “from tweeting and enacting racist policies, rather than engaging in a debate over the racist past of the South.”

Kelly’s insistence of goodness on both sides of the Civil War isn’t about the nitty-gritty of historical facts. It’s a declaration of principles that underpin this administration’s motives. If you diminish slavery, you can deny racism.

With his fiction-based revisionism, Kelly prised the Lost Cause out of the grasp of academia and gave it a White House stamp of approval.

His views aren’t surprising. As a section of the population knows, these attitudes have always existed when it comes to racism.

A few years ago, I was at dinner at someone’s house when another person showed up without her husband. “He’s at home with a friend,” she explained awkwardly. “And the friend is nice, really nice . . . he’s just um . . . he’s just a little ah . . . he’s kind of racist.”

Nice racists.

I’ve come to learn that nice racists are those who are capable of pleasantness only to white people.

This is a learning of epiphanic proportions that I’ve since placed at the root of the good-people-on-both-sides argument.

Anybody who has tried to speak out against racism knows the conversation goes something like this: “Your boot is on my neck, take it off.” The response: “Are you saying I’m not a good person?”

This is why systemic police brutality against racialized and Indigenous people is dismissed as individual instances of a few bad apples.

Discriminatory hiring is passed off as meritocracy. The best were hired, they just happen to be mostly white.

Racist Halloween costumes find the good-at-heart defence: Meant no harm.

Historical figures: Flawed heroes. Also, don’t apply today’s values on them. Orchestrating famines, owning people, killing, kidnapping, mutilating, raping them were the norm. Not criminal or abusive at all.

Thus the cycle continues. We were good people. We are good people.

It’s an instinct that television host Stephen Colbert could not resist Tuesday night when he lambasted Kelly’s words on the Civil War on his show, then said, “Or maybe, Kelly knows better, and is just being wilfully ignorant. Because as the chief of staff, he’s now forced to defend the positions of an idiot.”

Can you hear it, too? Kelly just might be a good person in a bad spot.

In the context of the Civil War, this desire to be labelled good isn’t just a Southern fetish.

“One of the biggest myths,” the New York Times Magazine journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones told the podcast Uncivil, “is that the North is not implicated in slavery. That somehow, if your ancestors lived in the North, you have clean hands.”

Slavery caused the Civil War, but it doesn’t mean the North was fighting to stop it. “They were fighting to preserve the Union, which isn’t the same thing,” she said.

Slavery enriched all the states. The cotton produced by forced Black labour fuelled the Industrial Revolution in the textile-producing North, she said, and it implicated every industry, from shipbuilding to banking.

The Emancipation Proclamation by Abraham Lincoln — considered the good guy in all this — did not in fact, free all slaves. It only freed those who were in places that had left the union. A slave owner living in a state that was in the union could keep his slaves.

Forget both sides, there were no good guys in the Civil War. There were victims, who passed their spirit of resistance to their progeny.

It’s they who have become an inconvenient truth challenging a self-woven narrative of goodness. That explains this fact-free revisionism.

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