Have you heard about this? It doesn't seem to have garnered widespread media attention - but I was able to find a piece in the Huffington Post covering the gala, "NAACP Protests 'Secession Ball' In South Carolina".
The article's title certainly hints at the controversial nature of the Charleston ball; protesters held up placards emblazoned with phrases like, "SC Suffers from the 'Confederacy of the Mind'", while supporters and attendees spoke to the desire to honor heritage, not hate.
What is your reaction to this? Clearly, the fallout from the Civil War and Reconstruction continues to reverberate; North and South alike must face and process this painful period and come to grips with how the issues that were germane to it are still a part of our lives today.
I, for one, would love to hear some diverse takes on this, from readers in different parts of the nation, and perhaps outside the U.S. Please weigh in on this one!
Remember a while back when I posted an image from the wall of Fangtasia - George W. Bush as a vampire taking a bite out of Lady Liberty? One of the points I was trying to make in that post is that True Blood is such a dense, multilayered show; like an onion, you can just keep peeling away layer after layer of skin and find something new underneath.
This issue of the "Secession Ball" reminded me of a powerful - though fleeting - image from Season One, Episode Five (I think), Sparks Fly Out. Do you remember the scene when, right before the Descendants of the Glorious Dead meeting got underway, two men came out with the Confederate Flag and placed it in a pedestal at the front of the church? The camera panned to Tara - the only African-American present as far as I could see (and certainly the only African-American woman in the all-white audience), and she was clearly impacted by the introduction and prominent display of this loaded symbol.
Here's that part of the scene transcribed, courtesy: http://www.losttv-forum.com/forum/showthread.php?t=56195
In the church, two older men place a Confederate flag onto a pedestal base, as Tara (perhaps the only African-American in attendance) watches wide-eyed, saying nothing. There is an empty seat to her right, and more on her left. Sam and Sookie make their way down the row of chairs.)
Sookie (to Tara): Hey, girl. Can we join you?Sam: Hi, Tara.
Tara (laughing nervously): Sure, come on in.
(Sam sits at Tara's left, and Sookie sits at Sam's left.)
|look closely and you'll see the tension in this picture- recall that Sam recently |
slept with Tara but still pines for Sookie; and Tara knows it
(Tara elbows Sam and he jumps)
I've got to go and make merry with my family (Rebecca will be there!) for the holiday, but when I come back, I'm going to be putting up some images from this scene, some quotes from the book "Regulating the Lives of Women" that I think are relevant to it, and posing some questions to ponder as visions of sugarplums dance through your heads on this Christmas Eve!
HAPPY HOLIDAYS FROM THE PIERCED POMEGRANATE TAVERN!
OK, I'm back after a snowed-in Christmas weekend. Hope your holiday was happy! As I was saying...
TARA AND THE CONFEDERATE FLAG
What might this potent imagery and quietly- but powerfully - written and played scene say about the legacy of Confederate culture and slavery in the South, and how Tara confronts it?
Does Tara's relationship to symbols of the Confederacy like the flag differ than those of anyone else gathered for the DGD meeting? What are her experiences with the Confederate flag, and with her predominantly white friends and associates (and as of Season One when this scene took place, lover) as an African-American woman? What happens for Tara at the intersection of race, class, and gender in Bon Temps?
We can't answer all these questions in this post, but we can take on a few.
I wonder if Tara's relationship to Sam, and to Sookie, in the quasi-love triangle they found themselves in over the course of Season One, might have been at least in part informed or impacted by how "white colonial society simply denied the 'rights of womanhood' to black slaves" (Abramovitz, 1996) - particularly in the South.
In her book "Regulating the Lives of Women: Social Welfare Policy from Colonial Times to the Present", Mimi Abramovitz deftly uses first-person narrative material to paint a devastating picture of what life was like for black women under slavery. They never had the right to legal marriage, family integrity, or protection from physical, sexual, or economic abuse. The brutality we associate with slavery - the beatings, lynchings, mistreatment, and more - was in many ways exacerbated for female slaves; they were vulnerable in ways male slaves weren't.
According to Abramovitz, the reproductive labor done by female slaves for their masters was indistinguishable from other kinds of labor. Especially after the slave trade was outlawed in 1808, plantation owners became increasingly interested in the inhumane "breeding" of slaves. The threat of sexual assault from white masters and overseers was constant. Virtually all of the slave narratives contain accounts of the sexual victimization of slave women. Although our modern sensibilities may be shocked or offended by the use of language in this slave's report, I think it's valuable for us to read her first-person account of the rampant abuse which originally appeared in "We are Your Sisters: Black Women in the Nineteenth Century" by Dorothy Sterling:
Ma mama said that a nigger 'oman couldn't help herself, fo' she had to do what de marster say. Ef he come to de field whar de women workin' an' tel gal to come on, she had to go, He would take one down in de woods an use her all de time he wanted to, den send her on back to work. Times nigger 'omen had chillun for de marster an his sons and some times it was fo' de ovah seer. (Abramovitz, 1996, p. 64)Rape was institutionalized as part and parcel of slavery; black women's sexual integrity was crushed, their rights of motherhood denied, their choice all but removed when it came to sexual contact with white men. The child of a slave recounted what happened when his mother tried to choose:
I don't like to talk 'bout dem times 'cause my mother did suffer misery. You know dar was an overseer who use to tie mother up in the barn wid a rope aroun' her arms up over her head, while she stood on a block. Soon as dey got her tied, di block was moved an' her feet dangled, you know, couldn't tech de flo'. Dis ole man, now would start beaten' her nekked 'til the blood run down her back to her heels. I asked mother 'what she done fer 'em to beat and do her so? She said, 'Nothin 'other dan 'fuse to be wife to dis man'.Under slavery black women often found them doubly victimized when white women took their wrath out on female slaves while their husbands, sons, and brothers continued to rape and abuse with impunity.
Now, we know that for a time slavery also existed in the North and racism continued here far after its abolition. We also know that despite the regulation of slavery, black family ties persisted, black slaves- both men and women - resisted their subordination' they escaped slaveholders, carried out uprisings, deliberately withheld their labor, and taught themselves to read in clandestine "midnight schools" often run by women. I am not for a moment suggesting that black slaves, or African-Americans living in the South or other part of the U.S. today should be seen only - or mainly - as victims. What I AM suggesting is that we face the painful history of slavery and we must consider how its legacy still impacts and influences life in our nation.
We see some of this in Tara's character development and story arc; she is depicted as a strong women who is self-educated, she has directly challenged men - Bill over the issue of slavery in his family, Sam over what she perceives as his racism in their sexual relationship (which he may well be blind to), and Andy and Bud over what she views as illegitimate police power.
Is it unreasonable to think that her sexual relationship with Sam might be problematized due in part to the history of female slave's sexual exploitation by white men?
SOCIAL CONTROL OR CHANGE?
Maxine Fortenberry admonishes that Adele Stackhouse hadn't really thought through the idea of booking the church for this particular DGD meeting, since the guest of honor was a vampire who might just sizzle up like a slab of fat-back bacon when he caught sight of the big cross at the front of the room. But maybe, just maybe, the church as venue was more thought out and purposefully planned (not by Gran, but by the writers, of course) to send a message of social control.
Could it be that the church as institution- and all the symbols of religious tradition housed within which condition us and to a certain extent mold our ideas and behavior (even if we are not personally religious, since we live in a society deeply rooted and soaked in Judeo-Christian tradition)...
...like the altar bearing the words from scripture which recall Jesus' sacrifice and the sacrament of communion commemorating it, juxtaposed with the DGD sign featuring the Confederate flag as a reminder of yet another sacrificial body - the rebel soldiers killed in battle - and the cross, here draped by yet another powerful symbol of patriotism, the American Flag...
...be set up here as legitimizing devices for the maintenance of the status quo - the version of the social order that the DGD so fondly recalls?
Adele told Mayor Norris she didn't know why Bud Dearborne felt compelled to wear his Sheriff's uniform to the DGD meeting. Could it be that True Blood's writers wanted the friendly lawman to bring a tacit expression of state power to the DGD by having him wear his uniform, which is emblematic of law and order?
We may be onto something with the theme of seemingly benign reassertion of social order and control. Let's take a look at surface-level appearances. Certainly Adele Stackhouse, the organizer of this event, is a beloved figure for many reasons and a model of welcoming and tolerance in Bon Temp; the grandfatherly Mayor Norris - although slightly wary of Bill's vampiric presence - does not seem to be a bigot...
...and looking out over the (overwhelmingly white) faces of the DGD attendees one may be inclined view this as a celebration of family and community history as opposed to the uplifting of racism.
And yet, the Confederacy it celebrates had in its very constitution a clause outlawing the banning of slavery; it was an inherently stratified (and often brutal) society built upon the backs of people who were owned as chattel.
Here we see the people of Bon Temps casting a nostalgic eye towards this past, perhaps earnestly wishing to find themselves in the recollections of the gallantry and heroic deeds of their forebearers who bravely fought in what Adele called the "war for Southern independence". We've got to take pause to really think about the complexities of the impulse behind the DGD.
I think this scene beautifully illustrates the push-and-pull of old and new ideas and social constructions; of changes happening within the community and within the larger society even as some try desperately to hold onto the past.
Remember when Royce and company made their entrance to the DGD meeting, commenting that everyone assembled looked so old; to paraphrase, they thought they were there for vampires, not the descendants of the walking dead? In this seemingly throwaway turn of phrase, the DGD and its aging membership is cast as a dinosaur, a quaint if irrelevant relic from another time. Could this be a comment on the place of the most damaging of the ideas that formed the backbone of the Confederacy in the New South - a fading remnant?
Could it be that having Bill Compton, both "Other" (vampire) and "one of us" (founding citizen of Bon Temps) at the front of the congregation, speaking from the pulpit, was True Blood's way of suggesting that perhaps Southern society is wrestling with its history and identity - it can be at once old and new, rooted in legacy and facing the future, and that things, people, and whole cultures can, and do, in fact, change?
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION (AND IDENTITY, AND BACKGROUND, ETC...)These are the musings of a white woman from the North of a certain age and background. We need diverse voices to round out this conversation. Please lend us yours!
Abramovitz, M (1996). Regulating the lives of women: Social welfare policy from colonial times to the present. Boston: South End Press.