Status Rights

Dead Confederate soldiers. What the hell were these fools fighting for, anyway?


An age-old debate persists as to why the Civil War was fought. Some claim it was over slavery, while others argue it was over state’s rights.

I disagree with the slavery crowd. Most Confederate soldiers were poor white men who couldn’t afford slaves. Why in the hell would they want to take up arms to protect the property of rich plantation owners?

And slaves were competition to white workers. This was one of the more popular appeals made by the Abolition movement. Moral arguments about the cruelty of slavery were not nearly as persuasive to some white folks as was the competition argument.

Slaves worked for free. Therefore, they drove down wages and kept them low for white laborers. So it was in the economic interest of southern whites to end slavery, as this would help drive up wages and improve their employment opportunities.

And yet, white men donned the Confederate uniform and fought to break apart our nation.

So if the preservation of slavery wasn’t their motivation, they had to be fighting for state’s rights. Right?

Well, no, not in my view. After all, who the hell gives a damn about state’s rights? The issue of state’s rights is too wonky for ordinary people to give a shit about. Intellectuals in suits and ties might enjoy verbal jousting over this matter, while slurping down brandies, smoking cigars, and watching the burning embers of a fireplace die out. But I have never observed ordinary, non-political people making a case for state’s rights.

And I’ve never seen anyone pledge their allegiance to my state flag, or to any other. Nor have I ever heard of anyone proclaiming their willingness to lay down their life to protect the sovereignty of their state. It seems to me that nobody gives a flying fuck about their state. Well, except maybe a few Texans.

Who the hell in their right mind would take up arms to protect their state, of all goddamned things? If my state asked me to do this, I’d laugh myself to death. And no way in hell would I serve a cause like that.

So no, I strongly doubt that the Civil War was fought over something as eggheaded and wonkish as state’s rights.

But Confederate soldiers did fight hard and very bravely. Many fell in the battlefield for a cause that maybe they couldn’t quite put their finger on, yet believed in passionately.

My theory is that maybe they were fighting for state’s rights in name only. But in reality, deep in their guts, they were fighting not for state’s rights, but for status rights.

Southern whites during the antebellum days always had one thing going for them. No matter how low their fortunes might become, they could never sink down to the status of black slaves. No matter how piss-poor a white man could be, he could always look over at those slaves picking cotton and say to himself, “At least I’m not as bad off as those poor, miserable fuckers.”

So the thought that the slaves might shed their chains and become equals under the law to whites must have left many whites feeling shook up and irked. They were accustomed to guaranteed socioeconomic status at least one rung above blacks. And they wanted to keep it that way.

Those were the days when men fought duels to the death over insults. Pride and status meant everything, especially to southerners, where it seemed to be ingrained in their culture.

But even today status means a lot to people, and not just to southerners. Status is a basic human need. Your status in your community can help you to be trusted by others. Or distrusted. It can help you to maintain your livelihood. Or it may keep you from being employed. And it can keep you safe from those with vigilante mindsets. Or it can get you beaten to death in a dark parking lot.

People spend thousands of dollars for fancy cars, jewelry, and designer jeans, just to enhance their status. People brag and exaggerate for reasons of status. And sometimes they fight each other viciously and violently when their status is on the line.

Status is damned important to human beings.

When the Civil War ended, the black population of the South immediately rose in status. They could no longer be called slaves. They were no longer cemented to the bottom, as the lowest of the low. In fact, they now had a chance to rise up. Just imagine how insecure white people felt about this.

And so came the birth of the Ku Klux Klan, and other efforts to keep black people under the white people’s heel. The apartheid policies of Jim Crow were all about status. Keep the blacks backwardly educated, in poorly-funded schools. Keep them at the back of the bus. And make them enter public buildings through the back door. Make sure they, and everyone else knows, that their status is always at the back.

In my view, status rights was at the heart of the Civil War, and has also been at the heart of the Civil Rights movement. The racial tensions of the 50s and 60s were all about status. Rosa Parks sat at the front of the bus because she believed her true status was different from that prescribed by law.

The Civil Rights movement helped black people to immensely improve their status in society. And leaders such as Martin Luther King, Jr and Barrack Obama have demonstrated the wisdom of accepting black people as equals to whites.

And yet, the black population still suffers from lower socioeconomic status. According to Pacific Standard magazine, “Blacks are nearly three times as likely to be poor as whites, and more than twice as likely to be unemployed. Compared to whites with the same qualifications, blacks remain less likely to be hired and more likely to earn lower wages, to be charged higher prices for consumer goods, to be excluded from housing in white neighborhoods, and to be denied mortgages or steered into the subprime mortgage market.”

It seems that since the heyday of the Civil Rights movement, racial discrimination has become more and more subtle, with carefully engineered deniability. It’s out of sight, yet it still continues. We know, because it’s all right there in the statistics.

So let’s change the debate about race a little. Let’s consider that the Civil War wasn’t really about slavery or state’s rights. When boiled down to its essence, I believe it was about status rights. And the race issues we face today, are also about status rights.

Therefore I will never be convinced that racial discrimination has ended, until one thing happens. Black people and white people must enjoy a similar socioeconomic status. Then, and only then, will I believe that Martin Luther King, Jr’s dream has come true.

Because only then will black people have completely overcome.

37 comments

  • Poor uneducated white people being exploited to further rich and powerful agendas – thank goodness that has never happened since…. 😉

    I agree, TG, that racism and discrimination is very much alive and well. Even encouraged, in the political climate that is today’s reality. I really do think humanity is taking quite a few steps back, right now, in the progress department.

    Deb

    Liked by 2 people

  • Interesting Post TG. We were taught (in U.K.) the slavery rationale for your Civil War, but I like your explanation. I would suggest that many Southerners were likely “persuaded” to wear the uniform perhaps. i.e. did John Doe Southerner have the option to abstain, or was he totally intimidated or otherwise punished?

    As for the disappointing lack of progress in the equality area? We have the same lack of progress towards world peace; we still have not got nuclear arms under control; We still do not treat people the way we would like to be treated. We still believe that superficial exterior appearances determine who we are.

    I have to look back and wonder what was the point of all those protests back in the 1960s? So where do we go from here? Just keep spreading the message, and role model, as best we can. One day (beyond my time on earth) , all those ideals may be achieved, although I tend to suspect a worldwide catastrophic even will come first. That will then be the catalyst for the survivors to work together at preparing a future.

    Liked by 2 people

  • So, what were the Northern soldiers fighting for? Not sure I’d be willing to volunteer to get in a shooting war if Idaho or Maine decided to leave the union.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I guess their ideal was the preservation of the union. And I wouldn’t be surprised if it required a lot of cheerleading on the part of the officers, to get them to fight hard.

      Like

      • You got me thinking today as I went about my business. Why would anyone fight in a war?

        I think that there may be something that you might find worth examining and that is poorly thought-out patriotism. We are all kind of brought up to be patriotic; more so in times past than today. And if this is mostly unexamined, you might just sign up and fight for your country out of a sense of duty or pride. You might convince yourself that you’re fighting for your freedom and way of life or for all those beautiful young ladies back at home or whatever. A lot of time people act for reasons that just aren’t that well considered. Start singing some emotional country song and head off to the army recruiter.

        Long before the civil war, the Northern states and Southern states were alienated from each other over a variety of issues and generally stood together in blocks against each other. Southern or Northern patriotic pride was probably already quite alive and well in the decades leading up to the civil war. So, maybe a good reason why men signed up to fight on either side was just Northern or Southern pride.

        I don’t think that I’d go fight to keep my social status above that of some others. But, I don’t know. Maybe if they were trying to diminish my social status. But, I guess if enough fear and doubt were preached to you, that might be motivating.

        Another reason is “join the army or go to prison” AKA the draft. And then once they take you to the place where the fighting is, you fight because the other team is trying to kill you. I don’t know how much this played into the civil war.

        Liked by 4 people

        • Probably all of what you mentioned played into the Civil War, as well as most other wars. It’s the young and impressionable who are asked or ordered to fight. And so, they don’t think things through. They’re easy prey for leaders who want to wage war.
          Careful thought and reflection might lead them to realize that there are less violent and dangerous ways to maintain social status. But not many youths seem inclined to such ponderous excogitations.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Maybe the pride and patriotism and the social status you mention are just two different ways of looking at the same thing. Perhaps Southerners (the poorer ones that didn’t have plantations and slaves) were afraid of losing part of their identity or status in their world if the Yankees decided to tell ’em what was what.

            Liked by 2 people

            • Yeah, that could have had something to do with it, too. Status Rights is a simplification. I’m sure it was more complex than that.
              But I suspect the status of whites, versus blacks, played a major role in the psychology that motivated battleground bravery.
              Consider how blacks were treated after they were freed. Everything seemed geared at keeping them down, and treating them as second-class citizens.

              Liked by 3 people

              • Oh yeah, but that was not really unique to the confederate states. Nor was treatment of Jews, Chinese, Aboriginal Americans, etc.

                Liked by 2 people

                • Yes. By the way, I apologize for that confusing sentence in my last comment. I’ve fixed it now.
                  The South is not the only place where racial bias has existed in America. I once moved to a small town in upstate New York. I noticed there were no black people in this town, and pointed this out once to some friends. They told me some stories about the few times black families had tried to settle in the area. One black family was harassed out of town, and the other family’s house was burned down.
                  I suspect these days that there is greater racial tolerance in the South than in the North. Just try touring the state of Vermont sometime, and look for all the black people. Good luck finding any.

                  Liked by 2 people

  • There are times that you really make sense! A good post, just wish it wouldn’t be so true, and still so relevant to our times today! Would be so much nicer if we could look back and say, “Isn’t it so nice that we have learned from our past and we all can live as equals today!”

    Liked by 2 people

  • “Except maybe a few Texans…” Yep. Did you know that our kids say the pledge to the Texas flag every morning in Elementary school? It’s true.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Really? I did not know that. I was just joking, because sometimes I like to give Texans a hard time over their state pride.
      I’ve lived in 7 different states, including Texas, and have never seen near as much state pride as I’ve found in the Lone Star state.
      I’m not knocking it, but I do find it peculiar enough to crack a few jokes now and then. But I suspect it may stem from that fact that your state was once and independent nation for about 10 years. And that’s something to be proud of, I think.

      Liked by 1 person

  • As to your main point, you really may have something. Racism is alive and well in rural southern America, and I do generally hearing it come from those who are the least educated and have lower status. These people particularly dislike minorities who have higher status or are more successful.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That must really irk them. Especially if they have a black boss, or get stopped by a black police officer.
      It’s tragic, in my view. Status is important, but there are more productive ways of attaining it than by dragging others down to below one’s own level.

      Liked by 2 people

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