Alice Bernstein and mastheads

As published in the Chicago Defender.

Words, Truth, and the Confederate Flag —

As an American and a person passionately against racism, I say it is wrong for the Confederate battle flag to be flown over South Carolina's statehouse building or any other, and I am proud to agree with the 50,000 people who demonstrated on Martin Luther King Day demanding its removal.
       It is abominable that vestiges of it are in Georgia, Mississippi and other Southern state flags. At the heart of this matter is what Aesthetic Realism, founded by Eli Siegel, the eminent poet and historian, explains: there is a fight in every human being — in me — between respect for the world and contempt for it.
          "The deepest desire of every person," Mr. Siegel explained, "is to like the world on an honest or accurate basis." This desire is the source of art, kindness, truth, good sense in life and economics.
       He also explained the ugliest thing in people, causing every injustice, from a sarcastic insult, a "little lie," to the deadly forms of crime, racism, war. It is contempt, "the addition to self through the lessening of something else."
       There is nothing more urgent for everyone than to learn how to honestly like the world and be fair to people, and how to criticize contempt, including in ourselves.
This study can end racism, and is also the knowledge that enables marriages to be kind, children to learn, violence on streets, in schools and homes, to end.
       From what in the self does the flying of the Confederate flag on government buildings arise? In the international periodical The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known, Ellen Reiss, the Aesthetic Realism Chairman of Education, writes definitively on this subject and I want everyone to know it. She says:
If there had not been the desire to maintain slavery, there would have
been no Confederacy and no Confederate flag at all. The Confederacy
arose from something completely hideous: the feeling in persons that
other human beings should be their property .... The reason the Southern
states seceded from the Union in 1861 was to be able to preserve slavery
.... South Carolina might just as well display a bullwhip and auction block
at its statehouse, because these and the Confederate flag stand for
the same thing.

       Ms. Reiss continues, "I heard Mr. Siegel on more than one occasion speak with passion about those words used so poignantly by Southerners: 'the Lost Cause,' [which] he said, was slavery, and 'the only good thing about the cause is that it was lost.'"
       Commenting on words being used in behalf of flying that banner, including honor, heritage, sacrifice, sentiment, she writes: "You cannot fight 'honorably' in behalf of something that is entirely dishonorable. To say one can is like saying Germans fought honorably in the cause of Hitler. And some German soldiers likely 'fought bravely' — but the bravery was in behalf of subjugating and annihilating human beings; it was bravery in behalf of gas chambers. And the bravery of the Confederate soldier was bravery in behalf of a Black child's being torn from her mother and sold."
       Of a Washington Post article stating that Southerners fought out of loyalty to their home states, Ellen Reiss writes with critical exactitude: "It was like a German soldier's fighting out of loyalty to the Fatherland when the Fatherland was Nazi .... If our first loyalty is not to truth, justice, and humanity, we may act 'sentimental' as anything, but there is something sleazy about us."
       About a sign carried by protesters, "Your heritage is my slavery," Ms. Reiss said that "heritage is a word that can be used to make an ugly thing look somehow noble. If your grandfather was an embezzler, you can try to make him look like Robin Hood and call it your heritage."
       About sentiment and sacrifice, she says:
Some people in Germany feel sentimental about how important Hitler
made them. Their sentiment does not justify the flying of the Nazi flag.
Sentiment can be contempt with moisture around its eyes.
       As to sacrifice: if you sacrifice your life in behalf of something
filthy, it is very sad; but one shouldn't honor the symbol of the
filthy cause.
      The way Ms. Reiss uses words is sincere and true and I love her and Aesthetic Realism for this.
        Every day people learn in classes at the not-for-profit Aesthetic Realism Foundation, and in consultations there and by telephone nationwide, how to see other people and to express oneself in social and economic life in a way that is true to the facts and true to ourselves.