There is a petition out, I guess it’s on President Obama’s lame-duck relevance site, “Change .Org”, to destroy the Confederate Monument at Stone Mountain, Georgia. Like everything else that reminds people that the Civil War was a thing, the Stone Mountain Memorial pisses people off because it reminds people that the Civil War and slavery were things in American History, and, specifically, in Georgian History. Not that Georgia needed any reminders; only the tech boom and Atlanta’s lax enforcement of zoning codes allowed the state to crawl out from the rubble left behind by Sherman’s March to the Sea 120 years earlier.
So, yeah, the Stone Mountain Memorial, which was paid for with private money and built on private land (which was subsequently donated to the Stat of Georgia) is a horrible affront to everyone who thinks…I’m not sure…slavery something, and we could probably work in a “worse than Hitler.” Of course, if we’re going to blast that off the Mountain, we should probably give the hairy eye to a few other large monuments around the country. The San Jacinto Monument, the Goliad Memorial, and the Alamo, all mark events in the Texas Revolution—an event that was (according to some modern historians) an obvious land grab by the US in order to expand slavery (never mind that Texas won that war on its own and wasn’t even permitted to join the Union until 5 years later with the promise that the newly admitted state would handle its own debts), knock ‘em down…put up a Gap or something. Mount Rushmore sits on land formerly sacred to certain Souix (okay, Souix is a generalized term that means “enemy,” but there is no other word that encompasses the many Algonquin tribes that ruled the northern plains in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries), and the nearby Crazy Horse Memorial is insulting (Native American cultures consider it an insult to point with their fingers, and more so that he’s using his left arm). I could go on, but I won’t. Basically, if you have a petition and enough dynamite, there’s apparently a lot of work to be done.
I have safe money that a large number of the organizers and signatories of this petition were among the voices telling people to “get over it” when the hubbub surrounding the Islamic Cultural Center near Ground Zero occurred. That is, of course, neither here nor there. Hypocrisy is a problem in America, and in human culture in general, but it is not the focus of today’s article. Today, we’re going to talk about offense.
Now, I’m not one of those people who subscribes to the erroneous notion that offense can only ever be taken. Some words and actions are so foul that they can be nothing but offensive. Most states have a “fighting words” defense, so the law sort of bears me out, since “fighting words,” means that there are some things that can be said for which there is no reasonable response except to beat the speaker like an old drum.
To be fair, “fighting words” are pretty clearly defined, and, in most cases, come within spitting distance of actual assault (a credible verbal threat of bodily harm). So it’s not like “Yo’ Momma” jokes can be considered fighting words.
But are they, by their nature offensive? On the off-chance that your mother is actually so fat that when she sits around the house, she sits around the house, I’m going to say, that some people may take offense, but that, while insulting, the statement itself is not offensive. At least no more offensive than Lucky the Leprechaun, that obsessive little sugar addict who’s been the primary representative of Irish-American Culture for the last fifty years. Let us, then, look at the SMM and determine what about it makes it offensive.
The Stone Mountain carving depicts three men on horseback, pictured from about the waist up (Lee, in the forefront, is shown from the knee up), facing east. All three men are sad, and even a little regretful, when one studies their features. From left to right, they are, Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. J.E.B. Stuart is not depicted shaking his fist in defiance and rallying his newly-formed Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, nor is there any depiction of the horrifying destruction wrought on the State of Georgia by Sherman’s strategically-necessary scorched-earth policy. For a United Daughters of the Confederacy project, the Monument is remarkably subdued: just three regretful men, looking east.
So, it is not, in and of itself, offensive. Its presence on the mountain and the sad looks presented on the faces of its subjects can be interpreted in ways that might be considered offensive by some, but it is not even in the same league, in terms of intrinsic inappropriateness, with Aunt Jemima or the Cleveland Indians mascot. Heck, it’s not even as intrinsically offensive as the use of the Swastika, and that was a good luck symbol for a thousand years before the Nazis painted it with hatred and murder.
The thing is, if we want to remain a free society, we have to stop thinking with our guts, our hearts and our genitals, and re-learn how to think with our heads. It’s stupid to get our panties in a wad every time we see or hear something that we personally find offensive, but it’s easy. Freedom isn’t easy; it requires work and thought. To be a responsible member of a free society, you have to take the two seconds necessary to look at things from someone else’s perspective. You have to ask yourself, “Is this meant to be offensive, or did I just get my back up, because it struck the wrong chord in me?”
The US population is a mix of every culture present on the planet, and we must keep ourselves aware that things we may view as offensive may be seen as harmless to others. When someone wishes you “Happy Holidays,” they are not trying to eradicate your god or undermine your faith. It’s not racist to say that you think the President is set on a dangerous course, no matter who that President is. The Islamic Cultural Center in New York was not planned as a Tea Bag for the Ground Zero victims, and the UDC did not commission the SMM as a big “Fuck You!” to anyone.
Get over it. Very few people do or say anything specifically to piss you off. Most of the time they aren’t thinking about you at all, but have their own concerns instead. Save the uproar for something worth the effort.