Rethinking Racial History

Of all the things I have learned in this class, I think the most valuable for me was how to rethink the racial History of the United States. In the general narrative of America’s history many interesting stories were marginalized as well as the people who lived those stories. The two periods that especially intrigue me are the period before slavery was normalized and the very beginning of post-slavery america. These interest me the most because there were stories of black Americans that I had not previously been aware of.

In the time before slavery was radicalized and normalized, there were actually a fare amount of freed people in the United States. They lived lives that surprised me greatly. I remember reading taylor and learning about the free black Americans who lived in the north east. Some of them were well off, and some of them had slaves. These two things were very important for me in terms of deconstructing the racial history that I have been taught. The fact that there were African Americans who had enough agency to accrue wealth for themselves before slavery really  gained its footing speaks volumes. In addition, the fact that these African Americans themselves own slaves further problematizes the dominant narrative of american history in which only whites owned slaves. Furthermore, it raises interesting questions as to what type of rationale black slave owners had for owning slaves themselves. These things served me well in that they allowed be to develop an extremely nuanced view of History that I think help to sharpen my critical analysis abilities overall.

Confederate Commercials

The mockumentary “The Confederate States of America” was a fictional movie about an alternate history had the Confederates won the Civil War. In the movie, racism prevails and with that, the continuation of slavery. The movie was a satirical piece that was, although amusing, thought provoking. It addressed various events in history and continually portrayed the south as an oppressive force. The South would eradicate Native American culture, enslave Chinese labor workers, force the Jewish to leave the country, and create a “separate and unequal” world with Latin Americans. In an attempt to reunite the country, the South would even change history books by rewriting slaves as loyal servants and forcing Northerners to own slaves, something the Northerners would eventually appreciate.

What particularly struck me were the “commercials” in the film. These advertisements gave a glimpse of what modern life could be like. The ads consisted of job advertisements for unqualified doctors or “breeders” to treat slaves or for a police chase t.v. show called “Runaway.” The commercials included everyday products with names like “Sambo,”  “Darky toothpaste,” and new revolutionized slave technology. Although these commercials appear to be greatly exaggerated, with the use of overt derogatory statements, it makes one wonders if certain aspects of these commercials would have been possible today. Like others have posted, I can’t help but wonder if I would find still find these commercials absurd and racists if I was raised in Confederate culture. I wonder if slave culture would have continued or if racism would be more prevalent then it is today. Even in contemporary culture where the Union won the war there are still modern commercials that are taken down because they are deemed to be prejudiced or insensitive. If Confederate beliefs had somehow influenced more legislation or history in the past, how much would it have changed society today? Would there be products, ads, and shows specifically targeting a race? One could claim that those do exist today.

As those below me have mentioned, the film is a mockumentary that is meant to be satirical and highly exagerating but parts of it are based on truths. Racism did clearly exist in the South and, unfortunately, does exist today. This film may have been about an alternative history but it forces one to think of modern culture today.

Cheap Laughs or Necessary Consideration?

Like my classmates who posted on the film below, I also was just struck by the extreme racism of The Confederate States of America.  I think that Leslie brings up a good point that touches on the legitimate possibility that this racism pervades our society today.  Although it is not as over as a TV advertisement for slaves, our society does in fact still have traces of racism and prejudice against people of color–as seen in the past few days in the NBA (L.A. Clippers owner, Donald Sterling, made racist comments that were leaked to the public).

I think we have to keep this whole film in perspective and keep in mind that it is a mockumentary.  However, it is also vital to think about the likelihood of slavery still existing today if the Confederacy had won the Civil War.  By following the same timeline of actual historical events, the film does establish the idea that certain events would have occurred differently had the Confederacy won.  Economic turmoil in 1929 with the Great Depression was aided by a renewed Trans-Atlantic slave trade.  Emily mentions that the attacks on Pearl Harbor happened on December 7, 1941 but in the alternate history, the C.S.A. attacks Japan on this date.  It is silly to think that these attacks would have occurred on the same day as Pearl Harbor but it does beg the question as to what the role of our country would have been if the southern states had won.

On one hand I see the film as a low-budget attempt to get a quick buck out of cheap laughs and absurdity.  The commercials featured in the mockumentary were quite ridiculous and the basic attention to detail seemed lacking at some points.  However, I also think that the film touches on certain aspects that are important to consider.  As Leslie asks in his post, what if the Confederacy had won?  Maybe too obviously seen, this is the central question to be analyzed.  Would certain events have even happened and moreover would slavery still exist today?  I would like to hope that slavery would not exist and that a movement would have occurred after a hypothetical Confederate victory.  However, we as historians have difficulty interpreting the “what if” and can only draw upon what did happen.  This may be the key reason why the film seems so ridiculous and over the top.

 

A Not So Alternative American History

The 2004 mockumentary C.S.A.: Confederate States of America depicts an America in which the Confederacy had won the American Civil War. Presented as if it were a British documentary, the film details significant political, cultural, and military events of the CSA from the Civil War up until the earl 2000s. The movie satirizes issues and events that have happened and are still present in the United States to this day; the result is a revealing viewpoint on the discrimination that still exists today. As the author of “What If?” explains, just because the end of the Civil War resulted in the end of slavery as an institution in the United States, it by no means resulted in the end of racism. I believe this to be the main goal of the director of this movie.

One part of the mockumentary I found especially interesting was the Reconstruction segment. One contributor claims that in order to mend the divide between the victorious South and the defeated North, “the aims and causes of the war suddenly changed. Slavery was no longer mentioned as the cause of the war.” She continues, maintaining that “this was the key to reconciliation.” I found this so fascinating because it is in no way fictional. An accurate history of the United States reveals that the causes of the war suddenly changed after the war in order to strengthen the newly reformed United States. Davis writes in Inhuman Bondage that “while African Americans and a few white writers struggled to preserve the revolutionary or ‘emancipationist’ meaning of the Civil War, the compelling desire for reconciliation and healing… led to a national consensus that made ‘everyone right, and no one truly wrong, in the remembered Civil War.’” Additionally, when the same contributor observes that “the courage and sacrifice of whites on both sides of the Mason Dixon Line were romantically examined,” she is not too far off from what actually happened. The Civil War became more of a sectional war than an emancipationist war in the decades following the conflict. Therefore, the services of both Union and Confederate soldiers were both celebrated. As the contributor accurately mentions in reference to this romantic version of the war, “they struggled to survive, they protected their homes and families…”

Overall, I thought film did a fine job in examining the racism that still exists in contemporary society. I thought the fake commercials that divided the mockumentary did an especially good job of this as some of the products being advertised actually existed. It ultimately reveals an alternative history that in some ways is completely inaccurate and offensive, but in some ways is not too far off from what actually happened. It is extremely interesting to reflect on what would have happened if the Confederacy would have won the Civil War and C.S.A.: Confederate States of America hits the nail on the head.

 

C.S.A. – An Analysis

In the film Confederate States of America, the director imagines an alternate history in which the Confederate Army won the Civil War. The film begins with the Confederates beating the Union Army and searching for the escaped Abraham Lincoln. From here it accurately follows the historical timeline of events into the modern era. Significant changes are made in the history of the United States to represent a change in the ideology of the nation.

I agree with the author of the post “Changes to the Original” in her belief that the movie is extremely stereotypical in regards to its portrayal of the South. Most of the film’s humor is derived from stereotypical references to Southern culture and racism. “Country” music is played in the background throughout the movie, and actors with Southern accents are prominent as well. Typical southern cuisine is mentioned throughout the film to great effect. This is prominently shown in a commercial with references to fried chicken, as well as the testimony of the South American man forced to eat stereotypical southern food.

I found the commercials in between clips of the documentary to be one of the most jarring aspects of the film. In particular, the slave-tracking device advertised on TV resonated with me in a severe fashion. At first glance, these commercials appeared funny to me, and I found myself chuckling as I watched them. However, when I considered a world where overt racism was this prominent in society, I found myself cringing. Perhaps it was because these commercials were so similar to ones I’ve seen advertised on television, just tweaked slightly towards a different subject matter.  In any case, I found myself thinking that I wouldn’t want to live in a society where such bigotry was displayed out in the open on a day-to-day basis.

Ultimately, I feel as if the film is successful in its attempt to portray a Confederate United States. I felt as if it was extremely imaginative, and well thought out in regards to actual historical events. The director tweaked history just enough to make it somewhat plausible. Although at times the film was extremely stereotypical, and poked a great deal of fun at the South, I feel as if the film succeeded in highlighting the modern day issue of discrimination.

 

What if?

In his post max talked about the extreme racism that was displayed in the mockumentary, The Confederate States of America. Many of our classmates also expressed feelings of shock in response to the extreme advertisements for items like an electronic device to help people find their runaway slaves exist.

While it is EXTREMELY important not to demonize the south, and southerners when assessing history, as i watched the film, i began to ask my self what if? In looking at the film, the viewer is bombarded with extreme examples of racism that seem out of this world. But as Max also noted, it is not as if racism does not exist today. Just because it may not be as blatant as an eBay for buying slaves, does not mean it isn’t there. this is a point I would like to strongly make in order to emphasize the necessity of not demonizing the South, and not over glorifying the north. But again, my mind wanders to the question what if?

If the confederacy had won, is this really what the Confederate States of America would look like? practicality says no. but that is a practicality based on assumptions that come from the America we live in today. For example, even though there is covert racism today, I think most people I know would be extremely uncomfortable if they heard a white person earnestly and hatefully call a black person a nigger to their face. But in the world where the confederacy won, would this be an anomaly?

Which leads to another question, would slavery still exist? And if not, what would America look like? As we said in class, slavery may very well have been facing its end anyway. The system was growing economically efficient. But, as we know, just because the institution has ending, does not mean its effects do as well. Because of the way in which slavery ended, we as a country were set on a certain path in terms of race. I think racism would exist either way, but I honestly think the quality of life (and i mean quality based on a criteria of dignity) would have been worse for African Americans in the US had the Confederacy won. Change, as history shows us, would have come. At some point or another rights would have been won. But how long would it have been. Surely not in the 1950s…

Changes to the Original

The movie C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America portrays America with the same basic historical timeline as the one we know today but with many historical changes.  As Max points out, this film was meant to be a more humorous take on the Confederacy, but it also shows the racism existing in the South during and after the war.  The movie takes the stereotypical racist South to the extreme, having all of the subsequent decisions of the United States as exclusive and racist.

The most surprising changes in well-known historical events were the Great Depression and World War II.  When the stock market crashed in 1929, according to the Confederate States of America, in order to get out of the depression the Confederate States revived the Trans-Atlantic slave trade.  The Trans-Atlantic slave trade legally ended in the early nineteenth century in the United States, and it is surprising that in this fictitious racist country, the Confederate States decide to reopen this trade.  The opening of the slave trade is followed by the start of Hitler’s reign in Germany and the beginning of World War II.  In this alternate history, the Confederate States of America do not intervene in the war with Germany but instead begin a war with Japan.  The Confederate States generally agree with Germany’s plan, but believe that the Japanese are weak due to their small structure.  On December 7, 1941, the day we know for the attacks on Pearl Harbor, the Confederate States attack Japan.  Both of these events are surprising changes based on the racism of the Confederate States.

The Confederate States of America portrays a different America than what we know but with the same historical events.  Although we will never know if America would have been like what is shown if the Confederacy won, this movie shows the extreme of what could have been.  I don’t completely agree with this extreme view because I think that even if the Confederacy had won, slavery would have been eradicated eventually based on the economy or a slave uprising.  But the movie provides a historical take on what could have been if the Union failed to win the war.

The CSA: A Review

While watching The Confederate States of America, my expectations and predictions differed from the movie. Although all of it was speculation, the writers of the movie seemed to focus more on the dominance of race and seemed to forget about the other factors that would happen in a major transition of leadership and ideologies. As Max said in his post, “The Accuracies in ‘The Confederate States of America,'” the movie played up the south to be a “wholly racist region of the country,” which we know is in fact not true.

Mostly, I did not expect to see that there were still slaves in modern times, because after new technologies were introduced, slave labor became obsolete and not economically beneficial. One thing I found interesting was the “mass exodus” discussed: how many Enlightenment thinkers and woman’s rights activists moved to Canada to “escape” the new country’s ideologies. One can’t help but think that there would be an eventual transition of ideas and beliefs associated with the changing times and technologies, not that the same core ideas would last to the 21st century.

Another point I found interesting was the discussion of what happened to Lincoln after General Grant surrendered to General Lee and ended the war. Lincoln allegedly sought help from Harriet Tubman in an attempt to cross the border into Canada, but the two were caught and Tubman hanged. Lincoln spent his final days exiled and had an interview prior to his death, where he stated that he “wished he had really cared about freeing the slaves,” which is somewhat historically correct. One can’t help but think that even if Lincoln had not freed the slaves, wouldn’t some president or rogue state do so soon after him?

There are several questions that I still have in regards to the movie. The “commercials” shown in the Confederate State’s of America documentary were not only absurd, but also silly. Although, I can’t decide whether they are silly because they are actually absurd, or silly because I don’t think I could ever imagine living in a world like that. Another question that bothers me with the movie is what happened to the northerners during the time that the southern states were putting their leaders into power? We saw that there were some major figures that moved north into Canada, but what about the rest? Were there not any revolts? And what happened to the rest of the blacks in North America? Were there not any revolts from them?

The Confederate States of America’s most hilarious accusation were their alleged aggressions against Canada. It seemed that everything that happened in the movie was just a reversal of how they are today. But personally, I think that even if they south had “won” the civil war, things would have eventually turned out similar to what they are today. There is too much advancement in technology and around the world to believe otherwise.

The Accuracies in “The Confederate States of America”

Much like the Ask A Slave series, it is very clear that the Confederate States of America was also produced partially for its entertainment and comedic values. This “mockumentary” plays up the stereotype of the South as being a wholly racist region of the country, and depicts the way our country would have turned out today had the Confederacy won the Civil War. Despite its partly humorous intention, one aspect of the film that was particularly shocking to me was the series of commercials for extremely racist products that were advertised. While some of the products were simply made up, the end credits of the film note that some of the more racist ones had actual historical origins, giving their inclusion an overall sense of meaning.

 

An example of such a product that was advertised in the film was for Gold Dust Washing Powder, a cleaning aid sold in the United States from the 1880s to the 1930s. In the film, the product was advertised with two African American babies coming through and cleaning a household. Additionally, the commercial’s narrator used phrases like,  “Are you a slave to housework? Let the Gold Dust twins emancipate you from the burdens of cleaning.” The implied image of two African American children coming to clean your house is an overt example of the racism inherent in the advertisement. Additionally, the use of the words “slave” and “emancipate” suggest a further connection between the product and the institution of slavery.

 

While I was initially appalled by advertisements like this one, I was even more shocked to learn at the end of the film that “both black children and whites in blackface were cast as Goldie and Dustie in popular Gold Dust Washing Powder advertisements.” The inclusion of these facts at the end of the film serve to justify the ridiculous claims the film makes about life in the U.S. after a Confederate victory. Moreover, it shows that we should not think of the Civil War as the end of racism and prejudice in the U.S., as these advertisements exhibit the many forms of discrimination that have endured over time. Additionally, as Emma highlighted in her blog post, the film notes some of the other historical accuracies of the Confederacy’s post Civil War plans. One example of these was the idea to expand the Confederacy’s influence into the Caribbean and South America to create a tropical empire to fuel the South’s plantation-based economy. The racist advertisements and historically accurate plans for the Confederacy’s victory suggest that despite some of the film’s ridiculous claims, it is a valuable narrative in that it brings to light some important facts about the Civil War era and complicates the history that many Americans take for granted.