Much has been written (and tweeted, and memed, and broadcast, and etc.) about the HBO proposal to create a series, “Confederate”, on the what-if idea that the South had not lost the Civil War but had (at least) defended their territory, allowing them to continue black chattel slavery into today, the 21st century. I’m unclear on whether this would be a single season thing or some kind of on-going series, like Game of Thrones.
Two significant arguments in opposition to this series are (and forgive me for the loss of nuance in this summation), first, that it is inherently offensive to Black Americans to see this domination fantasy portrayed on the screen, even if unsympathetic to the Confederate side, and, second, that we have enough racist practice and defense of white supremacy in our daily lives that we don’t need to indulge in some made-for-TV version.
The objection to the opposition seems to be two-fold as well. First, we shouldn’t “censor” artistic expression, which is such a horseshit argument I can’t believe anyone has the nerve to put it forward. They are already going ahead with the show and the prospective viewers are saying “We ask you not to.” There is no censorship, only a moral appeal.
Second, and more perniciously, defenders argue that it could be “well done” and “thought provoking”, and we’re assured the slave holding forces will not be portrayed kindly.
That’s the problem.
Confederate is a white liberal attempt to distance ourselves from the racist taint of the majority of our white compatriots, who are only too happy with a politely white supremacist nation. It is a fantasy of white heroism, resisting evil and fighting on the right side. It is the white entertainment dudes’ attempt to exculpate themselves from their continuous participation in the manufacture of white ideology in our current times. They want to be the superheroes of their own story, imagining themselves to have of course fought on the side of the Blue Union, and uneasily look past the upsurge of unfiltered racism and lust to impose Jim Crow – if not chattel slavery – once more upon the nation.
It is a self-referential fantasy. It has to be. The very premise of the story is that whites rule brutally and coercively over non-whites. That the Black co-worker next to you today is going to be chained (or chipped), under 24/7 surveillance to enforce her sub-human status. Yes, there will be a modern day Frederick Douglass, a sassy (and master-of-martial-arts) Harriet Tubman stand in, but the story will revolve around the souls of whites and the pure-hearted ones who break the chains for the enslaved. Probably with some kind of computer virus.
The thought that needs provoking is the idea that what we live in right now is sufficiently inhumane and indefensible to deserve an honest telling and a sober reckoning. That our Confederate past is neither dead nor past. That we are not the heroes, but the self-deluding, unindicted co-conspirators of the ongoing, barely interrupted campaign to keep millions of our fellow citizens in conditions of subservience and fear.
Go make a series about that.