Recently I came across this over at Civil War Memory
Some of you are no doubt aware of the story out of Montgomery, Alabama surrounding the vandalizing of a Confederate statue. Last week the faces of Confederate soldiers were painted black with "N.T. 11 11 31" spray painted in reference to the anniversary of Nat Turner's insurrection execution in Southampton County, Virginia.
I understand that this offended some southerners, but I think it's pretty funny. First, I love irony, and the irony is fantastic. Second, the fact that southerners are offended, I confess, means very little to me. I am an unapologetic Yankee.
Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center calls the vandalism "very objectionable," but asserts that unless it had included the message "Kill Whitey" or some equivalent, it cannot be a hate crime because it does not target an entire race (or ethnicity, or faith, etc.).
On the flip side, the Alabama Division of the Sons of the Confederacy is offering a thousand dollar bounty for the "arrest and conviction of the perpetrators" (so if somebody turns them in but they get acquitted does that mean he doesn't get his money?) and calling for investigation as a hate crime (though I'm not sure how calling it a hate crime would affect the investigation). And Pat Goodwin, of the United Daughters of the Confederacy (isn't it ironic that they have a permutation of the word "Union" in their name?) says the following: "This speaks loudly to me as a white person that whoever defaced this monument must hate all whites by honoring Nat Turner, who slaughtered innocent white children by decapitating them in 1831." Congratulations, Ms. Goodwin, you just won the non-sequitur award of the 2007.
Regardless of Goodwin's unfortunate lack of a grasp on logic, is there an argument that the defacement is the functional equivalent of a "kill whitey"-type statement? Could Nat Turner occupy such a place in the common memory that honoring him is an endorsement of racial hatred? Or are Turner's actions just insignificant in the face of the ongoing societal brutality of slavery? Was it worse for Nat Turner to kill innocent whites than for the heroes of the Confederacy to kill innocents of both races to defend their right to enslave innocent blacks? Or does American historical amnesia pretty much just foreclose any assertion about the common memory anyway?
What say ye? Hate crime or creative historical hooliganism?