The historical blog world being a rather small community, I assume that most of the people who are reading this already know that the debate over those elusive black Confederate soldiers has stirred up again. Check out Civil War Memory and the Old Virginia Blog if you want to jump in.
The black Confederate proponents remind me of some hockey-masked, machete-wielding lunatic from a slasher movie. You can shoot him, burn him, drown him, run him over with a dump truck, and he just keeps coming back for more. Right when you think he’s had enough, in that split second before the closing credits roll, he sits bolt upright, ready to wreak more havoc in the next installment.
I suppose we owe the persistent critics of pseudo-historical myths a debt of gratitude for fighting the good fight—or toting the weary load, as it were. Of course, many criticisms have been levelled at the notion of thousands upon thousands of eager black Confederate troops, critcisms based on interpretation of evidence, the need for context, the selection of sources, and so forth. And all those criticisms are right on the mark. But will it make any difference? Will it change any minds? I doubt it. There comes a point when evidence and argumentation becomes irrelevant, and that point comes when the problem is one of perception.
Let’s say you run into a guy who tells you that he makes extra cash by raising live dinosaurs. He takes you behind his house, where he shows you a huge enclosure filled with alligators. They’re everywhere, sunning themselves on logs and rocks, sliding through the water, strutting across the ground. “See there?” he says, with perfect satisfaction. “A whole pen full of dinosaurs. Big, scaly dinosaurs.”
“Those are alligators,” you reply.
“What are you talking about? Look at ’em. Big, mean reptiles. Sharp teeth. They lay big eggs. Dinosaurs.” And he’s as serious as a heart attack. What do you do? There’s no real response that you can make. The difference in perception is so basic that communication is no longer possible. And of course, the guy who sees the dinosaurs is convinced that he’s won the argument.
In that case, there’s not much left for you to do. Maybe my slasher movie analogy was wrong. Maybe a better illustration would be the Black Knight from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, still trying to come at the opponent who had already hacked off his arms and legs.