Fair play?

The swirling controversy over whether the Georgia band “Confederate Railroad” should play at the Ulster County Fair resulted in 190 comments posted on the New Paltz Times Facebook thread. Arguments from opposing perspectives made sense. I surprised myself alternately agreeing and not agreeing about whether canceling the Confederate Railroad band was the right decision. I will not reiterate each side’s best arguments, but I encourage readers to peruse the site and make up their own minds.

Never before in my lifetime, even in the 1960’s, when Margaret Mead said, “was the worst division between Americans we will ever see,” has there been so much divisiveness coming from all sides on so many issues affecting life here.

The 190 comments reflect the larger society and can be divided into two categories: issue based and identity based. The issue-based arguments are bolstered by someone’s interpretation of “historical facts” and therefore “seem” less emotional and more objective, such as “The Civil War was more about states’ rights than slavery,” to which someone replied, “States’ rights were to own slaves!”


This identity-based argument side-stepped the issue, “The first slave owner was a black man among many other black slave owners.

Muslims still engage in the slave trade, as well as female genital mutilation. Where is the outrage?” And this assumptive comment, “They will still get paid because the gig was booked, but they just won’t have to play for bigots,” have an underlying meaning most often lost in the minutiae of disagreement.

A Stanford University political science study examined division from a different angle; not from how Americans stand on policy issues, but from the perspective of how they feel about those on the other side. The study found “feelings” have become predominant over issues and are increasingly “more negative, even hateful.”

From the Facebook thread, “So a few people decide they don’t like the name of the band? So they are blocked to play there? Who are these pansy asses who made that decision? Put their names out there.”

When did a person with a difference of opinion become the object of anger and personal insults? When? Now!

Recently on the cruise ship Queen Mary 2, I was seated for dinner at a table with a geographically diverse group of older Americans representing the north, south, east and west. I said, “We could have an interesting lively political discussion coming from so many different states.”

“If you so much as mention politics,” the stranger said, “I will gouge out both your eyes with my steak knife!” Since we were on a “patriotic cruise,” arriving at the Boston Harbor on July fourth to wave some plastic mini-flags and watch the fireworks, I certainly was in no position to risk my eyesight.

I have opinions. Don’t hate me. It’s my right.

Katie Porter isn’t part of “The Squad,” the four-women group of freshmen progressives of color. I think she should be. Her beliefs line up, even if her color doesn’t. We have to unite over our need to heal the world, not our individual identities.

There is a controversy raging on Facebook about the right or not to invoke the Holocaust when describing what is going on at the boarder and with the round-up of immigrants by ICE.

I believe it was Elie Weisel’s intention when he coined the phase: “never again” that the word “Holocaust” could be used to describe all systematic oppression of one group against another. Misery is not a competition. If one child is separated from their parent at the border and dies caged in a detention camp, I believe in these words from the Jewish Talmud which states, “Whoever destroys one soul, it is as if he destroyed the entire world.”

We humans have more in common than differences. Remember this from high school, which many of us could once recite?

“I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions, fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed?” Shylock’s speech from The Merchant of Venice.

I believe most people truly do not understand the scourge of slavery from which our country has not nearly recovered, symbolized for many by the Confederate flag. Understanding slavery takes time, interest and depth of study.

I believe in reparations as long as places like Baltimore, Brooklyn, The South Side of Chicago, prisons and the unfair racist judicial system dismantled are the recipients.

If I had to pick a side, regardless of all the arguments, I believe the banned band should perform next year with a new name if only to bring people out of their prison of opinion. I’ll go then. Will you?

Editor’s note: The Felice Brothers will perform at the Ulster County Fair on August 1 at 8 p.m., replacing Confederate Railroad. The Ulster County Fair returns to the fairgrounds in New Paltz from July 30 to August 4. For full County Fair schedules and much more info, visit http://ulstercountyfair.com.

There are 15 comments

  1. Tim Hunter

    Thank You for this Susan
    Bottom Line:
    Until we stop this pointless game of an eye for an eye
    (Which Gandhi said “would make us all blind”)
    And start accepting each other, and working WITH each other
    We will be stuck in tar like the fossils in the La Brea pits
    And might just extinguish ourselves and this planet in the process

  2. Sean Bomniwell

    The confederate flag, along with the Confederacy itself, represented the desire of southern states to continue the practice of owning brown-skinned people as chattel. No band that uses that flag in their materials or calls themselves “Confederate Railroad” has a place playing in any part of the world where we actually recognize that racism and slavery are WRONG. They have the right to call themselves that, according to the first amendment. But no one is obligated to employ them or promote them if they find that flag (and what it represents) offensive. End of story. The first amendment guarantees the right to free speech. But it doesn’t guarantee against consequences of that free speech. You can say what you want, in other words, but no one is obligated to listen. And the UC Fair is entirely within its rights to cancel the appearance by Confederate Railroad.

    It’s notable, too, that in statements from the leader of the band, there is no indication that they wish to distance themselves from the message that flag and name conjure. Instead, he only thanks fans for their support. That says a lot. They had their chance to say, “Of course, we deplore slavery, racism, and prejudice of all kinds.” But they chose to say nothing. That tells us all we need to know. It’s 2019. Anyone who supports the Confederacy is showing their true (and racist) colors.

  3. Julian Brachfeld

    Sean, no one cares about your fee fees.
    The band has every right to play, the fair has every right to bring them in, and you have every right not to go that particular evening.
    Susan, thank you for being as balanced as one could be given the circumstances and for using some of my material.
    If we are to heal, we need to learn from history and let go of the past.
    The same could be said even on a personal level.
    As long as people a choose to be perpetually offended by historical artifacts, they’re not letting go and nothing changes.
    History will remain history regardless.

    1. JamaicaontheHudson

      Julian, no one cares about your fee fees.
      The fair has every right to cancel a performer if they are in violation of the terms of a contract, the fair has every right to remove them from the lineup you have every right not to go that particular evening.
      Susan, thank you for being attempting to be as non-comittal as possible. I realize that not taking a position either way is very trying.
      N-E-Who, if we are to heal, we need to learn from history and let go of the past. The South lost and dragging around a defuct rag in the North isn’t going to bring them back. I mean if Germany can do it…*shrugs*
      The same could be said even on a personal level.
      As long as people a choose to be perpetually offended by the fact the times change and so does society they’re not letting go and nothing changes.
      History will remain history regardless, so put it in a museum and move on.

  4. Get over it.

    The band should have played. You can not erase history. It is what it is.

    Why is the group “90 Proof” allowed to play? Are they insensitive to people with alcohol addictions or people whose lives have been ruined by abusive alcohol related circumstances?

  5. You Already Know Who This Is

    1. The letter-writer is entitled to her opinion.

    2. Her opinion is wrong.

    3. Ulster County apparently has an existing ban on displays of the Confederate flag. It owns the fair grounds and extends use to the fair operator. Confederate Railroad’s use of the flag in it’s image violates that ban. As a result, they were cancelled.

    4. There cancellation was not censorship. The band was not arrested by the government, and can perform in private venues of their choice (so as long as the venue can/will book them).

    5. I listened to some of Confederate Railroad’s songs on Youtube.

    6. The best part of Confederate Railroad, is the controversy that they inevitably drum up: The band’s lyrics, rhyme schemes, melodies, and general appearance are trash… I don’t mean that in an insulting way, I mean that in a completely true way.

    Seriously, Billy-Ray Cyrus and Lil Nas X could fart out better music (and it would probably be more coherant and socially-relevant).

    7. We live in the North; we’re closer to Canada than the Mason-Dixon line. It’s ridiculous to support a flag that you (a) don’t have any connection to and (b) represents a failed regime which attempted to overthrow the government (the same one which has given us the ability to express dissent).

    8. I cannot count how many Swamp Yankees I’ve seen with Confederate Flags (ironically, usually on the back of beat-up foreign make trucks). It’s tragic (and also, slightly, hilarious). I cannot stress this enough: No matter how much Southern country music you listen to, how much sympathy you have with the Rebel Flag, how much you love Southern food, dislike or minorities, or gays, or immigrants, or snooty rich “liberals”–nothing can change where you were born and what your actual heritage is.

    9. If you haven’t gone as far south as ‘Jersey, and bump Confederate Flag, you are Boo-Boo-the-Fool. If your last name ends in a vowel, your family wasn’t on the American Continent when the Civil War was fought, and you rock the Confederate Flag, you are Boo-Boo-the-Fool. If you are snowbird who moved to Florida and now believe that Southerners who are born and bred there see YOU as a Southerner, you are Boo-Boo-the-Fool.

    10. Don’t be Boo-Boo-the-Fool…

  6. Edmund Burke

    Letting go? Julian, “Those who do not learn from the past, are doomed to repeat it”. We should never forget our past, that included a time of abuse, intolerance, hate, discrimination, and “murder”. This Confederate flag is as offensive too black men and women, and actually should be too all mankind, as the swastika is too those of us of the Jewish faith. We should never forget, when time got it wrong, or believe me, it will happen again, and again, just like it is rearing it’s ugly head, daily, as I write. It is not the “historical artifact”, but what it represents, that offends. Your, one eye closed, view of the world actually assists the perpetration of hate and evil, by taking a side, without any “historical” personal encumbrance. Remember; “The all that is necessary for the triumph of evil, is for good men to do nothing.” The County Fair officials did get it right, a public event, can not have blatant manifestations of hate on display, but must be considerate of all those that, they represent.

  7. John Lennon

    “Christianity will go. it will vanish and shrink. I needn’t argue about that, I’m right and I’ll be proved right. We’re more popular than Jesus now. I don’t which will go first-rock ‘n’ roll or Christianity. Jesus was all right but his disciples were thick and ordinary. It’s them twisting it that ruins it for me.”

  8. Judah Benjamin

    10,000 Jews fought in the Confederate Army.
    One of them was granted leave for Yom Kippur by General Lee himself after it had been denied by the soldier’s immediate commanding officer.
    Lots of Jews in the Confederacy, Passover not withstanding.
    The one Confederate railroad locomotive had a Jewish engineer at the throttle who was a cantor. He was reported to have sung out tunefully “Pharoah’s army got drowned, Oh Mary don’t you weep?”

    1. JamaicaontheHudson

      Sure, Judah, but try refusing to serve during that time. Jews were not were not viewed as equals to White Christian Southerners.

      Unfortunately, there were also enslaved and free blacks who were forced to aid Confederates. That doesn’t equate to them being traitors or supporting slavery


      1. Steven Weedstein

        You never heard of U.S.Grant’s Order Number 11? Anti-semitism was a disease then as it is now.

      2. Poeticus

        “The atoms of Democritus
        And Newton’s particles of light
        Are sands upon the Red Sea shore
        Where Israel’s tents do shine so bright.”

        William Blake

  9. susan slotnick

    Hi its Susan.
    What’s done is done….as I stated there are cogent comments on both sides, all that remains in the present is the anger and hostility in some of these opinions… why did I write? Does anyone ever give up there point of view, if so, how? Any ideas on how the discourse can be conducted in a way that doesn’t hurt. I would like to write about that… please give me some ideas…..

  10. susan slotnick

    If you would like to send me your thoughts I can be reached though my website
    susanslotnick.com I am hoping that someone is interested in my questions in the above comment. How sad if no one cares unless we are arguing
    New Paltz is special… lts get together and find a way to disscuss without vitriol

Comments are closed.