Secession implies racial hostility

Petitions to secede from the Union are the latest in a slew of incidents that can be considered racially hostile toward President Barack Obama.

Just like when African-American activist Cornel West called Obama a “Rockefeller Republican in blackface,” the Donald Trump-powered birther issue and the interruption of Obama’s congressional address by Republican congressman Joe Wilson — these petitions shouldn’t be viewed superficially as individual events of disrespect, but collectively as a trend of disrespect and considerable racial antagonism.

Just one day after Obama’s victory — following the mudslinging by both major political parties — a Louisiana man started an online petition for his state to secede from the Union. It wasn’t long before cyber-petitioners in other states followed suit.

On the White House website, “We the People,” petitions to secede from the United States and form independent governments have been signed by hundreds of thousands on behalf of all 50 states.

The site, as promoted by the White House, is “a new way to petition the Obama Administration to take action on a range of important issues facing our country.”

It’s doubtful that the creators of the site had petitions to secede, impeach the president or strip all Obama appointees from their positions in mind, but petitions on all of the aforementioned subjects can be found on the website.

Almost 30,000 people have signed the petition for North Carolina to leave the United States and form its own independent government. Several of the other secession petitions have more than 25,000 signatures. The White House staff will review the petitions and issue official responses via the website. Most of the petitions don’t cite specific reasons for secession.

The chance of these petitions moving forward to result in an actual secession are slim. The author of the North Carolina petition, a conservative blogger and columnist, even acknowledges it. He said he authored the petition to display his disapproval of the national debt. But these petitions can be said to unearth a deeper, more nuanced picture of this country.

Given this nation’s history, the act of secession is more than a marker of a democratic system. The desire to be free from the federal government is not only seen as a hallmark of this democratic system touted by the American people but is also one that conjures up darker days in race relations.

The last time states seceded from the Union to form an autonomous government, one of the primary goals of that government was to preserve the practice of the enslavement of blacks. It prompted the Civil War — a war that produced symbols that still mar race relations today.

Recent events, including the recent petitions to secede from the Union, carry racial undertones that must be acknowledged.

Averi Harper is a columnist from the Daily Tar Heel. She is a senior journalism major from Long Island, N.Y. Contact her at anharper@live.unc.edu.

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