In response to Dan Barton’s Letter to the Editor in the Fayetteville Observer: “Pride, not hate”
I was born at Fort Polk, Louisiana, because my maternal grandfather was stationed there, and my mother was 17 years old when I was born. I spent most of the first 5 years of my life in Fayetteville, NC, because my paternal grandfather was stationed at Pope Air Force Base and stayed when he retired after four tours in Vietnam.
That was a divided, violent time in America too – and even though my family moved to Maryland (I’ve only recently returned to Fayetteville) – I have often thought of younger versions of the faces I grew up with: waiting anxiously for boys to come home, watching news of protests around the country, and wondering if that green vehicle coming down the road was going to stop at their door.
Maryland stayed with the Union during the Civil War, but it was a close thing. Maryland is south of the Mason-Dixon line, but perhaps it is because of the state’s lack of secession that I eventually learned many (so-called) ‘true’ Southerners would always consider me a little too much of a ‘Yankee’ after my time there. The reverse is true if I travel farther North (the Yanks can’t tell our accents apart 😉 ).
The point is, despite others’ feelings on the matter, I’ve always considered myself a Southerner. As a woman at this exact moment in history, who was once beaten up on a playground in Baltimore for her deep Southern accent: I have often considered what Southern Pride is and what it should be.
From the tops of the mountains of Appalachia, to the sandy shores of the Chesapeake Bay, and all the way down to the beautiful Bayou – the South is like a funky quilt of many shapes and colors. It’s worn in a few places, and doesn’t keep the cold out everywhere it’s supposed to, but there is something beautiful about it. Something comforting in the places where its weirdness works, and something hopeful about what it is trying to be. The thread holding it together is the essence of what actually makes me proud of my Southern heritage.
I am proud that no one, from any background – as far as I know – has ever left my home hungry or thirsty, and that many have been invited to it.
I am proud that I was taught to tend to someone’s wounds – physical or emotional – before ever worrying about the color of their skin or the way they worship.
I am proud that I was taught who ‘the least of these’ REALLY is.
And I am proud that a strong, Southern woman taught me how those values translate into laws and local politics (and how they don’t), too.
Today, these values live under the American flag – NOT the Confederate one.
Of course, I am not so naïve as to think this is all there is to the South, and its heritage – by far.
One of my ancestors was a Confederate soldier. He was captured early in the Civil War, and held by the North. When the war ended he pledged an oath to the Union, and was released. I know what happened to him, but I don’t know his name. My aunt didn’t teach it to me, or else I’ve forgotten it.
And I don’t want to know it.
Perhaps circumstances forced his hand, or perhaps he truly believed in the cause; when it came to do or die, he put his life on the line to fight for the ability to own and abuse other human beings.
I am a Southerner. I denounce and detest the Confederacy – and the only thing it stood for – with every fiber of my being. I decry the injustices (and the continuing cover-up of those injustices) against my brothers and sisters of color AND against my white brothers and sisters who have been duped and brainwashed.
It is an offense to MY Southern heritage and pride that people in my home revere Confederate monuments, which are nothing but reminders of figures long dead who either wanted to enslave some of our neighbors, or to teach other of our neighbors that it is good to do so (one of the most despicable lies in human history).
It offends MY Southern heritage and pride that while we argue about detestable, mass produced, cheap, UGLY statues of traitorous men – children in this bountiful state go hungry: more children of color than others by design.
It offends MY Southern heritage that my friends, my FAMILY, do not feel safe in their own yards, in their places of worship, in public spaces where literal warriors of hate hold sway.
My Southern Pride and heritage are offended by people so ignorant and poorly educated as to equate the removal of a hateful statue with the bombing of a medical facility. Or who conflate the issue of other countries’ history of slavery with our own.
“What’s next?” Will we take down all the monuments everywhere? Maybe we will! Or maybe we will move some to museums and add another chapter to their history. Maybe we need to create monuments that highlight the flaws AND greatness of some of these American characters – they were human, after all. Or maybe we will create more inclusive monuments around some of them!
We are writing history right now. It’s not finished, it’s dynamic. And welcoming people – as us Southerners are wont to do – means opening up our eyes and ears to the history we all want to write together – now.
For my part, I will strive to make the South’s heritage of hospitality eventually become the one that overshadows its history of blatant hate.