I was having a discussion with some of my fellow southerners and it inspired this writing directed towards them.
I am a southerner. I am born and raised in Alabama and I make no secret for the love of my home region. I grew up playing in the kudzu along the railroad tracks, picking muscadines, and reading Flannery O’Connor and Lewis Grizzard in the big tree behind my home. I know what a boiling vat of chitlins smells like (bad), the smell of a fresh apple pie cooling on a windowsill (amazing) and I know the joy of an impromptu bluegrass session at the local flea market.
My writing has always been based in my life in the southern United States and my childhood there. I can polish it up as nice as you like because I have little personal negatives in experiences of that time. Oh but my home has had negatives and has felt the legacy of those negatives to this day.
I write often of my love for my son. I cannot wait to take him out to see things in the world. I’ll take him all over the and teach him of our history. I think sometimes, however, what if I were a black man with a ten year old son. How would I feel seeing the Confederate flag flying over the buildings in my home state? How would I explain that a flag of a conflict that ended 150 years ago was still flying over our state buildings? A flag that was for the cause of maintaining an institution that would subjugate us?
That has been and will continue to be our problem. We have never confronted that issue in the history of my home. We have never admitted just how wrong we were. We were wrong. We were on the wrong side of history. We should have lost that war. In the sake of slavery and all the other issues thank goodness we did. We have not, however, said those words out loud. We have never had one of our southern leaders stand up and say we were wrong about slavery. We hurt and killed countless numbers of human beings. We are the descendants of those people and we admit and accept they were wrong. We have never acknowledged that.
What happened is we have revised history and polished it up to a nice little nugget that makes us feel good about it. Anything that has attacked our white history of the Civil War has been met with revisionist histories and mental gymnastics that allow us to maintain this image of some righteousness in the cause of the Civil War.
The statues that are currently coming down were put up as a middle finger to the outsiders of the south. Perhaps some wanted to honor them but it was a reclamation of what we were in the time of the Civil War and before. The confederate flag had all but disappeared to history when it was brought back by white supremacist groups. It’s why they use it to this day. Now I know all the arguments about the different flags and those that saw the battle field. See my comment earlier about rationalizing with mental gymnastics. As a lifelong southerner I know all the defenses of each and every position.These statues are in places of honor in the south and have been for some time. Now to be honest I could go about my day and really not care. It doesn’t affect me at all really. But we have millions of the descendants of those slaves- our fellow citizens- driving down those roads with huge statues of confederate generals and the president of the confederacy- staring them right in the face. They have no choice to avoid them.
So you must ask yourself- is it more important that they stay there in positions of honor and maintain your image of the history of the south while reminding those it hurt so much of what happened OR that they be put into museums where people can visit them and study the history of the south?
They say the victors write the history books. Not so in the south. I know of no other place where the losing side erected so many monuments and edifices to the leaders of a lost cause. If I am wrong let me know.
Putting these statues in museums doesn’t erase history. It absolutely does not dishonor the men who fought for the south no matter their own reasoning. We have countless numbers of memorials to the confederate dead and a good numbers of museums dedicated to them- not to mention the battlefields that are now tourist attractions.
The other argument I am hearing is why now. We have finally reached a moment in time where there is enough political will to make it happen. I wouldn’t have written this 10 years ago.
If the removal of these statues bothers you so then ask yourself why that truly is. Why do you support having massive statues in places of honor in cities filled with citizens descended from those who suffered under the yoke of oppression in the south? Why is it your feelings matter so much more than theirs?
Ask yourself how putting the statues in museums is hurting you. Because I can promise you if I were that black man with a ten year old son I would be coming for every single one in a position of honor in every single town in the south and my son and I would make our own history.
Empathy is the missing component here. I recommend you take a moment and consider it.