I Am Not Ashamed Of My Heritage…, Maybe

Protesters display Confederate flags United States flags from the bed of a pickup truck May 6 on a highway about 15 miles south of Miami in what organizers said was a protest to show support for Attorney General Janet Reno and respect for the flag. Organizers said they wanted to counteract demonstrations held by members of the Cuban-American community that followed the April 22 seizure of Cuban rafter Elian Gonzalez by government agents from the home of his Miami relatives. BC/CLH/
For the record, I am ashamed of crap like this.

It’s a tough time to be a somewhat-progressive white southerner with a history fetish. On one side are all your liberal friends insisting that the War Between The States (which is the polite name and southerners are nothing if not polite) was all about slavery. On the other side are your conservative friends who maintain that the war was fought over states rights. The truth is, both sides are right…, sort of. Yes, the war was actually fought over states rights. But, chief among the rights they were fighting for was the right to own other people. Granted, as distinction’s go, it’s not much of one. But, I’m trying build a bridge here, so cut me a little slack.

Now, before I go any further, let me say that whatever the Confederate flag might mean to me or any other white person, it’s offensive to our neighbors of color. Hospitality (which we southerners claim to be so good at) demands that we respect their wishes and remove it from spaces that are supposed to be open to everyone. Claiming that doing so is “caving in to political correctness” or that taking down flags in states you’ve never even visited  (much less lived in) is somehow a violation of your rights is, well, a little douchey. And, y’all need to stop that shit right now.

Okay, disclaimer issued, so let’s get on with it. Since this flag flap started, I’ve read several articles by southern people who have told us they’re ashamed of their heritage. They speak with great angst about how their ancestors owned other people or fought to divide this county. But, I can’t agree with these folks because I’m not ashamed of my heritage.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not exactly what you’d call “proud” of my family’s history. But I don’t walk around with my head hung low, beating myself up because my ancestors owned other people. The truth is, there was only one of them (my great-great-grandfather) who could even have had the means. Whether he owned anyone or not, he wasn’t exactly a pleasant fellow (known as “the laziest man in Chatham County”, he somehow found the energy to cross the street and beat up a black man for speaking to a white woman). By and large, however, the men of my family in those days were yeoman farmers and tradesmen, just like the majority of the men who made up the Confederate Army. In other words, my family were rednecks and, for them, the war wasn’t about slavery.

So, why did men who didn’t own any slaves go to war in order to preserve the “peculiar institution“? They were duped. By who, you ask? By the planter class who sold them a bill of goods, telling them the Yankees wanted to trample their rights  so they’d fight a war that would preserve a system that was stacked against them. Of course, when that war was over, they found themselves left to their own devices. Until, that is, the master once again had need of his loyal servant. And so, they told them that smart ass Yankees and “uppity niggers” were conspiring to destroy their country, take their land and violate their women. And, just as they had in the War, they swallowed the lie, hook, line and sinker. In fact, whenever a threat to the gentry rears its head, that old chestnut is trotted out again and again. The wording is different, of course, but the message remains the same.

The Tea Party claims to be the descendents of the Founding Fathers, but in reality, they are the cultural descendents of those yeoman farmers and tradesmen who were tricked into serving the interests of people who have played them for fools since the earliest days of this country. And, today’s poor and working class people have learned their lessons well. Hell, the gentry doesn’t even have to say anything anymore, we jump on our black brothers and sisters without being asked, kicking them back down all on our own and waving a Confederate flag the whole time. Shit, I’ll bet even Pavlov would be impressed with that kind of conditioning

Educationally, financially and pretty much every way you can think of, the working people of the South, both black and white, have been (and continue to be) shit on by their “betters”. Sometimes, those “betters” owned vast plantations worked by slaves. Other times, they’re wealthy industrialists who own politicians. And, lately, those “betters” are their own sons and daughters who write condescending articles about how ashamed they are of their backward/racist/treasonous families. It’s so fucking sad that, sometimes, it’s all I can do to keep from crying.

So, no, I am not ashamed of my heritage. I’m not ashamed because it is a history of good people doing the best they could with what they had; which, most of the time, wasn’t very much. I’ll be damned if I’m ashamed of that.