A REAL Southerner Speaks Up…

My family had slaves.  There is no point in me lying about that.  Some of my family members owned other human beings.  Some were too poor to do so.  But some were dabbling on the fringes of wealth and they had enough to have some slaves.

During the Civil War, my male relatives did fight.  Including a 13-year-old boy.  And a 63-year-old man.  They both died in the same battle.  This was toward the end of the war when young boys and old men were threatened if they did not fight.  I found this record in the Georgia archives, almost by accident.  I worked at the University of Georgia Main Library while a student there.   I looked up my last name on a whim, expecting to find nothing.

The family members that were too poor were probably aspirational and wanted slaves because that was how you obtained social capital in the South.  That was how you ensured your sons and daughters could marry better.  That is how you got a say in the community and how you moved forward.  None of that makes it right.

A free labor class meant that wages were unnaturally depressed for the free poor of any color.  An element of the antebellum era that no one seems to want to address when they wax romantic over large gowns and supposedly dashing young men is that the poor were kept poor by the economic downward pressure on wages, and the wealthy had little to do with them and kept mostly to themselves.

I don’t understand why people justify the war.  I don’t know why people justify the South as it was.

I’ve had the same argument approximately 10 bajillion times.  I want to say what I want to say and for it to be final.  For once.

If you are saying, “The war was over state’s rights” – let me direct you to the various state documents specifying slavery as a cause for the existence of the war.  Let me also clue you in to the speech Alexander Stephens made in Savannah.  This is called the “Cornerstone Speech” and was given in 1861.  Wikipedia that shit.  Go ahead.

Usually what comes next is, “Well, they lived in a different time.” Well, no.  Some individuals from before and during the time of the Revolutionary War questioned and even bristled at the notions of the institution of slavery in the South.  This was a subject that was discussed then and on into the 1800’s.

After this, there is, “Slavery has been a part of history forever.”  Exactly how does that make my ancestor’s use of it valid or moral?  It doesn’t.

After this, it is, “Look at how Irish people got treated up north.”  Yes, that was awful.  I agree. But that doesn’t make what my ancestors did magically okay.

After that, I hear, “Well, Lincoln didn’t want to free the slaves and they didn’t want them up north either.”  SO?   That still doesn’t make slavery okay.  That does not erase what my ancestors participated in.

Then it’s, “The Africans sold them to us.”  That doesn’t mean that white people had a right to create demand or to take a boat across a dangerous ocean and fill it with people.

Why is it always the same?  Why these same arguments again and again and again?  Why do they need to be made, voiced, brought up, even when the issue is only tangentially related?

“That statue really could–”

“Lincoln!!”

“But I mean, I’m saying that maybe we should consider-”

“Irish people!”

“Yes, that’s true, but I’m just saying that in order to move forward and be economically viable–”

“African slave traders!”

Why?  What does this argument do for people?  Why do this dance every single damn time?

I, for one, have no problem with saying that some of my ancestors were assholes.  Assholes aspiring toward wealth and status through human ownership even as the rest of the world was moving forward toward a greater conscience in terms of their fellow man.  I don’t know why the rest of the south has a problem with saying that.  I don’t.  The people who lived in 1865 would be strangers to me.  They would have no connection with me.  They wouldn’t understand half the words I use.  The uneducated ones wouldn’t be able to function in our society now.  We live in a society that presupposes that you can read and write, and use electronic objects.  What has a dead relative that I have never met done for me?  What did he or she ever do that affected me?

Does anyone look at their family now and think they are all perfect?  Do you go around defending the shitty actions of the ones that aren’t?  I don’t.  I realized a long time ago that it was an abuse of my mind and a waste of my time to do so.   Jumping through the hoops was causing too much emotional and psychological turmoil.  I was having to gaslight myself in order to make that happen.  Shitty people are just shitty people and it is okay to say so.

I’m not the greatly ballyhooed internet Social Justice Warrior. Even though I grew up with not much, I do understand the reality of white privilege. I don’t deny its existence, and I have seen what it can do.

I just want everyone to stop explaining the South.  To stop defending the antebellum South.  Especially those who 1- don’t live here or who 2- never had family here during that era.

The South was always a mixed area.  Native Americans, Hispanics from locations south, French, English, Scots, Irish, Jewish, free blacks and slaves intermingled, and, of course, had sex and had children.  The Jewish part of the Southern heritage clashes loudly with the current Midwest Aryan wannabes, but it is a fact.  Judah Benjamin was a high-ranking confederate.  Jewish people have been here since before the Revolutionary war.  In my own town, Asian people have been a part of the tapestry since the railroad was built in the early 1800’s.

The Confederates also ran after the war, if they had money.  No one talks about that part.  After the war, the wealthy individuals that could flee, did.  They ran to Havana, Brazil, and some made their way to Europe.

The fact is, the wealthy planter class always had far more in common with other wealthy people than they ever did the poor whites around them.  That was true both before and after the war.

I’m a human being, with a real Southern story.  I’m not a kid from Ohio who came down here.  In fact, I wish you all would keep your asses at home.  If we want to take down a damn monument that you never gave a shit about before three days ago, let us take it down.

History doesn’t disappear when you move an object from one spot to another.

And while we are at it, on the topic of Free Speech:

You can say whatever you want on a street corner.  I’ve seen itinerant preachers do it.  Go ahead.  But you need to keep in mind that you don’t speak for everyone.  And for God sakes, keep your ass away from me.  Because I am a real person from the South.  My family did own slaves.  And I want nothing to do with any of your shit.  We seemed to be getting along just fine without you.

The measure of true bravery and character is if you can say what it is you wish to say without a group of people standing behind you.

Advertisements

Looking at Laura

.

I’ve always had a rocky relationship with Laura Ingalls.I’ve been reading the book “Libertarians on the Prairie” by Christine Woodside.  I have also recently read “Prairie Girl,” which is a collection of Laura’s unvarnished recollections of her life

I’ve been reading the book “Libertarians on the Prairie” by Christine Woodside.  I have also recently read “Prairie Girl,” which is a collection of Laura’s unvarnished recollections of her life

Growing up, I was always sitting in front of the television, watching this perfect American invention of what a girl should be, and our house was home to the entire series of books.  She was spunky, just the right amount to be mischievous and pull cute kid stuff, but never aspired to descend into any real rebellion.  Laura never brought home a science book with Darwin’s theory in it, asking difficult questions. Indeed, she was living in an age when they were first putting age restrictions on teachers, and a teaching certificate was only for rudimentary math and literacy.   Laura never listened to metal or punk or hard rock or gansta rap.  Laura never had a Barbie doll with a disco outfit.  Laura never tried to copy Soul Train dancers in her living room.  Laura never begged for a mini skirt (the tiered one with ribbon trim in different colors on each tier) or branded sneakers or cereal that had the cartoon of the day on the front.

I was overdosed with Laura and, when possible, the Walton clan, and reruns were endlessly on play whenever they were available.  My mother bought into and remained stuck in, that era of 70’s polyester pioneers and country simplicity bordering on bumpkinism.

Laura was guided only by elders in her actual presence.  Laura on tv had hair that hung in perfect braids (which my mother may still not realize was a wig.) Book Laura was impressed easily by what modern international trade made into everyday objects.  Laura didn’t have the benefit of chewable vitamins and would never live to see Geraldine Ferraro as a possible vice president, or 80’s era feminism.  Laura didn’t have Commodore and Apple computers at her school.

Laura was the one of the most wholesome of the wholesome professions for women—a teacher.  Later, a journalist, but in the books, always a teacher, and then a mom and wife. I found out when I was dating a Muslim man several years ago that Little House on the Prairie was well liked in his country and passed the censors because it was so completely safe.

It became apparent as I grew older, that my mother was desperate to be the wise and admired mother:  The Caroline (or on The Waltons, The Olivia).   Full of uncanny good judgment on TV, full of ridiculous teenage faux-mature behavior in the books. The reason my mother had children was to have someone to be wiser than.

I was born in 1976.  The tumultuous times of Madonna and Cyndi Lauper and Boy George were time for a different kind of wisdom.

In my mother’s eyes, Laura was a perfect poppet of just the right level of mischief.

But she was also poverty porn.

My mother idealized even the difficulties of prairie life. If there had been a way for her to make me stay home and do a bunch of farm work to show me how tough life was, she probably would have.  She frequently made me (not my brother, mind) work on my uncle’s farm, but would not allow me a summer job of my own outside of the family.   Laura was an example, an example to be happy and impressed that I even had shoes from a real store.  That I was supposed to be proud of homemade clothes over store-bought, and that’s how it used to be so I should shut up.

Encroaching on this mentality was always the problem of geography.  I am from the area surrounding Augusta, Georgia.  The old antebellum South.  There was no prairie for me. No deep snows.  This was a place planted by Oglethorpe, and sexualized through the shaking and quaking of James Brown.  I would see GI’s outside the Fort Gordon area drinking copious amounts of beer in the Pizza Hut on Dean’s Bridge Road, and hear them telling loud and dirty jokes.  I would go to Chinese restaurants older than I was. This wasn’t the prairie.  The closest thing in town was the Augusta National Golf Course, complete with the held breath of class consciousness it brings.

When I was quite young, still in elementary school, we had a town centennial beauty pageant.  My mother made my dress.  It was brown calico, unflattering for my coloring, and had an off-white apron and a bonnet.

I lost.  The little girl that won had something much fancier, much more likely for the area where we lived and the time frame in question.   The older girls that won wore prom dresses that were popular at the time that sort of had a faux-antebellum vibe.

Sometimes I think about the Laura’s that I did know.  Wholesomely wholesome unquestioning individuals, absorbing parental lessons rather than looking up another source of information, who became teachers and then stay-at-home moms. Always Protestant Republicans who majored in Early Childhood Education.

But, I don’t hate Laura.

I find her sitting there in the corner of the house of the mind, a dusty book once again picked up.

Laura and Rose cranked out good stories.  American literature that falls into the right rhythm in all the right places, and you feel the wagon creaking across an empty prairie again.  It’s good writing.  I still recognize the craftsmanship of the work itself.

I wish I could go back in time and tell that skeptical little girl that her suspicions are true.  And that yes, Dorothy and Alice are so much cooler.