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