Thursday, July 9, 2015

What it means to me to be Southern

There has been a lot in the news lately about the Confederate flag. A lot of people claim that it's a representation of their southern heritage and not racist. I can't say I agree with that.

It is 146 miles from Pensacola, Florida to Troy, Alabama. If I use that as a radius and draw a circle, my father's family has been in this area for the last two centuries, the oldest arriving in Tensaw 230 years ago, and the youngest arriving 180 years ago. For that reason I named my defunct myfamily group Panhandle Pioneers, the name of my current group now on Facebook.

I was born in the south, but spent the majority of my life elsewhere. For some of my family I suppose, that does not mean I am southern. I couldn't disagree further. There is something that happens to me whenever I drive home to Pensacola. Once I start crossing Mobile bay, a feeling of coming home takes over. This place is in my blood, it is essential to my being. I will return to California where I spent the majority of my childhood after 25 years away, and I doubt that I will feel the same sensation. Simply put, some part of my psyche, my DNA knows where it comes from.

The epitome to me of a Southern woman would be my Aunt Becky. She embodies all that I think of as southern, from sweet tea to black eye peas, she welcomes everyone with the renowned Southern hospitality. I can still recall swinging on her front porch, or "helping" her at their gas station and store out on 9 mile road. I recall summers spent camping at Munson, or driving for a swim at the beach after dark. Fireflies, mosquitos, and water bugs. Sitting under the hundreds year old Oak trees at my stepmother's home, and dreading raking those leaves come fall. Riding in the back of pick up trucks and tubing down the Blackwater River. Family, cousins and meeting for Sunday brunch. This to me is what it means to be Southern. Family, friends, food, ultimately, a way of life.

Most of my ancestor's fought for the Confederacy. I am not ashamed of that fact. Nor am I am ashamed of the few who did own slaves. The truth is, most of my ancestor's were poor white farmers, crackers, who worked in the forestry industry or in turpentine. I also have family who were from large plantations, who owned numerous slaves. One ancestor had a family with his slave, and acknowledged it. I am not ashamed because though the concept that owning another person is alien to me, abhorrent even, I realize that from earliest recorded times, human beings felt that they had the right to own another. That there was some sort of natural order that made one master and another slave, or captive. That made someone noble and another common. I can't say that they were good masters, or bad masters, but to them, this way of life was acceptable. And though I disagree, I can't fault them for it.

On the other hand, if I knew of a family member who belonged to the Klu Klux Klan, who supported white supremacy, who championed the idea of segregation, I would be ashamed. What is the difference do you ask? The difference is these people had ideals built from a culture of hatred and violence. I can't say I had family members who belonged to such a group, nor can I say that I did not. I just know that in my view, these people had values that I could not share, and these are the type of people in my eyes I associate with waving the confederate flag, not as a symbol of a way of life, but as a symbol of white supremacy. I know there are many who disagree, but to me there is a difference.

 People who say the confederate flag represents the south aren't embracing the South of the civil war, they are embracing the south of Jim Crow laws, segregation and men in white hoods who thought nothing of hanging, killing and burning down the homes of other people, based not on the person but the color of their skin or their religion. It would also be an error to believe that those men, who hid behind their masks persecuted only people who were black, because they didn't. They had the same views against Jews, mexicans, and indians. They just didn't hate one people, they hated anyone who wasn't a representative of their white protestant ideal of supremacy.


  1. Well said. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  2. I applaud you for honestly addressing issues that we should have talked about years ago. DNA tests have not only reunited families, and helped cousins we never knew find one another, it has also revealed the secrets that would have been remained hidden or not spoken about. As I look at my DNA results, I see a mosaic of relatives, from Native Americans to Asians, to Europeans and of course, Africans from throughout the continent. With each intersection there is a story. I am sure lots of it is about domination. Much of it is about slavery, and some is about people that fled their identity as African Americans in this country in search of the privilege, opportunity and protection that went along with being white. My DNA is scarred with the trauma of beatings, family separations, slavery, murders, and rape. Whether it is was by way of the Middle Passage, the auction block, lynchings, forced sex, and yes, the Trail of Tears, within the very cells that define my being are all of the stories of who I am. Yet, I welcome the opportunity to know my story. And I welcome the idea to connect with relatives, no matter who they are. And yes, I have encountered relatives with whom I share an ancestor who are white and deny that we are related, although we may have at least 150 relatives in common. I do not get angry, but I pray for the souls of folk whose denial will forever torment their existence as they choose to live in denial and fear of someone publicly revealing their truth. For those cousins who have welcomed me in open arms, I have responded in kind. In the meantime, we must serve as examples of what truth and reconciliation look like. Because it is us, the descendants and survivors of the past that seek truth, will save the future generations from the tormented hell of the white supremacists (many of whom who are not white), the neo-Nazis and those who are in constant despair because they do not recognize that domination and inequality impacts all of us negatively. I love your courage Jennifer, and I am proud to acknowledge that you are my cousin.