Tuesday, June 23, 2015

23 June 2015

I haven't written in awhile, but if I had been writing a month ago, I'd have been talking about the rain. We had a lot of overcast and rain for awhile, and we could turn the sprinklers off and wear jackets. A nice, cool May. Then the sun came out and it felt oppressive, but after awhile, we got used to sun again. And it's been pretty sunny, although we've had some days of thunderstorms. Unfortunately, lightning started a wildfire, and even with the rain we had before that, the Truckee looks pretty empty. It's dismal.

And now it is hot and sunny, and there are all sorts of tall weeds that look noxious, even if they are technically on the Noxious Weed list for this area. Dandelions that are spiky and almost as tall as I am. So, yep, that about covers it for the local scene. Now I can move onto my opinions about stuff.

I was born and raised in Manassas, Virginia. I attended Stonewall Jackson high school. One of my great grandfathers fought in the Civil War. We knew about the first and second Battles of Bull Run. We lived near Bull Run Mountain at one point in time. Somewhere near there, I suppose, is a stream. I learned at one point that the Northern forces named the battles after the nearest body of water, while the Southern forces named them after the nearest settlement. If you put Bull Run, VA in a google map search, there will be a red outline around the place where I lived a lot of my childhood. The stream is near that area, and it's not far from the Battlefield Park.

I went to the Battlefield Park early on, probably when I was about 5 or 6. I don't know exactly when it was, I only know that my earlier memories seem darker and my memories from about 6 or 7 on seem brighter. I feel like I wasn't yet in school at the time I went, and I went with my parents. I started kindergarten at the age of 4, and I have some clear memories of that, so I really don't know what to think. I just remember standing in the museum, and I was short, I don't think I came up as high as the display case counter. There was a docent there, I'm guessing. We were looking at things in the case. I don't really remember much other than asking if our side won. Our side meaning the side that my people were from, the people of Manassas. My dad said we didn't win, that we were from the south, and the south lost. I was shocked. I wanted to be a winner. I didn't know I was from the South. I thought I was from the side that got rid of slavery. I asked, "Which side was the one who wanted to get rid of slavery?" Someone told me that was the North. I remember feeling angry and defiant as I said, "Good, I'm GLAD we lost." I think the adults around me chuckled.

I learned a lot about the Civil War in high school. I think what I learned was biased, but at one point it was thorough. I gave a long lecture about the Civil War to some visiting relatives who were going to visit the Manassas Battlefield Park one day. I had learned about the economic reasons and the issues leading up to the war. I learned that a lot of the causes of the war did not have anything to do with slavery, per se, not in the ideological sense that most people fighting on the side of the North were abolitionists and were fighting for freedom for slaves. Really, why would they be? They were white people too, and part of the racist structure. With the status quo, anything that departs from it seems radical. We have to be reasonable. We can't move too far from the norm. In the SRA's I took as a junior, they used a piece of Union recruitment poster that we had to interpret for some of the multiple choice questions. It was a line drawing with some sort of pledge that stated that the soldiers were not fighting to advance the colored race, and anything they did for this war was not for that purpose.

It was part of the SRAs!!! We took those every couple of years. They were just standardized tests. I felt like this was just more proof that the Confederacy wasn't the bad side, that the Union didn't care about black people either. This little bit of propaganda was presented in the context of interpretation and analysis for a test. It wasn't biased, it wasn't a teacher just giving his point of view, it was a national test, right? The tests were so nameless and faceless that the creators seemed to be too. It was like the tests themselves were written by the same type of computer that would ultimately grade the test. It didn't really occur to me that the entire selection and construction of curriculum could be subject to the biases of a few. I had to grow up to realize that.

I vaguely remember seeing the Confederate (battle) flag in some places in school. I think a girl had one on her class ring. Or someone had one on their car. I didn't really get it, honestly, and found it slightly confusing, but then I decided it was because people liked that Dukes of Hazzard show. Their horn played Dixie. I liked that song, honestly. We used to sing in in the car on long trips, along with This Land is Your Land and She's a Grand Ole Flag. My Dad would always sing, "Oh I wish I was in the land of cotton/My feet stink, but yours are rotten/Look away, Look away, Look away, Dixieland. I didn't want to have the rotten feet, so I'd always tell him to sing it properly. It seemed to speak of a person who had left their home, but remembered earlier times with fondness, and wanted to return. It took a number of years before I realized the serious privilege of this kind of viewpoint.

At some point I must have decided that the Confederate flag was something more along the lines of KKK sympathizers, because I do remember feeling confusion when nice people seemed to like it. They never said anything against black people, to my knowledge. I didn't understand the whole "The South Will Rise Again" thing that seemed to be a part of popular culture in some ways. I truly didn't understand people who spoke about the Civil War as if it were a War of Northern Aggression, or had just happened yesterday. I did not get it. Because, on some level, to me being part of the South was a point of shame. I wanted to distance myself from the idea of The South and think of us as all one country, the USA. I was always a big fan of the American Revolution. That war seemed romantic somehow. The Civil War didn't.

When I got to college, I met people from the south who defended the Confederate flag. They were proudly from the South. They felt like this flag did represent a part of their heritage. They didn't like Yankees. They actually used the term Yankees to mean people from the north, not in the way I used it, which was Yankees=Union, Rebels=Confederacy. Oh yes, that reminds me: one of our movie theaters in Manassas was called the RebYank. So these people defending the flag, claiming as their own were white males...gay white males...pro-MLK nonviolence loving gay, white males. Liberal gay white males. And they felt this was a part of their heritage. So I could see how maybe it wasn't really a symbol of the KKK, but the symbol of a heritage, that, even, I, as a white girl from Manassas, Virginia with Confederate relatives, did not share. I never considered myself a Southerner. There was no pride in that. Ultimately, the south supported slavery.

These same men, much more intellectual than I was, and not at all shy to let me know it. I got schooled in my privilege by people who didn't seem to realize they, too, had any. But maybe they had been thinking about it more; I sure hadn't been. I, like many, might have been a little too focused in on advantages I didn't have when it was pointed out to me that I had more. Looking back, though, I remember classist and sexist things that were said. I remember the little jokes said about black people just to, it seems, get a rise out of me, because it was funny to some people to get a rise out of me. I stopped reacting predictably. I also stopped taking everything people said to heart. Maybe there is truth there, maybe not. I have to look at statements and really investigate them to see if they are true or not, even if they just feel like wholesale criticism at the time.

So the upshot of all this rambling mess is just to say I'm not a little kid anymore, and either are any of my friends. Grow the fuck up. Stop defending this horror-filled racist, white supremacist flag as part of your culture. Look at your own privilege; you don't get a free pass. Just because you are you can still evaluate your place in the world and what perks that you have that others don't. The south should NOT rise again, and this old-time nostalgia is a killer.

Before I ever even knew that I knew any gay people, I decided that same sex marriage should be legal, because I read about same sex marriages being done in certain churches in the 70's, and I realized it was denying people civil rights not to allow them to have the same legal status. In 1985, if you mentioned you supported gay marriage, most people thought you were a morally bankrupt deviant. Now only a small percentage of people think that. In 2000, I was so angry at Prop 22 in California, and I tried to appeal to other Democrats and find out where to get No on 22 signs. Oh no, they didn't actually support gay marriage, they were fine with Prop 22 passing. But now, guess what? The people who DON'T support gay marriage are seen as the intolerant, civil-rights denying outliers.

So here is what I say about the Confederate Flag. Dump the damned thing. It is shameful, you are shameful, stop trying to dress it up in some Holy of Holies freedom of speech argument that is supposed to somehow trump any kind of reasonable discourse. Grow up and put away childish things. Realize that you are the privileged one who can choose speech that is not a symbol of hate. It seems about as likely as abolishing slavery or allowing two women to marry, but once states take it out of sanctioned display, you'll one day be wondering how you ever thought it was acceptable.

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