After we stood around the counter, buffet style plates of turkey, beans, squash, potatoes, and stuffing, while MsB said grace, after our Thanksgiving feast, like four beached whales with our full bellies, out on the front porch in Dodge. A warm October evening, I listened to Dad, MsB and Lex discussing the dismantling of colonial and Confederate figures and symbols, I sat quietly, said nothing, mesmerized by the light as it flitted through the big Maple Tree glowing before us, thinking of Mom, and that other October 17 years before.
The tree that year was all golden by the end of the month, not one red leaf to be seen, shining in through the windows as she lay their in that house in the final days of her life.
I decided when Trump was elected that when Dad visits I would not discuss politics with him, it is an unspoken rule, least it is for me – although that man is a blawdy instigator and quite frankly sometimes can’t help himself, and my sister is no better, that apple falling not so far from the tree. She I guess was probably thinking, let’s see how far we can push her till she freaks and goes off on one of her high falutin rants.
Actually, I can’t even say for certain which of them started the convo on the politically correct takedown of the slave-owning, Confederate soldier honouring, and the removal of a dishonourable past sweeping both sides of the borders of North America, and beyond.
And I’ll be completely frank, as a child of an American father, while I was born in North Carolina I only lived there till I was 2 1/2, and I seriously had no idea, never once understood the Confederate flag to be anything but a symbol of the south.
I know, naive, but I really didn’t see it as anything more than a symbol, but I guess maybe that’s the point.
A symbol of a past that ripped people, man, woman and child, from their homelands and in squalor and disease shipped them across the world to be enslaved for profit and ease of the rich elites of the totalitarian agricultural movement of the 17th & 18th century, enslaving people for profit.
A shameful, horrible past, of a complete and utter disregard for the humanity of the person, treated like chattel and recorded in log books as one would livestock.
In the intervening years, the Jim Crow laws, and racial segregation that infected much of my dads’ youth, with the rebel flags flying and songs of Dixie, of a racism that even inspired Hitler.
In a documentary I watched a few weeks back, Stone Ghosts, they featured a block of wood that still stood on the main street where some tourists would stand on to have their picture taken, standing on top of it with big grins on their white faces, seemingly oblivious, or indifferent, to the reality of the persons who once stood in that same spot, naked before those who would inspect them for purchase, and it seemed disgraceful that people today should be allowed anywhere near it.
It still puts a cold chill down my spine at the thought, and certainly, I can understand those who believe it should be removed.
But what I couldn’t help but think, is what if they had not preserved Auschwitz? What if there were none of those concentration camps left, what if history had wiped them out, made them seem like misremembered delusions if they were thought of at all? Without that stark reality staring you in the face, of the place, in every block and board, and not in some fractured far distant way, or a photograph alone, but immediate, tactile, where the Jewish people were imprisoned, tortured, enslaved and murdered. Could history of more easily been rewritten to bury such a shameful place, a remnant of an evil that would have wiped out a people wholesale as nothing more then humus for a scorched earth?
As relaid by those who have been to one of these remaining concentration camps from world war two, they say there is a haunted air that remains, a chill, and 70 years on carrying still profoundly horrifying truths.
Ask the Jewish people and they will tell you a story of their enslavement, and that has left not one shred of evidence on the ground, not a fragment of corroboration in any document of the time, not a remnant, so lost in the shifting sands, yet the story has been passed down through thousands of years and is at the very heart of who they are, what they are, why they are.
Some things, I suppose, are in fact too painful to be swept away completely, too tantamount to our collective truth.
“Pit race against race, religion against religion, prejudice against prejudice. Divide and conquer! We must not let that happen here.”
When change happens, when revolutions happen, the statues of those leaders of the past are torn down, ripped from their podiums, melted for scrap and the earth is littered with the remains of the past.
Like a temple on a mount.
Call it politically correctness, but it is not, it is history at play, no more no less. It is the winds of change that move us forward, one way or another. Giving something another name does not at once ignore what it symbolizes, what it means. And these symbols, when they no longer serve as but a reminder of a shameful past, and whose future value is questionable, become merely scraps of metal and stone designed to honour a thing, place, person or ideal that no longer serves the whole, the many, the community.
We the people change, our morality shifts, are values differ, drift from our ancestor’s values, ideals, societal norms, sometimes drifting off from our own parents, and it cuts us off from one another, ripped apart by hate and otherness. Who does THAT serve?
Maybe another famous old white guy divorced from time and place.
Yet, even so, that evening a few days ago I kept quiet, and I listened. For, in truth, this is my father’s story, it is a reality he grew up with, and a place and time that I just will never really completely understand, growing up in Canada as I did, so far, far away from my southern roots.
“As you grow older, you’ll see white men cheat black men every day of your life, but let me tell you something and don’t you forget it—whenever a white man does that to a black man, no matter who he is, how rich he is, or how fine a family he comes from, that white man is trash” Harper Lee, To Kill A Mockingbird
I am respectful of his beliefs, his thoughts on politics, his conservative ideals, if not his racism. I will, in all honesty, admit, yes, I have come to understand that my father is racist, oblivious to his white privilege unique to the south, and now a card-carrying Trump supporter.
I could sit and expound on every last rotten, no good, lie, sham and authoritarian truth I have, lobbing ball after ball at his head, but I don’t. I do not because getting into a fight with a 70+ born and breed southern white male on his racist, prejudicial beliefs and ignorance would be useless, be akin to spitting into the wind.
The fractures to our still fragile relationship are real and I love my father, if not his politics, far more than the truth of Trump. I will not let that disgusting man, that hater in chief, I will not let him divide us any further.
When I was young if you had a asked me what a racist was, you know, I would have pointed to a person with a KKK robe and hood, a neo-nazi, but not my dad.
Even now, right now, I still hesitate to acknowledge this, as much as I hesitate to acknowledge that I too have prejudicial thoughts, reactions, beliefs that I know is a product of who I am surrounded by. Growing up in a place where almost everyone I knew looked like me, believed what I believed, with little to no variation on the block, village, town, or city apartment where I have lived in my 50+ years, and it has an effect. How could it not? Of course, I have deep-rooted prejudices, racist ideas that bubble up, I am aware of them and I will not deny that.
And so a part of me could almost sense the presence of those colonial and Confederate ghosts, the spirit of a past that many would like to leave in the past, and I get that. I do get that.
Yet, I still can not let go of the fact that a history hidden is a history forgotten, and a history forgotten is a history whose lessons risk disappearing, and the young grow up ignorant of it all and repeat the same mistakes over again. If we do not learn from our past we are all doomed, again and again, to go over the same old prejudices of a past hidden from our eyes, stark and present, starring our children in the eye, saying, do not forget us.
Because it does happen, it has before, and wisdom is gained from our mistakes if we allow them a place in our present.
Riding to work tonight on Dixie, my cargo bike with her khaki green, her funky fenders, and wide uppity handlebars, her military-like style, a wee homage to a thing that really never was, but in my imagination, but still, she suits me, and I thought of all of this the whole way.
Growing up in Canada I was well and truly oblivious, as racism of the sort in the south was foreign and strange, right out there in the open for everyone to see it’s naked hatred of a whole swath of people based on the colour of their skin. It just didn’t appear that way here, in the Great White North, of thank you, and please, and sorry when we’d done nothing wrong. No, blatant in your face talk as I and my sister have seen, known, is still rare, still thought to be rather, em, hick, backwards. See, we hide our racism in Canada, towards our Natives and Korean variety store owners.
I was reminded on my way to work of something Mom used to say, whenever something on Quebec would come on the TV, that she never understood why they still catered to the French as they lost the war.
In North America, imperial rivals Britain and France struggled for supremacy. Early in the war, the French (aided by Canadian militia and Aboriginal allies) defeated several British attacks and captured a number of British forts. … With the Treaty ofParis of 1763, France formally ceded Canada to the British. Wikipedia
Now, I wonder, I do, I wonder what Mom would think of all this, and I would ask her for what purpose, exactly, should we cater to those who lost that war between the states?
I don’t see the removal of names of slave-owning leaders on buildings and statues of Confederate leaders as long-term solutions, though I don’t see it the way either Dad or Lex do either.
Many go overboard, in a rush to correct the wrongs of the past, to rip down all the disagreeable names of buildings and public institutes of learning, that the statues gain meaning from the divisive outcry alone. Though, why these places need the names of these old white guys who did something or other in the past, well it is beyond me, whether they be a pope or a prince.
Yet, I know it is just not as simple as riping down some statue and history just goes away, although to say is much is missing the point, I know.
It is contentious, and I guess that is the problem I have, is anything that divides us so deeply at a time of such great divisions, of the left and right now barely able to see eye to eye on anything at all, and there are those who profit from divide and conquer.
“As a nation, we began by declaring that ‘all men are created equal.’ We now practically read it ‘all men are created equal, except negroes.’ When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read ‘all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and Catholics.’ When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretense of loving liberty – to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocrisy.”
So out there on that porch last Monday night we eventually let the warm gentle breeze take us away from those divisive topics, as I gave it no voice, and it moved along down the river that runs by, and we spoke of other things instead and laughed together, thankful and blessed, together.