Friday, April 04, 2008

Early Morning, April 4th

I am not sure why the words to the U2 song say "early morning" when the "shot rang out in the Memphis sky" at 6:01PM. Dublin time is six hours ahead of Memphis time, so it was early morning in Ireland, but not April 4th. Anyway, I saw some really amazing footage of Martin Luther King's protests and speeches on the news last night. (Note, I was watching the news!) I have to say that the emotion that overwhelmed me made it hard to keep running (I was at the Y) and I found tears mixing with sweat. Even writing this, which I am doing a terrible job doing, is really difficult. So let me just be blunt. I am a white Southerner. And to see white Southerners, even if it was fifty years ago, with their horrible flags waving and their fists raised, was just mortifying. I feel so ashamed. I think Southerners can be really insensitive and really oblivious. I confess that I was. It took moving out of the South for me to "get" what the big deal was. I would have sworn up and down that I was not a racist, but it was so easy when white people and black people in the South don't attend the same churches, shop in the same stores, or go to the same restaurants simply because they don't live in the same part of town. Or such has been my experience. Maybe I didn't have hateful feelings toward the black community, but there was certainly some apathy there. And I don't know what the solution is, but I just have to say it is all too sickeningly comfortable. I had no idea how the song "Dixie" conveyed racist ideas or that the Confederate flag was offensive to black people (it was offensive to me because it is redneck, but that was out of snobbery and not out of compassion and understanding). I will tell you that the South is mostly not like A Time to Kill, that it is not composed of blatantly racist rednecks and poor African Americans, which is how I think non-Southerners view it. (I know there are educated white people in A Time to Kill, I am just thinking of the bad guys, because I think that's sort of what other people think of) I would say that there are all types of people from all types of socio-economic backgrounds and educational backgrounds, but that for some reason the South gets this reputation, possibly because our lack of action and understanding makes us all come across as racist and ignorant rednecks. This post would have been very offensive to me as a Southerner before I moved to St. Louis and put my children in a school where white children are the minority, and I, for the first time in my life, see "little black boys and girls...join hands with little white boys and white girls and walk together as sisters and brothers." Because I just didn't know. I know I still don't know. I am still learning. I have had a lifetime of not walking together as sisters and brothers.

And one thing I will address, and feel free to disagree or discuss, by the way. One thing that Southerners use to defend their practice of racially offensive behavior is that they value their heritage. They can play "Dixie" and fly flags and erect statues of Civil War Confederate "Heroes" because of "heritage." And I get that on some level. I really do. Because, and some of y'all are probably snickering because you know this but it is really embarrassing, my parents live on a street named for a Confederate general. There are cannons outside their neighborhood, and the doorbell used to play "Dixie." We went to Stone Mountain on field trips when I was a little girl growing up in Macon, Georgia. And I am descendant on both sides from plantation owners, one of which is a historical home on the National Register of Historic Places. And I don't know which of all of these things are unbearably offensive and which of these things, if any, are passable, and obviously, some can't be helped (like ancestry). I guess we should ask the people who are offended. There is a beautiful part of the country called the South which I call home. But so much of the history there is tragic. Its "glory days" were dependent on the enslavement and oppression of an entire race. And I just don't think that should be celebrated. I am still a Southerner. I still love the South, but the South can still be the South and be sensitive and aware and proactive. This is all kind of the overflow of my heart right now, so I am open to other opinions or elaborations, etc. I have been wanting to say something like this since February though, since we saw some really powerful programming during Black History Month, something I used to resent somewhat- again, because I didn't get it.

Please share thoughts if you have them. Sorry this is sort of disorganized, stream of consciousness fare. I have to go make pizza for my family now.


Camille said...

Hey Abby, This is Camille, Lindsey Adair's friend. I haven't read your whole post yet but stopped when I saw that you are from Macon. I grew up in Macon as well and our parents might live on the same street. I don't know though where there are canons in front of the neighborhood. Where did you go to High School?
I love your blog though I don't comment since i only "know" you through Linz. She by the way is expecting her second boy in the beginning of May! Very exciting!

Abby said...

hey camille! i went crazy the otehr day looking for any old comment you posted so i could find a link to your blog, but i never could find one. so i am so glad you turned up today! i grew up in macon (we lived in wesleyan woods) and went to FPD, but i went to high school in nashville where my parents still live. so the neighborhood with cannons is in nashville, not macon. sorry for the confusion! but i love hearing of other maconites, even though we probably don't know many of the same people. where did you go to school? oh, and please tell lindsey congratulations for me!

Camille said...

That is so funny Abby! I'm sorry it was hard to find my blog. Linz "outed" me a while ago but sadly I had to go private with my blog for many weird reasons and actually haven't updated it in at least a month. It's mostly pictures of my little boy!

I graduated from FPD! Such a small world. And my parents live on Gen. Lee Road. So you can imagine how surprised I was when you said you were from Macon and your parents lived on a street named after a Confederate General. I immediately called my mom and asked her where the cannons were in front of her neighborhood. :)

I will definitely tell Linz that you said Congratulations. She always has such nice things to say about you. I really do love your blog so forgive me for being a lurker!

Lori Shaffer said...

Abby, this was a thoughtful and enjoyable post.

True perspective may be hard to gain for any of us who are white middle class, but I will tell you that I grew up in the North and was exposed to LOTS of racism IN THE NORTH. I will also tell you that one of the historical whom I most admire is Robert E. Lee. I wish more people would read his own words - there is much available! He was an exemplary Christian man. And even though the issue of slavery was the major catalyst for the disagreement, the heart of the disagreement WAS about states rights to make their own decision...a less decentralized government. We are still enduring many negative effects today because that issue was lost.

Having said that, I acknowledge that the loss may have advanced the end of slavery. Of course, I also believe we would have been better off to have had our own William Wilberforce, who fought within the system and without such tremendous loss of life for the abolition of slavery in Europe.

Anyway, thought-provoking and honest post.

abby said...

thanks lori. i posted a longer response but i guess it didn't actually post after all. well, anyway, i appreciate your comment. these are the hard things to talk about, so hard that we often just don't say anything. so thanks for saying something :)

RHB said...

Amen, sister! So how 'bout you forward this to that uncle of ours that wears the Confederate flag suspenders? :)

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