I just got to Houston and grabbed a rental car. The radio was on NPR and I left it on long enough to hear an African American female Democratic “strategist” claim that Confederate statues caused her “pain” due to the way her ancestors were thrown on ships and mistreated. She went on to say that “whites were going to have to be forced to stop honoring the Confederacy and must be taught to respect black people.”
She seemed to be quite earnest in her anger.
I’ve no idea how she really feels or if the sight of statuary causes her physical pain but I couldn’t stop thinking about the timeline involved. Slavery existed in the colonial times for about 400 years before the United States even existed. Should not the statues of English, Spanish, French and Dutch explorers who settled the New World be razed as well? Should not Wall Street be dug up and turned into a park (as it was part of New Amsterdam, settled by the Dutch)? How about the Islamic caliphates of the Middle East and northern Africa and their co-conspirators in the African tribes who provided the slaves to be sold be part of this as well?
The fact is that for 400 years, slavery existed. It lingered for another 75 or so after the country was founded. Should not the “official” America be given a little credit for ending such an evil institution? I get a little angry when the words “white privilege” are used because the black didn’t fight a war of liberation in America, it was white against white (of course, there were black in both armies – but a very small percentage). White privilege in WWII also meant it was white men from America who did the most dying.
I also wonder what “pain” this young woman feels. Is it the same pain I feel when I think about my home town being burned to the ground by Union soldiers? Is it the same pain that I feel as I read my great-grandmother’s letters that show how my ancestors (who never owned slaves) were turned into sharecroppers? Is it the same pain I feel drive by my grandfathers old house site (the house only exists now in pictures and my memories) and think about how difficult it was for he and my grandmother during the Great Depression? Is it the same pain I felt as I grew up immensely loved but dirt poor in Mississippi? Is it the same pain I felt when I was approaching college age and realizing that I was going to have to do it myself (my parents couldn’t afford it) if I didn’t want to sack groceries or cut fence posts to sell for the rest of my life?
Was it that kind of pain?
I don’t think of statues of long deceased people as some sort of long dead, cold-eyed, soulless, “White Walker” army (gratuitous Game of Thrones reference) because they do not occupy my mind for more than passing seconds. They did not and do not determine my fate – I do that. I never blamed my ancestors or those they interacted with for any of my circumstances, neither did my mom or dad (after I graduated, my dad’s long worked for success came – he and my mom prospered in business and neither had anything but a high school education – college was not in the cards for them). My brother and I were not raised to blame others for our circumstances, we were trained to find ways to succeed. What I took from the multiple difficulties we faced as a family was valuable wisdom and knowledge that is helping me even today.
I don’t know what it is like to live in and escape the inner city – but I can tell you that escaping a poor, non-industrialized rural Mississippi agricultural society is nothing to be discounted.
This is why I have little sympathy for the emotive whining about some stone faced Confederate soldier keeping watch over some public space or cemetery. They simply are not consequential unless you allow them to be.
I’ll never know how a black person truly feels about slavery. I’ll never know whether that had a significant influence on their lives. I do know one thing, people who allow obsessions of what happened 150 years ago to alter their lives today will never get past it because that obsession is like a drug – once it is in your system, it is the cause of all happiness and unhappiness and it will take over your life.
How miserable it must be to exist while dwelling on something that may or may not have happened to some distant relative at some point over a century and a half ago. Even if it did, why should anyone allow that to define them in an America where there is so much opportunity. I can never understand why some seek to exist as victims when they have the opportunity to live as kings. I can only assume that this isn’t about equality or the assuaging of ancestral pain – it is about getting even…retribution.