Reading Time: 7 minutes

We Know Where We’ve Been

I lost my voice for a while…

I suppose it’s only appropriate to mention, as I start this post, that it’s been so long since I have written for Modified Mamas that I had to have tech assistance to retrieve my password.

I lost my voice for a while, maybe I lost most of myself, in darkness and I just couldn’t seem to put words to paper that I thought would light up the world around me. You see, that has always been deeply important to me. I didn’t want to write words that only served to deepen divides or give strength to what hurts. I’m okay with sharing what is painful if it might help someone but, if all I have to offer is a frustrated spew of vitriol, I vent but I don’t carve it onto internet real estate for the whole world. Let me tell you, you could fill an ocean with the things I haven’t written in the last year alone.

Then, the events in Virginia happened and my heart broke again in a way that grows increasingly familiar in the absolute insanity that is our state of affairs in our country today. It continued as Virginia’s tragedy sent sparks and spread the blaze to my own hometown and, of course, across my social media feeds. As I watched people that I love and respect talk about “erasing history” and “denying their heritage” the blaze surged within me.

At times I responded to people, I wrote a mayor, I vented and spewed a little in places where I knew it wasn’t going to wage a war but I did not write here. I continued to remind myself that the people, mired down in tradition and unchecked bigotry, who would post this crap while claiming to love and respect my multiracial family wouldn’t hear my argument. All I could expect from a post was to get high fives from people who agreed and provide a platform for more platitudes from those who don’t.

Then, last weekend, I took my kids to see a performance of one of our favorite musicals, Hairspray, at a local community theater (we DeZarns love us some musical theater!). I’d had tickets for quite some time but the poignancy of the timing of rewatching this play with my children in light of the events unfolding in our nation did not escape me. As we sat in that gorgeous old theater and watched the play, I made mental notes about points to discuss with my children on the way home.

This play is completely filled with messages about acceptance and inclusivity. There are themes of self-acceptance, racial harmony and discrimination, body size and body image, and, yes, even perceptions of special education. I sang along and mentally prepared my little “car lesson” intent on shining my light and being damn sure that my children knew our stance on acceptance, inclusion, and bigotry. Until the scene where Motormouth, the mother of the African American male lead, sings “I Know Where I’ve Been”.

Y’all, that beautiful woman’s voice filled that old theatre and it filled every one of my cells. As tears rolled down my cheeks, I saw the same salty tears pour down the beautiful dark skin of two male teen actors on stage who are friends of my daughter. Two more teens had raised their hands like the song was a prayer. That song was a challenge to my soul. It is time to stand up, to rise up, to call out wrong and fight for peace. So, here I am, to say what the very pores of my skin are screaming to proclaim and why I just refuse to accept that you can respect my interracial family and argue that shining statues of proud Confederate soldiers belong in the town square.

America, we know where we’ve been!

We know, as great as our nation is, that our history is not without fault. We know the consequences of intolerance; we’ve seen it in black and white photos of history books and now we can see it in HD on our television screens. This is unacceptable; it’s unimaginable.

Portrait of General Robert E. Lee

Statues of Confederate soldiers may have a place somewhere but that somewhere needs to be balanced. Let me explain. After the Civil War, General Robert E. Lee was very deliberate about promoting the union of the United States and not one Confederate statue was put up until after his death. You can read more about that here. In fact, very few of those monuments on southern courthouse lawns and college campuses were erected at all until federal desegregation laws were passed when those statues were placed with the very real intention of thumbing noses at the government and pointing out to people of color that they didn’t really fit in.

When talk of removing or relocating statues comes up, I see two basic arguments about it. The first argument is that the Civil War wasn’t just about slavery and that Southerners have every right to their proud rebel heritage. No, the Civil War wasn’t only about slavery and, no, the Union was not blameless or sinless in the way they fought. However, let’s get real for a minute; you cannot separate the Civil War from slavery either. Because of that, you cannot expect African Americans to feel great about doing business in the shadow of men who fought to keep them as property. If we acknowledge that, then surely we must admit that these statues send the wrong message to African Americans, tourists, and our own children about what we as a nation know is right.

As for our proud southern heritage, y’all, I mean y’all seriously, no one is more proud of her southern heritage and culture than me. I’m proud of my strong coal mining grandfathers who sacrificed their bodies to feed their families and the mighty women who worked alongside them to make a life better for each generation. I’m proud of the sense of respect for others, hospitality, and generosity that comes from being raised in an Appalachian family. I’m proud that I know the names of trees and songs of birds and how to make things grow here in our southern soil. I’m proud of my southern accent and my giant southern family and our humble beginnings. I’m proud that the strength of the mountains stays in our souls no matter where we live and that our southern roots keep our feet firmly on the ground, there’s not a weak willed or flighty one amongst us. I’m proud that I can put my cooking up against nearly anybody’s and it will hold its own.

I get more than most why southerners are sick of being stereotyped as ignorant racists and we build up this proud southern wall in rebellion against any of that Yankee bull.

But here’s the thing, if we don’t like that stereotype, we can’t BE that stereotype! Don’t be proud of what old soldiers did; be proud of what WE do. Be proud of the people here who donate a greater percentage of their wages and time to people in need than any other region in the US. Be proud of our artisans, the beauty of our land, and the friendliness of our customs. Be proud of sweet tea and fried green tomatoes, and great grandma’s quilts that still look new at 50 years old. In fact, I suggest we just replace the old stars and bars with a patchwork quilt flag emblazoned with a glass of iced tea and a sign that says,

The South: Y’all are welcome to visit but if you mess with one of us, look out we’re ALL comin’ for yuns. Bless your hearts!

Pretty much sums up our friendly side, our tough side, and throws in a little bit of unity, no?

Now that we’re all proud again, let’s address argument two. “We don’t gain anything by erasing history; where will it end if we keep removing things every time someone gets offended?” See? This is one of those arguments that sounds like it makes sense until you break it down. Taking down Confederate statues does not erase history, it removes a one-sided, shined-up turd sort of history. If you want to preserve the statues as historical works of art, fine, but put them in a museum or monument where there is actual balanced, educational information about the Civil War that includes its impact on African Americans. Without the balance, they aren’t teaching history at all except about how the people in control of public spaces in the south during desegregation were kind of assholes. You know, there are monuments to the atrocities of the Holocaust in Germany so that it is never forgotten or erased. Not one of those contains shiny statues of proud Nazi soldiers with plaques about their service as proud patriots. Those don’t exist because they know where they’ve been; they acknowledge it was awful; they have moved on.

Statue of Liberty seen from the Circle Line ferry, Manhattan, New York

And where does all of this statue removal end? What line do we draw? Easy, the line ends at private property. You can erect all the Confederate statues and rebel flags you want on your property. It’s protected speech under the Constitution of the United States of America. However, on public property, outside of a dedicated and balanced historical museum, statues commemorating the great acts in a war against our own country have to go.

People, I know it; you know it; we know where we have been but we also know who we ARE. We are the people who are rushing to aid our fellow citizens in Texas in the middle of a natural disaster. We are the nation that fought the Great Wars. We are the nation that proudly hails the Statue of Liberty who welcomes people to our shores for a chance at a better life. We are the nation that wept together on 9/11. The time for division is over. We are the United States and we need to act like it. It’s time to call out all acts of hate and violence as wrong. It’s time to take down what divides us and love what we stand for as a nation.

I know where we’ve been but I also know it’s not who we are. I will not be silent and I will not pretend that defenses of symbols of segregation and intolerance are not personal to me anymore. I am as proud of my southern roots as anybody out there but I am equally as proud that, in a couple months, the next family that adopts a child with African American heritage in the same courthouse we did will not have a Confederate soldier in the background of their pictures.

God Bless America!

Leave a Comment!