WHY BLACK LIVES MATTER (TOO) me
Why would an old…well… “seasoned”, Southern, white guy come out in support of Black Lives Matter? Shouldn’t I be the “flag waving” rebel who really ain’t racist because I once knew a black guy back in the eighth grade. After spending my life trying to fly under “the radar” of controversy why would I risk alienation of friends, family and racist of all walks of life? “BLM is more racist than the KKK!” after all. Because it is time to “poop” or get off of the can and admit to my own cognitive dissonance.
I wasn’t paying attention. I was too busy flying under the radar, comfortably settling into retirement and confident that I wasn’t a racist…at least not overtly. I didn’t laugh at racist jokes…but I didn’t take people to task over them either. I just made a point to distance myself from the offender…but I kept quiet. If “white folk” commented that President Obama had done more to disunify the nation I snickered under my breath and thought “Yeah right, only because he is the first Black President and exactly what was more?” When a former teaching friend, former as in teaching and friend, shared a meme depicting a nude, strung out prostitute as President Obama mother, I was both appalled and silent. I am ashamed that we didn’t part company at that moment instead of later when I alienated him over another post…one I had made defending the removal of the Confederate Battle Flag from our statehouse grounds and the original impetus behind my quest for awareness.
The deaths of nine innocents at Mother Emmanuel hit me on a personal level and the firestorm over the flag removal made me recognize the huge riff still existing between races. It became apparent “our racism” had simply been covered in the same way my kitty covers her business in her litter box. Most importantly it made me ask myself questions and search for the truth. THE TRUTH, not your truth or my truth but the actual truth. It would appear real truth is quite elusive.
I was a history and science teacher. I was not a historian any more than I was a scientist but the love for both spurred me to look for truth. The pain I was feeling over Mother Emmanuel and the flag spurred me to write about it and the history teacher in me wrote from a historical perspective. The following will probably be included in the second chapter of a short compilation of I hope to publish on the anniversary of the massacre.
7/10/2015 – Heritage and Hate
Word came to me that our General Assembly had voted to remove the flag from the capitol grounds and place it in the Confederate Relic Room with its own area for those who believe in its heritage can give it the reverence they think it deserves. For those who believed that it flew in the “face” of a large portion of the population and represented hate and racism, kidnapped or not, it is out of sight, if not out of mind. That short journey began at 10:10 this morning and, thankfully, was over in the blink of an eye, although what it all means will continue to be debated ad nauseam, including, I hope, this set of stories.
In the year 2000 I felt the flag should have been removed but, unlike now, I was too timid to say so. Despite feeling one wrong has been righted, I am thankful those who want to celebrate their heritage still have the opportunity to do so…in any way they so desire, provided it is not illegal and doesn’t infringe on the rights of others. Infringement on rights might be the fly in the ointment or, maybe worse, the “Baby Ruth” in the swimming pool.
I have always questioned where my rights ended and others began. You want to play your music loud, louder and loudest and employ woofers that could create a sonic wave strong enough to knock a fighter jet out of the sky. At what point do I get to ask you to turn it down? More to my point – as I have viewed and read the comments on social media or had discussions with friends, I have been both shocked and appalled at some people’s venom when it comes to OTHER people’s rights. “Some people,” along with everyone else, have those pesky First Amendment rights whether we agree with the “connerie” people might be spouting or not. They have the right to say anything hurtful short of “Fire” in a crowded theater, I guess. They do have the right to call me a stupid asshole just like I have the right to unfriend them on social media which I didn’t but probably should have. One question I have not answered is why if you have the same rights as I have, why does it remove my rights if you are insured of your rights?
As the debate over “rights” raged, I am thankful for the grace shown by the families of the “Emmanuel Nine” and for most of South Carolina. Dylann Roof was definitely one of those “Baby Ruths” in the pool. He has given us an opportunity to examine how dirty and polluted the “societal” water was before he climbed into the pool. I hope it will give us the opportunity to drain his pool and fill it with clear and pure water. I would settle for just potable.
It is true that the Battle Flag of the Army of Northern Virginia did not pull the trigger that took those nine lives. Dylann Roof killed them and we do not need to place the blame on “that flag” nor should we place it on the gun he did it with or the fact that gays have the right to a civil marriage or that I must have the right to go deer hunting with an AK47. (Sorry, I could not help myself!) We do, however, need to place the blame on those who hijacked the Battle Flag and turned it into a symbol of hate and created a fertile garden of prejudice and racism for Roof to grow in. That would be people just like me.
I was born in South Carolina in 1950 and was taught both the heritage and the hate. I was born just two years after Strom Thurmond’s bid for the presidency running as a Dixiecrat, the party of segregation. The Dixiecrats might have been the first to hijack the flag as they rallied round the Battle Flag while playing “Dixie” during their convention. Prior to that time, for over eighty years, the Battle Flag had rarely been seen, used only at parades or memorials and the like, in other words, just as it should have been, the way Robert E. Lee would have wanted and not a symbol of racial hatred. After 1948 it became much more than a symbol of heritage and I lived through it all, seeing the efforts to keep African-Americans segregated after Brown replaced Plessey in 1954. I saw it all on my little black and white with Walter Cronkite. I heard it in church and in school but, fortunately, I did not hear it at my parent’s knee. I saw it in “Whites Only” restaurants or restrooms. I saw the burning of crosses and Freedom Rider buses, The Little Rock Nine, The Greensboro Four, “Bombingham,” fire hoses and police dogs in Selma and an assassination or ten.
Thankfully none of this occurred in my part of South Carolina but then I might just be suffering from the disease of cranial rectitus that goes with the color of my skin. I do remember being taught that one did not call “coloreds” mister, “birds of a feather flock together” so much so you never expect to see redbirds with crows. In a history class I learned that the familiar statement “All men are created equal” was not true because you had those people born “lame, retarded and colored.” Unfortunately, too many times these occurrences were accompanied by both Confederate and US flags and none of my friends or family attempted to rescue them. We simply must recognize what our Southern history stood for and admit to ourselves that it was as much about hate as it was about heritage.
On a Sunday afternoon in 1970 I stopped in a small upstate “nameless” town on my way back to Newberry for a milkshake that was, in fact, vanilla. As I sat at a concrete picnic table I heard cheers and yelling from behind a stand of trees and privet hedge. Being of a curious nature I decided to wander down a path and see what was going on. As I broke into the clearing the smell of kerosene became strong as a six-foot-tall cross burst into flames with a gigantic “Whoosh!” It was a small cross but there were plenty of white sheets and Confederate flags to go with the fifty or so people in attendance who were cheering the festivities on and shouting about the n@$$%^& bucks who would be raping our daughters during the upcoming school year. Looking a little like a Jewish banker, I remembered that “Curiosity killed the cat!” and made a hasty retreat instead of rescuing the flags.
Activities such as this or the Klan rally that took place on the statehouse grounds after the flag removal should not define our culture as Southerners in general nor should it define South Carolinians specifically. It also doesn’t explain racism and prejudice in other parts of our land or why we think certain groups of people should just “get over it.” We must accept that our racism is as much a part of our heritage as the flag. So are the heritages of the others who live here and don’t look like me. I applaud our diversity and love it. Dutch Fork BBQ, Blues and Blue Grass, Shrimp and Grits, Sea grass baskets, the Gullah language, Catawba pottery, the people who created them along with an Indian-American governor named Haley – just to name a few things that came from someone else’s culture. I also thank the people who made my re-education possible – those teachers, parents and students whose cultures were different than mine…and yet the same.
WHY BLACK LIVES MATTER (TOO) A Revolutionary Call to Action will be on sale June 19th. All proceeds will benefit The Sentencing Project, a leader in the effort to bring national attention to disturbing trends and inequities in the criminal justice system through the publication of groundbreaking research, aggressive media campaigns and strategic advocacy for policy reform. Our gift to the organization will support their efforts to promote reforms in sentencing policy, address unjust racial disparities and practices, and advocate for alternatives to incarceration.
Don Miller has also written three books which may be purchased or downloaded at http://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM