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A Time to Speak: Growing Up Southern
The point in history at which we stand is full of promise and danger. The world will either move forward toward unity and widely shared prosperity - or it will move apart.
— Franklin D Roosevelt
I am an American, first and foremost. And am proud to be here. And blessed. We have so much freedom here to speak and voice our opinions about whatever is on our minds.
We can look at the negatives and drown in them or we can relish the positives and do whatever we can to 'fix' the negatives.
One way to fix what is wrong in our part of this US of A is to take time to get to know those with whom we come in contact on a daily basis even if ever so casually....a smile, a spoken word, a helping hand....all of these make a difference.
This issue is much larger than a flag.
Does chipping away parts of history change what happened?
Each of us comes from different experiences.
Never once was I taught nor did I believe that the Confederate flag heralded slavery or the division the Civil War caused in our country Nothing could be further from the truth.
The purpose of this article is to share my experiences...as I state at the end of this piece of writing.
Every Day My Daddy Raised and Lowered the U.S. Flag in Front of our Home
A few weeks ago, a small town not too far from where I live is where I happened to be with my eldest grandson, Jay. We were out and about and the traffic was moving at a normal pace until we came to a section where the cars were creeping along.
We inched along while we watched many who were in much more of a hurry than we were, drive off the highway, onto the grass, and raced own to the traffic light, where they too waited.
After some time had passed we finally were close enough to see what had caused the jam up in traffic.
And then we knew...
The traffic congestion had been caused by a parade of trucks and cars bearing Confederate flags and American flags. There were about 2000 in all...they drove in a loop around a designated area of the town. It was peaceful primarily but at the very end, shots were fired ---thankfully no one was hurt.
This was a result of the recent upsurge in focus on the Confederate flag and the wish to have it removed from locations around the country.
And as I sat and waited my mind was awash with so many questions.
How can we come to this?
How had we gotten to violence on violence...hate and discord? There are so many answers and so many ways to view all that has happened in our country just in my lifetime.
Something that is excruciatingly troubling to me is that even the mention of that flag in the presence of some, makes me the object of derision and scorn.
Without knowing anything about my thoughts or feelings or beliefs, if I do not wish to eradicate every such flag, I become the enemy, the one of the other side of the table.
I know that many will wish to hurl words of disdain in my direction. I can take it.
But we should all be able to voice our opinion.
Googling 'racial divide'....8, 500, 000 results are shown.
Googling 'racial unity'...4, 700,00 results are shown and even as this is being read no doubt more articles are being posted.
Obviously there is a LOT being said on this issue..because they really are part and parcel of the same topic..
Action is needed. Words are great. But doing, making the change, making the effort is what will swing the pendulum the other way..toward more unity and less divide.
A Work of Fiction---Some Say the Characters are REAL----"Secrets Revealed"...A Look at Experiences that I Never Knew
Not to Me....
And it is concerning to me.
It is concerning to me because to me and my family and most of my friends, it does not symbolize any hidden or overt disdain toward any other race.
It never has meant that to me or to my family or to many of the people who reside in the South.
Starry-eyed Young Woman who Learned So Much about How All Races Can Live and Work Together While in Japan for Four Years...
We all Have Opinions....We all need to come up with Answers....
There it is that flag, the Confederate flag...the hot potato, the elephant in the room.
Anyone who has followed the conversation about this flag sees that it has been the object of much consternation and disagreement.
I have heard that it is a symbol of racism and all those who wave one of these flags is a declared racist. Not only have I heard those words, I have read them many times. In articles far and wide and right here on HubPages. You can read Ron El Fran's hub at this link:
He gives you another perspective on this topic which is important. We need to KNOW how others are feeling and thinking.
And I respect anyone's opinion but I have one too. (And, as I have said before, I DO know what is said about opinions!!
It is concerning to me because it suggests that 'those people in the South are all racist---just look at them with those damn flags.'
It is concerning to me because it is one more way to cause divisiveness in our country.
It is concerning to me because here is one more way to drive us apart even more than we are already.
Do I have the right to tell my neighbor to remove this or that from his or her yard because I find it offensive to me?
Is it then that we cut out, remove, parts of history as if to say they never happened?
Will removing Confederate flags or any other flags or symbols that someone may find offensive change what happened ?
Will the future be better because it is removed from sight?
I think not.
And why? Because there is always always going to be something else...some other symbol that is going to offend one group or another....where will it stop?
Taking time for some Blues....
What is Next??
I DO get it.
Driving through neighborhoods, wearing white hoods over the face while brandishing a Confederate flag is one thing. It is something I would want no part of. All that is associated with such circumstances incites those on both sides of the aisle to violence.
I get that.
But for people to raise a Confederate flag in their yard or have one on their car is another thing. When I see the Confederate flag license plates or flags, I do not think anything except perhaps the person may be from the South. That is all.
That is my thought. My experience. I do understand that someone else may view it a different way because their own personal experience or belief system.
What frightens me more, much more than removing the Confederate flag, is this:
how long will it be before some one, some group, will make the same demands about the flag of our country, our American flag? Little prickles of angst run through me as I consider that thought....
Where will this end?
I just wonder how removing a flag or a statue or anything else is going to bring us closer together as a people.
Yes, whatever it is will be gone from sight....but along with it will the bitterness and discontent leave as well?
Walls have come down, statutes removed, around the world and in some cases, nothing changed except that they are gone. New ones were built...invisible ones, more insidious than the ones we are able to see
We need to make a concerted effort to see that we are not erecting new barriers that separate us even more.
Still More Concerns and Questions
And one thing is for certain. I cannot ever fully understand nor can I identify with the experience of being enslaved. I cannot imagine what it must feel like to have lived as a Black person even in the sixties.
And the truth is, most of us, regardless of our race, cannot fully grasp what it must have felt like to be treated so inhumanely...tearing families apart, for one, which is only the tip of the iceberg.
It just gives me great concern that if we begin to carve out parts of our history that we feel uncomfortable with, are we then denying that they exist? That those horrid things happened?
Time to Pull Together
Would it not be meaningful for us to discuss what symbols such as the Confederate flag mean to us? What we find offensive or what they mean to us as individuals?
Rather than being incited to violence and hate and derision in all areas of our country, can we find ways to pull ourselves together?
We have much that needs to be fixed in our country.
I am not blind nor am I deaf to the problems we face ....it seems that rather than trying to find a way to peacefully coexist, more reasons are being found to divide this nation.
And sadly, the negatives are much more newsworthy than positives.
.......We are at a crucial crossroad in the history of this nation--and we either hang together by combating these forces that divide and degrade us or we hang separately. Do we have the intelligence, humor, imagination, courage, tolerance, love, respect, and will to meet the challenge? Time will tell. None of us alone can save the nation or world. But each of us can make a positive difference if we commit ourselves to do so.— Cornel West
First and Foremost I am an American
While I grew up in the South, I define myself not as a Southerner but as an American...
There was no Confederate flag in our house as I was growing up. Nor do I have one now.
I think I did see a paper one in a scrapbook I kept as a young girl but it was just a flag to me...the flag of Dixie..that's all....no hidden meaning.
We did have a flag though an amazing, cherished flag....an American flag~~~red, white, and blue~~~that we hung each day on a tall tall flag pole; each evening it was lowered in a kind of reverence and folded and stowed away till the next morning.
What it meant to me to grow up in the South
Growing up in the South....what does that mean?
This is what it meant to me...
it meant trips to the water's edge every day of summer, to swim, float, boat, build sandcastles.
To rush off to baseball games in the summer, football in the winter.
It meant blackberry pickin', strawberry pickin', digging potatoes, shucking corn. And blackberry cobbler and strawberry shortcake. Blackberry jam and strawberry jam.
It meant reaching into the hen house to gather up those large brown eggs that Bertie or Henrietta (yes, do you believe it?) were keeping so nice and warm for us.
It meant church on Sunday morning and Sunday night, choosing Sunday night church over the Walt Disney show.
It meant summer camp ...Four H camp or Church Camp.
It meant pajama parties with many best friends, styling hair, popping corn, watching late night tv, sneaking off to the boy's camp to peek at the campground while they were ensconced inside, sleeping. If the boys had ever come out, we would have all screamed and rushed off back down the road much faster than how we had come.
And, Sunday dinners with family from far away places.
And summers racing around a house full of cousins.
We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.
— Martin Luther King, Jr.
Two of the Young Who Will Carry On for Us
It also meant some friction, at times.
When I was eleven, I had to be rushed to a dentist's office. It was the middle of the night and the only dentist who answered his phone was the Black dentist. So I was bundled up in warm clothes on that January night (which happened to be my birthday) tucked in our car and driven to his office, quickly.
My Momma never paused for a minute about taking me to him and I, of course, thought nothing about his race. I was in pain. I needed relief. And this gentle, kind, giant of a man, explained everything he would do and from then on, he became my dentist.
We lived sixteen miles from his office. So when I had an appointment with him, I would be let off the bus at this office which was in his beautiful brick home just off the highway that would pass within feet of it.
When the bus would stop in front of his home, the distance from my seat on the bus to the door seemed endless and the two steps down surely had become twenty. And there was time for those ugly, hateful words to fly...."N***-Lover." And some of those who said them were supposed to be my friends.
But my Momma had always taught me that we are all equal and all valued and judging someone by the color of skin was not something we would do in our home.
An Ironical Twist of Fate
When I was a senior in high school I went to live with my sister and her husband and her two children in Pennsylvania. My parents were quite ill that year so that is why I made the trip.
Here I was..this little girl from a tiny town in Virginia who had a Southern accent so strong there was no mistakin' where I was from.
And this little girl, who had been taught all of her life to say "yes m'am" and "no m'am" and "yes sir" and "no sir" was suddenly chastised often by her Civics teacher for saying it. On the third day I was in his class, he told me that if I ever said "yes sir" to him again, he would send me to the office. And the whole Civil War was my fault. It was scary and uncomfortable and not what I expected. I learned very quickly not to speak in his class.
A most wonderful thing happened that year.
A vivacious, beautiful Black girl took me under her wing and I soon became a part of the school. My class at my former school would have only 60 students that year ...the class I was in now had 365. So there was LOT of adjusting.
How cool was that. She made me a part of things...someone who might have found the most reasons to treat me with scorn because I was from the South did not even seem to notice. It just did not matter.
I was a person...that was all.
What a growing up year that was!!!
So Many Thoughts
While I was composing this, I decided to google "understanding those of another race"....
there are 217, 000, 000 possible sources.
There is no shortage of input on this topic. We can definitely read and make a decision using one or more of them if we choose.
We can also use our own judgment and experience and 'lessons learned' to help us come to terms with how we begin to have meaningful dialogue and resultant action in this area.
Who We Are....
Finding out that each person, regardless of race, has so much more that they share in common than they would ever imagine helps us find common ground.
Views on many topics will differ greatly because of our own personal experience.
Just the simple gesture of speaking to someone and beginning a conversation opens new doors to understanding for each of us. Someone cares...I matter...not because of the color of my skin but because I am.
I have seen many book titles that suggest race is THE defining characteristic of a person.
It IS important...but who we are is not defined by the color of our skin...it is what one sees initially when encountering another person. If I had used skin color as the way I chose my friends, my life would be so barren of so many lovelies that I know and call friend.
But who we are is so much more than that. Who we are is what makes us tick...
Just a tiny fraction of who we are is all wrapped up in how we feel about ourselves and how we feel and act towards others. If we have preconceived ideas about someone because of race or gender or some other belief, then no matter what anyone says or does, that may never change.
We are a sum total of our experiences and belief system and who we surround ourselves with on a daily basis.
Trying to be a better, more understanding me has been a sincere goal of mine ...it has helped me to walk in the shoes of others to an extent...only to an extent.
There have been times when I have felt the sting of prejudice. It works both ways...and it is too much to delve into here. But it did not make me hate ALL of another race or ethnic group.
It was a learning experience...."O, that is what it feels like"kind of thing. And it changed me.
Let Begin with Me
It deeply saddens me that so much divisiveness exists in our A M A Z I N G country.
We have so much that we should give thanks for each day.
But we have a lot of work to do.
We ALL do...not one group or the other....ALL of us..
If it will reduce stress for anyone, let the Confederate flags come down.
If we can get down to the business of building unity and civility, let it be so.
Just know that it is not a symbol for ugliness to many of us.
Many times I have said these words...
we need to make a difference one person at a time. In our communities...with the folks next door and down the street.
That is where understanding begins.
Each of us must be a instrument for change, for the good of all of us.
As we light a path for others, we naturally light our own way.
— Mary Anne Radmacher
The reason I wrote this to share some thoughts, opinions, experiences... to let you be on the inside looking out in one person's life.
Each of us has had and continues to have a view and our own experiences.
I do believe and know that so much of how others react to us is determined by how we approach them. When I am out in public shopping, running errands, whatever, I speak to everyone...kind of one of those folks who would talk to a tree if I thought it would listen...
When approaching someone who has a scowling face, I do not hesitate to greet them. And most of the time, the scowl disappears and a friendly reply is returned.
Try it....try smiling and speaking to everyone you encounter and see what happens. A few will ignore or rebuff you...most will smile and speak back.
One person at a time....sounds too simple...
It is a beginning...some place to start.
Please know that Angels are on the way to you this afternoon.