In the past few days I have seen two posts on Google+ from white southerners, both honestly trying to come to grips with the heritage that produced them. You can see one of the posts, by +Garnet Griffin, here and here (if you are in her circles) is the one by +Melissa Hall.
Each deals with the fact that the heritage of a white Southern family is a heritage of racism both personal, and as a pillar of the social infrastructure. Griffin rejects it utterly:
I am not sugarcoating for the dead men in my family anymore. They terrorized their wives and children, they murdered people, they turned a blind eye to the murders committed by their friends and helped to conceal it. They made the laws that explained it away. They exculpated themselves again and again for things that are entirely unforgivable. They convinced themselves that anyone who wasn’t like them was not as human as they were–even their wives and daughters–indeed using their wives and daughters as justification for their barbarism. They wanted to enshrine the slavery of other human beings as a permanent establishment in our society.
. . .
It’s time to bury them, and everything they stood for, once and for all.
Meanwhile, Hall struggles more with the duality of her abhorrence for what her ancestors did, vs. the fact they are nevertheless her forebears, and so a significant factor in who she is:
See having each other’s back is a core family virtue in the south and that made everything hard. I know it might be hard to understand but members of my family who fought in that war (and yea, mostly on the CSA side) are still family and to just denounce them as bad people…. it just isn’t a thing I can do. As people who lived in a complex time and made decisions I think, with the benefit of modernity and hindsight were wrong? Yea I can do that, but that makes all the stuff hard and complicated. Because it is part of my history and it would be wrong to forget that even people I knew and loved were a part of ugly, horrible things like Jim Crow. It is heritage in that way, and it is a ugly an complicated heritage.
Possibly related to the greater difficulty Hall experiences is the fact that the people whose horrible actions she’s being forced to contemplate are a generation or two closer to now? I don’t know, I am speculating.
Either way, I am grateful to both of these remarkable women not only for struggling honestly with these aspects of our country’s underpinnings, but for laying their process so open to us. In this powerful article John Metta makes it plain that this is an issue every white American alive today has got to grapple with, or take to their grave. It is nothing less than the American Institution of Racism (the AIR?), and it benefits every white person and damages every non-white person who lives under its sway. And make no mistake, this not just about the former CSA states. It’s a factor in how “the world works” in all 50 states, plus possessions and territories.
Hall and Garnet are way ahead of me on the work of processing this.