Monday, July 13, 2015

My Southern Heritage...

photo by abbamouse via Flickr

When I think of my country, the United States of America, I don't feel pride, so much as privilege. I'm privileged to be an American. I wouldn't use the word "proud" because I did nothing to become an American--I didn't earn my citizenship, so there isn't really anything to be proud of in being an American.

That being said, I am proud of my country. I'm proud of it because of its ideals more than its practices. The United States of America was founded on the ideal of all people being equal and having certain inalienable rights, namely, the right to life, the right to liberty or to live freely, and the right to pursue that which makes us happy.

Of course, when our country was founded, these ideals didn't actually apply to all people, only to white property-owning males. Hence, my pride only at our ideal: e pluribus unum and all that. Not so much pride in the way we've struggled to reach that ideal.

I was born and raised in Florida, but my parents are both from North Carolina. I can trace my father's ancestry, on his mother's side, all the way back to one Johan Adam Bolch, born in Germany in 1728, emigrated to the Colonies in 1753, and died in 1794, in Catawba County, North Carolina. On his father's side, I can trace my dad's ancestry to a Martin Trantham, Sr. born in Staffordshire, England, in about 1690, emigrated to the Colonies, and died in North Carolina in 1769.

While I can trace my mother's lineage through her father to a Joseph Cole who died in 1840, the best I can prove is a Joseph Cole who was born in 1816, and died in 1886 in Rutherford County, North Carolina. But on her mother's side, through her grandmother, I can trace her line back to a John Holland, born in Virginia in 1735 and died there in 1801. His son, also John Holland, was born in North Carolina in 1773 and died in 1856.

My Fifth Great Grandfather was born three years before the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

The next time you shout out that it's time to take America back, I'd like to know from whom you wish to retrieve it. Certainly not from me and others who share my views. My heritage is in the making of this country. I am as much an American as you...maybe more so.

I hear a lot of people these days talking about the Confederate flag. Heritage, not hate, they keep saying. I wonder how many of those people can trace their family ancestry to people who actually fought for the Confederacy. I can.

My great aunt was a member of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. I was told that documentation could be had, should I wish to apply for membership. I did not wish to do so.

The Confederate States of America was nothing less than treason. 

My ancestors were most likely not the wealthy plantation owners and the statesmen of the South. No. They were more likely poor farmers or sharecroppers. They may have owned slaves. They fought for the Confederacy because they were ignorant followers of rich statesmen, or because they truly believed in the "cause" of "Southern Independence," I have no way of knowing.

But there is nothing there for me to be proud of.

As an American, proud of the ideals this country was founded on and strives to achieve, I can only look back on my Southern Heritage with disdain, sadness, and shame.

Sure, there were, no doubt, some people throughout the history of this country who were disgusted by slavery, who didn't consider certain people as subhuman, and who didn't buy into the vulgar idea of "benevolent slavery"--that of the civilized man caring for the savage.

But I am almost certain that none of those people were my ancestors. My ancestors in the South, particularly North Carolina, were racists. I know this for a fact because I lived among them as a child. These racists I knew were raised by racists, who were naturally raised by racists of their own.

There can be no doubt that the Confederacy was built on racism. The words of those statesmen upon seceding from the Union--upon committing treason against the United States--prove that they fought against the abolition of slavery. Why? Because the South was built on slavery. And instead of accepting the enlightened notion that human beings are not property for other human beings, my ancestors dug in and chose to fight to keep themselves ensconced in bigotry.

Even when they lost their dirty treasonous war, they continued to fight against the notion that they were no better than anyone else simply because of the color of their skin. The failed Confederacy brought us the Ku Klux Klan and Jim Crow. Segregation. Lynchings.

That is my Southern Heritage.

Don't tell me it's not about hate, because that's exactly what it's about. The flag of the Confederate States of America is a symbol of treason, of a failed attempt to maintain white supremacy and slavery, of racism and bigotry and ignorance.

I'm ashamed of it. And I'm ashamed of my ancestors for fighting under it.

But I don't have to live with this shame, or be branded by it. Because I'm not a Southerner so much as I am an American. My flag is the flag of the United States and it symbolizes the ideals that our country was founded on. Those ideals are in stark contrast to the goals of the Confederacy.

Fly the Confederate flag all you want and proclaim its heritage as yours. But don't expect me to not view you as an ignorant racist bigot, no different from my treasonous ancestors. And don't expect me to think of you as an American patriot. How could you be, when you honor the flag of a treasonous attack on my country?

Heritage, not hate? I don't think so.