FROM THE EDITOR

CONFEDERATE States

Moving on from the Grand Ol' South

Posted

Will y’all please get over your love affair with the Confederacy?

As a proud born-and-bred Southerner, I can understand why you fell for the people who participated in the failed rebellion of the 1860s, chief among them their pageantry, their gallantry, their chivalry, and those deliciously honeyed accents dripping out pearls like, “All y’all can kiss my grits.” Swoon.

I’m going to let y’all in on a little secret: It’s over. We’ll always have those sultry summer nights sippin’ whiskey and whistlin’ Dixie, but modern Southerners are so done with the relationship that we’ve hired a personal trainer and forwarded our mail.

Don’t get me wrong, I know where you’re coming from, for in weaker moments I, too, have foolishly romanticized the Confederacy. My forebears fought in their war and my family lost much of our lands and wealth during it. I love Gone With the Wind—both the book and the film—and have been known to get unnecessarily offended at being incorrectly called a Yankee.

But the South that I love is nothing like the Confederacy you pursue like Glenn Close dogging Michael Douglas after he dumps her in Fatal Attraction. My South is Harper Lee, Rosa Parks, Earl Scruggs, Thomas Wolfe, Kanye, William Faulker, Mae C. Jemison, Aziz Ansari, Martin Luther King Jr., Jennifer Lawrence; it’s hip-hop, bluegrass, barbecue and the Research Triangle. Yours is Uncle Tom, Jefferson Davis, Dred Scott, separate-but-equal, shaking your fist at the sky and cursing William Tecumseh Sherman. (Truthfully, I feel you on that last one. But not enough to get back together.)

Like Glenn and Michael, your relationship with the South was doomed from the start; you never really saw the Confederacy for what it was. It wasn’t all balls and banquets and ‘Frankly, my dears.’ The lords and ladies of that bygone era who make your heart go pitty-pat were just a sizable minority of selfish, entitled land barons clinging to a way of life that the world had already left behind. The majority of Southerners were either in literal chains as slaves or figurative ones as impoverished peasants. There was no middle class. The white Southern aristocracy didn’t care about them and they wouldn’t care about you—unless you could help them stay rich and idle, which they wanted to do so very, very much. So much, in fact, that they went and started a war.

They weren’t states’ rights champions, unless those rights let them own and treat human beings in much the same way that farmers treat livestock. They used female slaves as bed-warmers, put horsewhips to human flesh, executed without evidence, and sold people in markets, for goodness’ sakes, then sent their sons to die in fields with the hope that they could keep doing so.

And they weren’t truly chivalrous, unless chivalry involves marrying off your daughter to her richest cousin, no matter what the young lady has to say about being wed to a middle-aged widower for the sole purpose of accomplishing what his previous wife, or wives, had been unable to do: produce a son to carry on the family name. Personally, I’d rather not return to a time in which a woman’s greatest value to society was as a human broodmare. But I’ve been known to chafe at the bit.

I know it will be hard to let go, what with the symbols that still stand today reminding you of your doomed affair with the Confederate South. These past months must have been a real nostalgia trip for Confederophiles like you, what with the proliferation of Beauregard flags sticking to bumpers and waving in front of homes all over town, often beside the president’s standard. So we’ll all understand if it takes some time before you can walk past the 62-foot-tall monument to your lost love in Hemming Park without shedding a single tear for what was.

In times like these, you may be tempted to rekindle the spark. A casual “heritage not hate” tossed your way by someone wearing a shirt emblazoned with the battle flag of the Northern Army of Virginia could undo so much of the work you’ve done seeking closure. In these moments, remember that the flag doesn’t represent our South, it represents their South; it’s blackface, shuck-and-jive, burning crosses, segregation, Jim Crow, a kettleful of oppressed, miserable people getting boiled alive and glorifying a culture that never really existed because it distracts them from the heat. And it is hateful.

I’m not saying you should forget the Confederacy, no, far from it … because lessons learned from past relationships help us avoid new lovers who are just as bad, if not worse. So take the things you love about the South, like lazy days spent skipping rocks down by the river, and find someone new to enjoy them with, someone who actually exists. ’Cause Rhett and Scarlett never did.

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