Today was a beautiful Saturday. I woke up nice and late, had some coffee, and took my truck to a friend’s garage to have some work done. The wife suggested that we head to Leesburg for lunch before going home. Little did we know the hotbed of racial unrest we were about to enter.
We arrived just before noon and parked across the street from the courthouse. There were a few people hanging around, some carrying American flags, some with that “other” flag (you know, “that” flag). There might have been a dozen people, and there were smiles and laughter all around. With foresight, I would have snapped a picture, but alas…..
We wandered down the street and stumbled upon The Cajun Experience. They promise quite a bit with a name like that, and given my love for all thing Louisiana, we had to go in. Suffice it to say that I had the best Bloody Mary I’ve ever had, and the fried gator was out of this world. The decor and atmosphere is dead-on Baton Rouge. All they needed to be completely authentic was more Cajun-centric music and a better selection of hot sauce (Tabasco is not the be-all, end-all). I jumped onto Facebook to tag the place and give a quick review.
Then it happened…..
A friend had posted an article about an NAACP protest at the courthouse in Leesburg regarding the Confederate memorial in the courtyard. This, mind you, is the same courthouse I was parked in front of, and was 300 or so yards from (yeah, sue me for the poor sentence structure, I’m trying to bang this out quickly).
I responded to my friend’s post that I was in Leesburg and saw nothing. Now to be fair, this “protest” was due to begin at 10:30, but we were there less than 90 minutes after the start time.
So we wandered back towards the car after a bit and walked into the courtyard. There were small American and “Confederate” (again, I’m not going to be silly about this, you know what I’m talking about) flags around the statue and around the courtyard. There was an older (than us) white couple on a bench next to the statue, and two younger (than us) black women who were standing by the monument. I started snapping pictures with my phone, and one of the women turned to me and said, with a strong Southern accent……
“Looks like everyone’s getting pictures of this today.”
Not knowing where she was going with this, I noncommittally said, “uh huh.”
She smiled and said……
“It’s crazy what’s going on. I want to get a picture of me with it in case they have to take it down.”
And I’m thinking……Well gosh, this isn’t what the media’s been telling me.
My wife asked if she’d like her picture taken with the monument, and the woman ecstatically handed my wife her phone and said yes.
As she posed with the monument, she patted the base and said, “hold on….hold on. Don’t you go nowhere.”
We exchanged a few more pleasantries with the two women, they thanked us, and then the woman we’d photographed reached out and hugged my wife, then she hugged me. It was so spontaneous and so genuine that I was seriously taken aback (which is yet another reason why I hate living in the North…..This is how people should and do act down South).
And suddenly I was furious. All this garbage in the media about white privilege, systemic & endemic racism, and removing “symbols of hate”……Lies, all of it.
Does that flag piss some people off? Sure it does. But that doesn’t mean that we need to eliminate it from society. As the SCOTUS decision on same-sex marriage so clearly highlighted, the meaning of words (and things) can change.
My mother’s side of the family is from the South. I’ve got bona fide Southern blood running through my veins. I grew up watching Bo and Luke Duke sticking it to Boss Hogg and Sheriff Roscoe in their bad-ass Charger with that flag emblazoned on the roof. As anyone who even casually watched that show can tell you, there wasn’t a single second of it that was even remotely racist. Whatever that flag might have meant in the 1860s, or even the 1960s, by the late ‘70s it was a banner of Southern Pride and the subversiveness of “sticking it to The Man.”
And now the flag is down from a war memorial in South Carolina, and this is major news. Now TV Land isn’t showing reruns of “The Dukes of Hazzard”, and this is major news. Columns are written, hands are wrung, and garments are rent (citation needed) over the “race problem” this country has.
Forget the fact that more slaves were brought into this country under the British and American flags than under any flag of the Confederacy. The simple fact is that removing a flag, or a statue, or a memorial doesn’t do a damn thing to make people less racist. Moreover, the fact that some people are offended by those things is not a reason to remove them from sight.
No one has the right to not be offended. No one has the right to never have their feelings hurt.
And no one has the right to tell me (or you) what a certain symbol means to me (or to you).
And it’s important to remember that we are a nation of individuals. “Black people” are no more a monolithic group than “white people” or “Christians” or “Muslims”. Rather than painting an entire group with a broad brush (‘cause, you know, that’s the problem these knuckleheads are supposedly protesting), why not listen to what they have to say and basing your opinion on that?
It’s difficult. It’s hard work. But it’s a whole lot better than letting a few steer the narrative and pitting us against one another. It’s really okay that people believe in different things. And those differences don’t necessarily make them wrong (or you right).
But unfortunately, that’s what we’ve come to. It’s not enough to have a respectful disagreement with another person. Now we have to destroy and discredit them. We have to vilify them. “Oh, you like that flag? Racist!”
That’s not how you bring people together. That’s how you drive them apart. That’s how you promote strife, distrust, anger, and unrest.
And that, my friends, is bullshit.
For five glorious minutes today, in the shadow of a Confederate soldier, I reaffirmed what I already knew about people. Those two women give me hope that we’re really going to be all right.
Now get the hell off of the internet, stop watching all that sensationalized news, and get out there. There’s a pretty awesome bunch of people waiting for you.