At this point in my life news of shootings of people by law enforcement officers had been making the rounds. I could not help but be aware of it and hearken back to some of my earlier experiences. To this day I have not been an outspoken advocate. I am silent, due mostly to habit.
That… probably needs to change.
However, I was at a friends’ place and in some round about way the subject of the Confederate flag came up. I do not remember the exact words, but I recall the sentiment from my friend being in full support of those that did and do hoist the flag pridefully. I opened an eye and looked at them, piping up that I have more than a vested interest of being happy that they lost.
And they seemed… shocked. “You’re not one of those ‘Hatred, not Heritage’ people are you?”
I chuckled dryly and replied “I wouldn’t say so, but could you honestly blame me if I was?” I could feel an explosive end coming. Trying to lessen it I said “Play a game with me.”
I began. “Here’s the scenario: The Confederate Army won The Civil War. We live in The Confederate States of America. Now, to make this easy, lets act like it’s an hour sci-fi show with commercials. Somehow, someway, even with a major change to the timeline like that, all the people that are alive in this reality are also alive in this new one. Let’s also say that everything worked out so similarly that our doppelgangers are in the same room right now. Think about our relationship here, and think of how The Conderate States would be different. I’ll wait.” A few minutes passed. “Got anything?”
“I think I do, but I’m nervous saying it. You go ahead.”
“First off, I, as I am, would be dead. Being a well spoken, educated black man would have gotten me killed. No contest. In fact, everyone that had a hand in my education would likely be dead for being a sympathizer. Now, were I owned by someone, say you, and it was something that you insisted inside your household, that may save me some agony, but you are a woman. No offense. If I were discovered, my education would incite a mob. I’d have to be taken out to ensure that the other slaves didn’t get ‘uppity with ideas’.
“Now lets say I was uneducated. Well… I wouldn’t be ‘me’, would I? I pride myself in my knowledge. I enjoy learning. Of being curious. Of questioning. All of that wouldn’t even be known to me. Think of how dehumanizing slavery was in the Americas. Not just North America.”
“I’ve heard some nasty things about how Irish Americans and others were treated” came an interjection.
I acquesed a nod. “I’ll give you that, because I don’t know enough about Irish-American history to counter it. That said, I know for a fact… Not speculation, but because this is the curriculum I had. And, I would think, we were both taught. I suffer from not knowing who my family is. I’ve tried tracing my lineage. My mother had some records. My fathers’ family doesn’t have any information on it that I know of. Now here is the not-so-funny portion. I know some family comes from England. And from Ireland, oddly enough. I have some Native American in me. Look at me, though. Look at modern Africans. The likelihood that I have major ancestry to that part of the world would be hard to deny. But any familiar ties I have to Africa are speculative at best. I have no proof of my lineage to that entire continent. Plain as the skin on my face and the kink of my hair, I should feel some kinship to Africa. But I have none.”
I took a breath to digress. “People celebrate heritage of all kinds. Immigrants hold onto the world they came from. Those people that trace their records back to the Old World or through indiginous ties here can express a love of their culture. But me?” I laughed a bit. “I’m American. I don’t have resonance with any place in particular. In all likelihood, me and mine didn’t get a choice. We were likely dragged here on cramped, unsanitary boats like crates. Somehow survived, and had the fear of God beat into us and our own beliefs beat out of us. And when we, the beasts of burden, had offers and cries of freedom ring from and for us, people raised the
Confederate Flag. These people went to war for the sake of their familiar
livelihood. For their traditions, for their children, for their way of
life, yes. But all that, literally, rode on the backs of people with my
skin color. I am thankful the Confederate Army lost. I would not even be allowed to consider a different life, let alone all the things I do. I
could not be your friend. I could not be a writer. I could not be Jasper.
“Jasper would be dead.”
“I suppose that it’s a bit of a trick question in that case. And this is why I am… sensitive to the current issue now. We, as a country, have never actually dealt with racism. We don’t talk about it. It’s not a glorious war. It’s not WWII. Nor was it Vietnam where we were fighting against some external threat. We fought against ourselves. The Confederacy lost yet their sentiments were not wiped out. They festered in the shadows. And now they have a chance to join the MANY disparate pockets together into a unified whole. Advancements in Civil Rights for people of color? Certainly on the chopping block. What progress has been made in LGBTQ+ issues? Marriage,
hiring protections, power of attorney and hospital visitation? That hasn’t
even been around long enough to cause a society-wide knee jerk response. I don’t look in the mirror and go ‘I’m a Black man’ with any weight, society does that for me. I MUST admit to that. And when I see racists, pure and simple, hoisting
the Confederate flag, I don’t care about the history so much. The history
is past. But if the present dissidents become tomorrows lawmakers, I’m a
dead man. That is why I care. To some degree I’d rather have them hoisting
their Flags. It lets me know who my enemies are.”
I don’t know if I managed to change my friends’ mind. Even so, I still keep them close. Many of the reactions that I see to such sentiments is to just cut such people out of their lives. I cannot critisize what people do in what they think is the best for themselves. The way I look at it though, if someone I love holds a position I hate, change will not come by me leaving their life. By expressing my hurt, anguish, and terror, I hope to humanize the issue in my friends’ mind. If I succeed, it was worth it. And if I fail, that is a fight that will really hurt me. Worse case scenario, my friend sees me when I am dragged away. The horror of that will have to stick with them, and I hope it would change them.