one southerner’s perspective + new art
It took me a week to write this blog. I’ve been wanting to write it for quite some time, but I didn’t expect it to come so soon after my blog’s launch.
First let me say this: White supremacy is unequivocally evil and should have no place in the United States of America. There is no way to defend it if you are a decent human being.
I grew up in Georgia; I lived here until I was 20, and on and off ever since. Southerners are invested in the mythological history of place like no other place I’ve lived. It is said that the victor writes history, but the South did pretty well at writing and keeping its own after the Civil War. Stories were told to me as a kid: the hiding of silver candlesticks in the well so that union soldiers wouldn’t find them, the desecration of churches by yankee soldiers, and the courageous rebel soldiers fighting for their homeland. I took them all as history. Of course, I was a kid only a few generations removed from a slaveholder on my father’s side; you can see how the narrative was skewed.
Pride in family history was fed to me in stories before I even learned to walk from my father and his mother. Along with Daniel Boone and Elijah Clarke, I was supposed to be proud of the great plantation my forebears — the Callaways — owned near Washington, GA. My brother, cousins, and I were taken a couple of times a summer as kids to Stone Mountain Park’s Laser Show. The show depicted the Confederate generals carved on the side of the granite mountain as heroic in the face of defeat, complete with fireworks and Elvis’ An American Trilogy (it might be as bizarre as it sounds to those who didn’t grow up with it).
Point is, I’m very well-steeped in the narrative that some white folks in the South have created for themselves. I get it. Cultures demand hero stories, and we fashion them out of our history and mythology. The problem is the heroes that have been fashioned out of Confederates are heroes that committed treason and fought to uphold the violent economy of slavery.
We have to quit with the story that focuses solely on us, and listen to the stories told by people of color in the South. That history includes slavery, three versions of the KKK, Jim Crow laws, and institutional racism. The South has a rich, complex and sometimes painful history; don’t flatten it by refusing to listen to other perspectives on it.
And the Confederate monuments? Take them down and put them in museums. Because it isn’t the statues themselves, necessarily, that cause the hurt, and of course we shouldn’t “erase history”; it is their place of honor in public places and our idolatry of them that do the hurting. Find new heroes to replace them, ones that fought against white supremacy, and put them in places of honor instead.
If we truly love and have pride in the land on which we live, we should develop an understanding that encourages us to hold space for stories other than our own, stories of all the residents of the land. You were not the first to live here. Indigenous, colonizers, enslaved and their descendants — who were they and what are their perspectives on historic events? On recent events? There’s a larger story here. I find that exciting.
I made another set of bird watercolors. Here are the other two.