I’ve read all the reports about how white nationalists came from all over America to the “Unite the Right” rally. I’ve heard the claims that not all these people are Southerners. And it is absolutely true that racism is confined neither to the South nor to the whole of America. The sickness of racism infects people worldwide.
But we cannot ignore the fact that these people — wherever they are from — chose our region and the symbols of the Confederacy as the place to take their stand. Therefore, it’s up to us to root them out. As for me, I find myself inextricably drawn to a simple idea: that the time for the benevolent but silent white Southerner is over.
If you’re a white person—a white Southerner in particular—I suggest you go and read this entire piece linked above. I’ll wait.
Back? Okay then.
I’m a white Southerner. I have a profound love for the region where I was born and raised, but it is a complicated love, and I do not love and have always loathed many things about it. I do not think black Southerners–or black people from anywhere–should have to live and work and go to school in places named for and next to monuments dedicated to men who fought for their enslavement. This does not seem to me to be a particularly radical position to take. This seems to me to be a fairly basic exercise in empathy, but apparently that is not the case.
It is long, long, long past time that white Southerners moved past their romantic narrative of the Lost Cause and joined the rest of the world in the 21st century, which I still hope can be one of peace and cooperation and not increased division. A lot of white Southerners think that it’s wrong to even talk about these things, that in doing so we sow the seeds of discord, we spread “hate” and disunity and hurt feelings, as though non-white Southerners haven’t had to paper over those feelings for a couple of centuries–lest they be, you know, murdered. A lot of white Southerners think we shouldn’t even talk about “black” and “white” because that just needlessly divides us, too.
If you are white, and you think that, or that people should just “move on” from this, consider that maybe—just maybe—yours is not the voice that matters the most in this conversation. If you have black friends and you assume that they agree with you, consider that this might be a conversation that they are not even comfortable having with you.
If you are a white Southerner, maybe stop assuming that everything is about you, is an attack on you, or requires your input, and just take some time to listen.
And then, when it matters, speak up, because black folks can’t do all this themselves. As white Southerners, we can’t do anything about the dreadful past, but we can help change the future. As The Bitter Southerner says, “the time for the benevolent but silent white Southerner is over.” It’s actually been over for a very long freaking time, but if not now, then when?