Posted by: Ali Davis | December 1, 2010

A Word of Advice to the Sons of Confederate Veterans

Dear Sons,

May I call you Sons? I know you have a fierce pride in… something… and I would hate to wound it.

I know it sucks to come to terms with the fact that your forebears did things other people despise.

It’s the grown-up, aching echo of those years of adolescent fury everyone feels on realizing, over and over, that his or her parents aren’t perfect.

And it truly does suck. I have some Southern forebears too, and it’s hard not to carry a piece of that shame.

I mean, it doesn’t suck like involuntary servitude, physical abuse, and institutionalized rape suck, but, yes, it sucks in its own small, sad, guilty, and disappointed way.

Here’s the thing, though: In the same way that everyone in the entire world has a difficult adolescence, everyone in the entire world also has horrifying ancestors somewhere.

Some are better publicized than others, but we all have them.

So if you’re feeling a gnawing shame over what the Confederates did in perpetuating and defending slavery and seceding from the United States, I’m sorry, and welcome to the goddamned human race.

The good news is you have a choice about what to do with that nagging feeling of shame and disgust.

You can stay on the path you seem to be on and keep making those agonizing mental and emotional – not to mention historical – contortions to turn that shame into a fierce, angry, pathetically defensive pride that shouts far too loudly to ever be mistaken for the real thing, sure.

That is your right, and most people, as you’ve noticed, will just sigh and turn away and leave you to it.

But if you take a break from trying to thump your chests loudly enough to drown out reality, you might take a moment to take a good look at people who brag too much about their cool, socially approved ancestors.

People who (outside their own families) go much beyond a single isn’t-that-interesting cocktail party mention reveal themselves as pitiable jackasses pretty quickly. I’d have an illustrative anecdote about the guy who tried to occupy an entire van ride to the airport with the fact that he was ‘from Huguenot stock,’ but a helpful New Yorker broke in at the ten-minute mark with “Buddy, it’s 6 a.m. SHUT UP.”

And then the other passengers used every last bit of willpower we had to keep from applauding and hugging her.

People who talk too much about their ancestors’ lives tend to be people who have not done enough with their own.

You may want to consider the option of letting go of the brain-wrenching pastime of trying to find new ways to pretend that slavery and secession meant that every last one of your ancestors was secretly awesome every last moment of his or her life and instead focus on figuring out what will make you proud of yourself.

Do what you love, be good to your friends and family, or contribute to your community, the world, or your block in a way that means something to you and feels inherently right, without all those hoops and contortions.

I can almost guarantee that no one will give a rat’s ass about what your ancestors did.

Including you.

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