I have a lot of trouble articulating my loyalty to being from The South. People immediately say one of two things: “But, Florida isn’t The South” (this is false, by the way) or “But, you’re black. Shouldn’t you hate The South?” Also false.
It’s complicated for me to talk about how much I wish The South wasn’t forever linked with racism and slavery. Yes, that is a HUGE portion of our history, and we are irrevocably associated with it. But we have a culture outside of that. We have food and religion and values and music and all of these things that are just as important to our existence as the fact that we seceded from the Union and kept slaves. Slavery was wrong. Racism and discrimination are wrong. I firmly believe that and fight for it in my everyday life. But I refuse to let people make my history into that. A lot of people have trouble with that idea, but I’m not sure why. Racism and discrimination are my reality, yes, but those aren’t the only things about me that exist and I really, really resent having my existence reduced to them.
White people, especially those who are rich educated liberals who are very convinced that they are anti-racist and aware, are constantly telling me that I need to divorce myself from my Southern heritage. The South supported its labor on the exploitation of people of color and that’s how it survived. Yes, thanks. I got that. I too studied U.S. History in school. But for every day that I went being told that I was less than human for the color of my skin, I went home at night to the biggest limes and oranges you have ever seen hanging right in my backyard. I learned what the water smells like, and how to make it potable. I spent time cutting wood with my mother and making Hope Chests out of it, where I put everything that was ever important to me so that I could pass it on to my children and we could share each other’s dreams. I learned how to catch my supper and how to properly skin a catfish. I learned how to sing and how to tell my story and listen to other people’s stories. Believe it or not, I learned a lot about what it means to be a good person. The South taught me everything I know about how to treat a woman (and for those of you who are thinking that it taught me to subjugate my wife and force her into a life of serving me, you’re wrong. ask me about it sometime). It taught me about helping my neighbors, it taught me the value of community, it taught me that a person is only as good as the work they do for others — these are all things that I fight for when I fight for social justice. The South is what taught me that social justice is important. I bet you didn’t know that. I bet you never would have even thought to ask me that.
When we learn about the Civil War, we learn that the South is the enemy and that the North is the savior. That the Confederate was inherently bad because it fought to keep slavery and the Union was inherently good because it fought to end it. But how many of you know that ending slavery was an afterthought for Lincoln? The North participated in the Civil War because it wanted to preserve the Union, and Lincoln himself said that if he could do that without altering the state of the slaves, he would. It is wrong that this whole thing was predicated on the subjugation and exploitation of people of color. We all know that. But the North didn’t care any more about people of color than the South did. I want you to think about that the next time I mention how much being Southern is important to me. NO ONE in that situation was thinking about me. The South was very focused on how slavery was the one thing that kept their economy going and the North was very focused on how the South was the one thing that kept their economy going. We fought a war that had almost more casualties in it than ALL OF OUR OTHER WARS COMBINED. The North employed around 180,000 black soldiers, 40,000 of which died in the course of the war. When the war ended, slavery was abolished and then everyone fucking dipset and did nothing to make sure that it was replaced with any sort of institution that helped the newly freed slaves and kept them from falling to ruin and poverty and also from still being discriminated against and denied access to basic human rights 200 years later. You REALLY want to tell me that The North was fighting for the slaves? What really happened here is that the South was a lot more vocal and willing to admit that they had no fucks to give about black people, while the North didn’t give any fucks but just didn’t want anyone to know that they didn’t.
The place that I’m from exploited people who looked like me. It killed us, and raped us, and stripped us of our humanity. It denied us our rights to be human. Want to hear something sick, though? The place that I live now exploits people who look like me. It kills us, and rapes us, and strips us of our humanity. It denies me of my right to be human. The difference is that the place that I live now has been arbitrarily assigned as some sort of holy land because it’s above the Mason-Dixon and is full of a bunch of white people who think they know better than me what I should and should not love about who I am.
When you tell me that I should divorce myself from the South, that I should renounce my desire to have people understand me as a Southerner, and that I should be ashamed of my loyalty to Southern values and practices because I am of color and they exploited people of color, you are telling me that I am not comprised of anything other than the color of my skin. You are telling me that my brownness, my coloredness, is more notable and important than any other part of my heritage. You are telling me that the only thing that matters about me is that I am Not White. Fuck you for that. Fuck you for not letting me find and cherish the good things about being where I am from. Fuck you for refusing to let me tell you something about myself that I value other than my skin color. Most importantly, fuck you for stepping through my life with your big white savior act, thinking that because you’re so educated and so liberal and so against slavery and racism that you ought to be able to tell me what I ought to think about the core of my essence and the place that gave me the ability to do the work that I do now. I am more than just a marginalized identity, and if you really want to call yourself an anti-racist then you had best recognize that. I am more than my skin. I am more than my skin. I am more than my skin.