12 March 2007

Carry Me Back to Ole Virginny

Gentlemen.....Confederate jewelry. Doesn't it just give you a warm and fuzzy feeling? Mother's Day is coming up--and how about a gift for that significant other!

Buddy's Book's and Bait is pleased to present a new contributor. Our friend Chet Brinkley will hopefully be writing many more columns in the future. Today, Chet comments on a topic we started several weeks ago....the South and the Confederate flag.

My lovely partner and I recently visited our dearest friends, who in late 2005 decided to leave Minnesota for the warmer climes of Virginia. This might seem like a perfectly sane decision, but here’s the deal: he is black and she is white. And while Virginia may not be Mississippi, make no mistake: it’s still THE SOUTH. More than 50 years after Brown v. Board of Education we may have made significant strides toward addressing segregation, disenfranchisement, and unequal opportunity, but we still have a long way to go. If you need to be reminded, just go visit an interracial couple in Virginia, where every joint departure from your home necessitates a strategic defense plan.

I accompanied my friend to the lumber yard the first morning of our visit. He is retired, well-educated, dignified, and a peaceable, affable fellow who just wanted to order some building materials. Yet we no sooner made our appearance than the fellow behind the counter looked up and his demeanor changed immediately. His two associates down the way who had been engaging in spirited banter stopped talking and glared at us for the first full five minutes of our transaction. I started wondering if my shower hadn’t taken. Later that night I was talking with my friend and asked him if I’d been imagining things. He replied, ‘I’m so glad you noticed.’ Am I just an overprotective liberal with an overdeveloped imagination enabling an African American friend who’s been forced to live his entire life on the defensive? Absolutely not.

The next morning we went to the supermarket, and while the woman behind the bakery counter cheerily fetched loaves of bread and pastries for all the other white customers in the store, she had my friend get his own. That night, in an effort to get something nice for my NASCAR-loving, salt-of-the-earth neighbor back home who was plowing the snow off my driveway while I walked around in shirt sleeves, I visited one of the omnipresent “NASCAR” shops in town. One can’t really quite make a living selling only toy cars, racing caps, key chains and bumper stickers, so the store had to diversify its stock with NFL merchandise and “Southern” paraphernalia. My “favorite” was a bumper sticker that read, “I Have a Dream” and featured the White House with a rebel flag flying overhead. Another depicted a mosquito with stars and bars wings quipping, “Send more Yankees. They are delicious.”

All the arguments about “heritage” and “culture” are a big, stinking pile of shit. The Confederate flag wasn't around long enough to embody much of anything except secession. But since the so-called federal government allowed Southern whites to terrorize their black neighbors after 1877 and didn’t start taking white supremacy seriously until
two Jewish boys got killed with James Chaney in 1964, Southerners are used to speaking or hearing unapologetic defenses of racism. And it’s not like the North has much room to feel superior.

So what kind of life do my friends expect to have in small-town Virginia? I’m proud of their resolve to live there. They are a wonderful addition to any community. I know any local citizen who can, after seeing a black man with a white woman, calm down long enough to actually engage his/her brain will see they are wonderful, charming, warm-hearted people. And there are actually more black professionals in their current zip code than my friends ever met here in the Twin Cities. So perhaps I shouldn’t be so concerned. The guy behind the counter at the lumber yard eventually thawed and treated my friend like an actual human being. Another supermarket employee came over and engaged us in neighborly conversation after his coworker’s snub. But I’d feel better if I hadn’t seen that tattered rebel flag hanging from a house about half a mile down the road from where my friends live.

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