My resident state for the last several years is the butt of many jokes (made by myself, even) but I’ve seen personally that it’s a proud Southern state full of good people. Of all colors. Frankly, I’m sick of all the piling on the South that’s been going on this past week by people who feel it’s their duty to publicly stereotype and cluck their tongues at a whole section of the country they know little to nothing about and some haven’t even stepped foot in because it’s flyover country they’ve only seen from their first class airline seats. Make fun of us all you want, write your fiery blog posts with the big words we Southerners can’t possibly understand, call our chunk of the country out on social media so you look enlightened and intelligent to your friends and associates. The South has seen far worse. Hell, it’s brought far worse upon itself.
I’ve been to the Birmingham Civil Rights Museum and been moved to tears. I’ve seen the 16th Street Baptist Church, where those 4 little girls were killed. Go ahead, look it up. Because some of the same ones yelling the loudest over the South’s mistakes (and they were awful and numerous mistakes), don’t even know why the 16th Street Baptist Church is significant. So go ahead and Google that before you continue your stereotyping of the good Southern people who don’t deserve it. I’ll wait. It’s right across the street from the Civil Rights Museum for a reason, just a hint.
I was at the Civil Rights Museum as a chaperone with Gracie’s school field trip. Even before you entered the museum, the atmosphere was reverential. The only other place I’ve toured that was as reverential as the Civil Rights Museum was the Alamo (I’m a native Texan and we take the Alamo seriously, y’all). The children even felt the gravity of the place. That was the easiest time I’ve ever had chaperoning a school field trip. They got it. Those kids with the deep Southern accents that I couldn’t even understand when I first moved here, the deep accents I thought had to be put on, they GOT it.
Near the end of the tour, I was approached by an older man, a security guard there. He was of color and he had the kindest eyes. He quietly asked me what I thought of the museum and without even thinking, I said, “It’s beautiful and awful at the same time. I loved being here today but I hate the reasons it has to be here” He gave me a soft, understanding smile. I bet my answer didn’t surprise him. I bet he’s heard it hundreds of times. I saw that sentiment in every person’s eyes I saw there that day.
The thing is, Birmingham isn’t exactly a “destination” city to most of the country. Don’t hate me for saying that, Birmingham, but it’s the truth. Most people choose to go to New York or California or Florida, the Grand Canyon, and all those other great locales. Birmingham is a great city with a lot to offer, don’t get me wrong, but I’ve never seen anyone on Facebook or Twitter post a picture of downtown Birmingham cleverly shot with their fruity and tropical alcoholic drink just in frame with the caption “Vacation started? Check.” Doesn’t happen. Corona will never come here to film a commercial. We don’t drink Corona here anyway because the local brews are so much better. Screw you, Corona.
So, if Birmingham isn’t exactly a destination city (or at least not a huge destination city as much of an injustice as that is), who actually DOES go to the Civil Rights Museum? Who makes the Civil Rights Museum repeatedly appear at the top of every single search engine result for recommended places to visit in Alabama? Sure, there are people who visit the museum from every part of the nation and even the world but here’s my theory regarding the majority of visitors.
It’s all the local schools. Those local schools contain our future leaders and they are being taught at a very young age to respect Alabama history, the good and the bad. Especially the bad. And to learn from it so it will never be repeated again.
It’s people who live in Alabama or in the surrounding states, who just happen to be passing through Birmingham and say “Hey, let’s go check out the Civil Rights Museum while we’re passing by downtown Birmingham”, and then are moved more than they ever thought they could be. Those surrounding states? All of them belong to the collective, stereotyped, and recently very much maligned deep South. Alabama is the heart of the deep South. Look at the map, for crying out loud. Except for Florida. I don’t really consider them deep South but that’s just my personal opinion. Nothing wrong with being Florida. I love Florida.
Is there still racism in the South? Yes. Yes to infinity. There is racism everywhere, against every color. You can’t escape it no matter what we take away from people. Evil will find a way to perpetuate evil, with or without a flag. Long before there were guns, Cain killed Abel.
Should the Confederate flag be taken down? In all government agencies, my opinion is most emphatically yes. Should Bubba (see, I can Southern stereotype with the best of them) have the right to free speech that includes owning and displaying a flag that conjures up awful imagery, imagery that is our history brought down upon us by very bad people who died long before we were born? My head struggles with our freedom to practice – guess what – free speech.
Bubba’s a dip shit who is relegated to the kid’s table every holiday but if we take away his freedom of speech, who and what is next? That nice gay couple down the street and their gay pride flag bumper sticker? Your right to say that you believe Jesus Christ rose from the dead at Easter by putting a flag with a crown of thorns on it in your well tended flower bed? Where do we draw the line and still be consistent? Admittedly, I’m still struggling with these questions. That’s okay. That shouldn’t make me a racist or lead to the (wrong) conclusion that I’m pro Confederate flag. I’m neither of those things.
There aren’t many other states as aware of civil rights and the need for them than Alabama. Birmingham and Alabama as a whole is the scene of the crime, y’all. The past reverberates here daily it’s so tangible and so very real. Give me one Southern racist and I’ll give you thousands of Southerners who would rewrite history if they only could. Give me one disciple of hate and I’ll give you thousands of disciples of love for their fellow men and women of any color.
I saw on the local news that a neighboring town here was littered with KKK flyers over the weekend. It was a mostly black neighborhood. The news reporter interviewed the sweet lady who found a flyer in her yard on her way to church. Being the media, no matter how small, the reporter asked the woman what she would say to the people (and I use that term loosely) who left that kind of hate material in her yard. Instead of spewing even more hate, this remarkable lady didn’t take the bait. She instantly and lovingly said “I’m gonna pray for them.” I wanted to stand up in my living room and cheer.
Whenever we traveled in the past, people always asked us where we were from. My family always said “Alabama”. Up until about a year ago, I would quickly add, “We live in Alabama but we’re FROM Texas.” I stopped saying that when I realized that my heart is in Alabama. My heart is in Texas sometimes, how can it not be? But Alabama is the home my kids have known the longest. Alabama is the scene of the great majority of their childhood memories so far and will be for hopefully years to come since we made the deliberate choice to stay here and not to move again unless forced to. My son requests that I play “Sweet Home Alabama” every time we cross the state line on our way home from Texas. This is our home now not by chance but by choice.
Pray for the South. Pray for the victims of hate, wherever they are. Pray for Bubba, bless his heart. But stop the collective hating and pigeon holing of the South when you’ve never bothered to witness our hospitality, drink our sweet tea, enjoy our BBQ, or had to make life changing decisions as a new resident about who you’re gonna root for in the Iron Bowl game for fear of the entire state ostracizing you for your complete and total lack of commitment and therefore character. Whew, deep breath! Really, they don’t care (well, they do) which way you go but you have to make a choice – Alabama or Auburn.
The South is made of far greater things than a flag, good things that can never be taken away from us. The South is made of bad things that the great majority of us wish we could reverse but have no control over because, you know, it’s a bitch that we still don’t have time travel machines. I wish you knew this. I wish you knew that words mean nothing, except for this week, especially if you’re Southern. I wish you knew the vast majority of Southern hearts and the good they hold for their brothers and sisters, no matter what color. I wish you knew me better so I wouldn’t have to say the only words mandated and necessary to prove I’m a “good person” this week but I will.
Take the motherfucker down.