Somewhere there used to be picture of me–I haven’t seen it in a while so I’m not sure I still have it and, if I don’t, no one does–aged about eight or nine. I’m wearing a Confederate hat and carrying (if memory serves) a toy musket.
I look like a regular Johnny Reb and where I was raised that wasn’t something anybody gave a second thought. Regarding the Civil War (which I never noticed anybody making a big deal about calling the War Between the States, though I heard the term), my parents had the attitude shared by most genteel southerners a century on: Be proud of your family and your Southern heritage son. Feel free to take a Rebel’s stand in the back yard war games, even if the neighbor boys from Indiana insist on fighting you for the privilege (i.e., don’t hesitate to remind ’em who the real southerner is).
And, oh by the way: Thank God the Yankees won.
With that for a background, once I got past playing back yard war games (along about the fourth grade), I never gave much thought to being Southern. I never saw much pride or shame in it, or in any other part of my “identity”–White, Male, Hetero (once I learned what that meant), American. I was happy to be all those things–never had a problem with it. But I never saw the point in being proud of any state you were merely born into.
The only part of my identity I’ve ever taken any interest in, let alone pride, is the Christian part.
That’s because it’s the only identity I chose, as opposed to being born with.
Just how much effect that choice has had might best be judged by what others have trouble believing about me.
I don’t generally go around introducing myself to people as a Christian. I’ve never shied away from it. My belief is that it should be evident in my behavior. If people know me long enough or well enough they’ll figure it out. If they’re interested in knowing more, they’ll ask.
The funny thing is, when someone asks and I answer, they are almost always confused, often to the point rejecting my sincerity. (This was perhaps best expressed by a high school classmate who said “Aw, you’re going to Hell just like the rest of us. You’re just not gonna have any fun along the way.” I didn’t have the heart to tell him he was wrong twice so I just smiled.)
I get a lot of But you’re too….
Here’s a few I’ve heard, most of them more than a few times:
Too...open-minded, nonjudgmental, tolerant, smart, humble, even-tempered, laid-back, good-humored, ironic.
There are more, but you get the gist.
Except for intelligence, which is genetic, every quality I possess that surprises non-Christians is a product of Christian teaching–including the ability to be no more than bemused by the very confusion Christ taught his followers to expect.
The man others observe is not, by any stretch, who I was born to be, but who I became by enormous effort–which is why, to whatever extent I’ve achieved any improvement on my nature, I’m proud of it.
I only mention this to differentiate it from the rest of my identity.
As little as I’ve thought about my “southernness” I’ve thought far less about the rest.
Because, really, life’s too short.
But, once in a while, something–or a series of somethings–forces me to look one of my other identities in the face.
Most often, it’s that very Southernness.
My blogging idol, Sheila O’Malley (a Rhode Island native who lives in New York), has a regular feature where she lists what she’s been listening to on her Ipod and makes brief, often witty, comments. It’s one of my favorite things she does. On one of the recent ones she listed a song by the LoCash Cowboys, a modern country act of whose existence I was previously unaware, and part of her comment was:
Now listen. These guys jam. Meant to be played loud. Fun, in a lot of ways. But they’re so defensive. Their entire thing is “We’re better than them snobs up east” which is just … My God, get over it. You lost the war.
That’s a legitimate criticism of a certain tiresome attitude. …until that last part.
First of all, nobody gets over anything as traumatic as existential defeat. Nobody ever has and nobody ever will. If you don’t believe me, listen to black people sing sometime.
The best anybody ever does is pretend for a while–or find some useful outlet (like singing, or playing an instrument) to pour themselves into as a form of release. But that’s not “getting over it.” That’s just bringing it close, where you can grab it by the throat before it grabs you.
Sheila’s a big favorite of mine and I’m the calmest person I know (all that Christian training)…but that last part My God, get over it. You lost the war. made me want to find a Johnny Reb hat and take a picture with a musket that ain’t a toy.
I got over that, of course. I might have gotten over it sooner if I hadn’t been sufficiently interested to look up LoCash Cowboys. I found out there were two of them. I couldn’t make it through one of their songs on YouTube, but my impression was they sounded about as Southern as Joan Baez. That didn’t exactly do anything for my blood pressure.
Then I went to Wikipedia and found out they were from Baltimore and Kokomo.
What the hell war did they lose?
I didn’t bother Sheila with any of this and I won’t.
And, like I say, I got over it soon enough. It wasn’t like losing.
But the world never lets you rest.
A few weeks ago, goons were out taking over the streets of Portland, Oregon again. This time it was Antifa, except it wasn’t their if you don’t stop being a fascist I’ll beat your head in with this lead pipe schtick, but their, we’re closing this city street because we can schtick.
It got interesting when one of the drivers they were intimidating said he was from North Carolina. I think he was trying to point out that he didn’t know his way around and he really preferred to go down the street they were blocking so he wouldn’t risk getting lost.
Whatever his reason, you can hear their response here. (For those who don’t want to waste three minutes of your life, it’s the old you’re-from-the-south-so-you-must-be-in-the-KKK routine.)
This is where it gets personal.
My mother’s family was from North Carolina.
They were all a bunch of rock-ribbed Republicans. Southern Republicans. Southern Republicans in the days when that guaranteed you were in the minority…..and the KKK’s crosshairs. They were Republicans because, in those days (she was born in 1919, the youngest of eight), the Democrats were the party of segregation and Jim Crow (and, yes, the KKK). They despised Franklin Roosevelt because, to them, he was just another Yankee Democrat who made sweetheart deals with race-baiting, KKK-loving governors to gin up votes from their party machines all across the South.
That might not be all Roosevelt was, of course. But that’s who he was to them…because they had to live with it.
That’s what it means to lose. You can explain yourself all you want, but you’ll still end up getting lectures on morality, (not to mention getting over it), from the people who sent Ted Kennedy back to the U.S. Senate seven times after Chappaquiddick.
And there will always be somebody who will tell you to go back to North Carolina and be with the KKK…whose tactics they have adopted wholesale.
Thank God the Yankees won. I’m never gonna wear my Johnny Reb hat again.
But that doesn’t mean I stopped noticing….or forgot what losing means.