Yes, I love my southern heritage, a phrase that's only besmirched, when you package it as an excuse to keep symbols of white supremacy, which in 2017 we should be long past defending. Our southern heritage, you see, is not only all that bad stuff. It's our food, our friendliness, our beautiful accents. But, most of all, it's our culture.
Imagine American music without the three Southern cities of Memphis, New Orleans, and Nashville. It can't be done. American music does not exist without the south. And our culture doesn't stop there. Southern writers, like Robert Penn Warren, Flannery O'Connor, and William Faulkner taught me the pure joy of words and gave me, a teenage misfit in suburban Houston, a way to make sense of the craziness that has always been the south. To me, this is my southern heritage. But, obviously, others see things differently.
When I was a teenager, after a morning doctor's appointment in downtown Houston where my dad worked, I was allowed to play glorious hooky the rest of the day. That afternoon I wandered through underground Houston, long hallways under streets that connected downtown buildings back in the seventies, and, for all I know, still. Later, I found myself in the old downtown library, a multi-story red-brick affair, now long torn down. But I didn't stop there. I wandered all the way to Sam Houston Park, a little west of City Hall. If you've ever driven on 45 through downtown Houston you've seen it, an oasis of green with old buildings, and yes, a statue.
Picture me there, a 70's high school punk happily AWOL from the internecine conflicts of high school, sunning himself on a bench, just enjoying little teenage R&R. After breathing in all that youthful freedom, I noticed an especially ugly statue looming behind me. It was a male angel with wings and a sword and not much else on. Curious, I got up and spotted its name: the Spirit of the Confederacy. I then read its dedication: "to all the heroes of the south who fought for the principles of states rights."
Gob-smacked, I reread the inscription again and again. Here we were in the seventies, and there was an actual statue honoring those who'd taken up arms against our nation, who, in other words, were traitors. And, even though, I was white and privileged, I remember being bowled over that in downtown Houston, where many African-Americans lived and worked, there'd be a statue to people who thought enslaving other human beings was not just par for the course, but worth fighting an especially brutal war over. How the hell must that make them feel?
One argument I've seen on Facebook is that this struggle over statues is overblown. It's just not important. One meme blared as Harvey was pummeling my hometown with trillions of gallons of water that nobody in Houston now cared about Confederate statues. A statement, I suspect, even then was false. This urge in 2017, some commentators believe, to get rid of these statues is just so much misplaced angst. Why now? they opine.
But this specious argument can be turned around. If the existence of these statues is as unimportant as some conservatives claim, then one could plausibly argue, why not take them down if some members of the community are offended by them.
Yet the truth is these statues, like most symbols -- our flag, for instance -- are important. Yes, the removal of these offensive monuments will not magically heal the very deep and real wounds caused by America's original sin of slavery. But it is still very much a fight worth having and having now.