Old Times There Are Not Forgotten
No matter what movie she saw, my Mother generally expressed the same frustrating, yet humorous, review. If the guy got the girl, she liked it. If he did not, then she did not. This cinematic peccadillo of hers was rigid and it applied to any and every movie she saw, including those in which it was difficult to conceive of any characters paired up in a satisfactory way. ( I’m thinking of E.T. and Driving Miss Daisy here.) I blamed this rather skewed way of viewing film on Gone With the Wind. That moment when Rhett finally walks out on Scarlett has greatly affected Southern women for ages. The film ends with Scarlett determined to “get him back” and no Southern woman ever doubted that she would.
To be honest, I’ve never revered the fabled Gone With the Wind as much as other born and bred Southerners. The movie never made me nostalgic. I could never manage to work up a wistfulness for what the opening credits declared to be “this pretty world” where “gallantry took its last bow”. Instead of seeing Scarlett as resourceful and tenacious, I always found her manipulative and mean. Melanie’s legendary “goodness” was too saccharine for my taste and, to the bewilderment of some of my girlfriends, I never could fathom the knee-buckling attractiveness of Rhett Butler. But more importantly, no matter how many red petticoats Cap’n Butler gave Mammy, I always saw her for what she was. A slave.
On the sunniest day the shadow of slavery still colours the South. We have come so very far out into the light but that shadow still lurks. It can still lie between the lines of a politician’s speech. It can still crouch behind the eyes of a darkly closed mind. This polluted shadow of our region’s past shows up all the darker when it is thrust into the light of the world as it was last week in Charleston, South Carolina. In the horrific glare that bore down on that murderous scene we can easily see racism for what it is: pure evil. And as the inevitable selfie images of the murderer surfaced, the eyes of the world saw the symmetry of symbols: the same flag he celebrated was flying over the capitols of many Southern states, including South Carolina itself.
There are some white southerners who will tell you that the confederate flag is a symbol of loyalty and honour that speaks to the attributes of our heritage. Some will tell you that our nation’s only civil war was fought solely to preserve state’s rights. I have always found both assertions to be delusional at best, disingenuous at worst. While a lot of us have forefathers who indeed fought, and died, in that hideous war, I have never found it disloyal to say that they fought on the wrong side and that, thankfully, they lost. I have also never found it difficult to imagine what my black brothers and sisters must feel when they see that flag flying today.
It is just as impossible to defend the South’s moral history as it is a mistake to let that history define it. The South is full of graciousness and kindness. It teems with a beauty and a mystery impossible to duplicate anywhere else on the planet. But the Confederacy was not the lovely “Old South” of Gone With the Wind. It was a ugly place of well-documented cruelty and horror. We should not venerate its symbols. Take that flag down.