Ugh. So, I made my annual Family Foray to the South this past week. A trip to the Nashville area to see my momma, which, from Philly is an 850 mile trek, mostly through Virginia.
Along the stops I make and places I visit, I get exposed to the racism that still lies at the top of much of Southern society--and it ain't a pretty thing.
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My wife and I took my momma into Nashville to see the Belmont Mansion. It's the cornerstone of Belmont University, which has a wonderful music program and is across the street from Vanderbilt. Seems like the place for academic honesty in facing the past.
You can read about the mansion here. Their website does a nice job of discussing slavery--the docents, however, not so much. The mansion was built in the 1850s by wealthy heiress Adelicia Acklen. Oh,she was pretty. She was rich. She went through hardships (she went through three husbands and lost most of her 10 children during her lifetime). She was plucky, sticking it to those Yankees by suing after her mansion as occupied during the war and the grounds were damaged--finally winning her suit after 17 years of litigation.
She also owned 760 slaves, mostly in Louisiana.
There were 35 slaves at Belmont as of 1860, ranging in age from 1 to 45 years old. The docents called them "servants" or "domestic help"--never slaves unless pressed. When showing the group the bedroom of the children, the docent told us that the nanny would sleep on the floor at the foot of the bed in case the children needed anything during the night. The bed is a four-poster, with a thick feather mattress. Where the nanny slept--a slave, of course--was a one-inch-thick straw pallet with blanket and pillow. My Bernese Mountain Dog has a better sleeping situation than that nanny.
When asked, the docent tried to make it out as if the nanny was part of the family--even included in a portrait of the children that is now lost.
You know--the usual bullshit Southern revisionist history. Happy slaves and the War of Northern Aggression which was about States' Rights bullshit.
Another docent was showing the tour group a painting of the grounds made before the war. He pointed out the art gallery, the menagerie, the water tower, the gardens. But not the slave quarters. I asked, but got the usual "oh, well, we think they were behind the water tower." Of course, that water tower is the iconic symbol of Belmont University. And no, there are no markers on the school's campus pointing them out.
One more thing. There was no running water at Belmont, meaning that the toilet "system" involved sit down chairs with chamber pots. And slaves to empty the chamber pots, but, of course, that's not mentioned.
Just the sort of thing to get me pissed every time I see a Confederate flag flying from someone's house, truck or motorcycle.
Ok, Diz. That's history, what about that football comment?
I'm getting too old to make the drive back to Philly in one day, so I stop somewhere along the way. This time, I pulled into Harrisonburg, Va--home of James Madison University. There's a pet-friendly hotel there with a couple of sports bars within walking distance. While on the road, I like to find somewhere I can peacefully sip a few beers, get a meal and watch a little football. Since I don't have TV at home, it's a guilty pleasure, I suppose.
At any rate, the bar was almost full, so I wound up next to a guy who wanted to make conversation. He's a local mechanic and a regular at this place. He also was misogynistic and racist. He was ranting about jobs and employment, which I totally understood, but, to change the subject, I asked if he followed college football (Louisville-Miami was on).
His quote (and no, I'm not making this up):
"I don't follow any of that shit. It's just a hundred niggers running around with a bunch of white girls jiggling themselves for them. Fuck that and fuck them niggers. They just want us to see that shit so them niggers can get some white pussy."The biker dudes on the other side of me laughed their asses off when he said this and made some remarks in agreement.
Sigh. Thankfully, he went outside to smoke and I got up and left. I also noticed a nice Confederate flag on his bike on my way out the door.
This isn't the first time hearing this kind of thing from working class folks. Where I grew up in rural Missouri we said similar stuff (we used the term "nigger-rigging" instead of "jerry-rigging"). On my service trips to Alabama or Louisiana I've heard this kind of thing ("you can't keep a white man down!"). Where I live in a working class Italian neighborhood in Philly, I've heard the same thing ("Fucking niggers need to stay in their neighborhoods!").
The sad part is that this is the continuing legacy of racism that we can talk about at the academic level, can hope that the younger generations will eventually stop, but which still permeates much of our society. It's easy to pick on the GOPers or the Duck Dynasty asshat, but much of our white working and middle classes still hang onto the attitudes of the past, and have this reinforced by the narratives of how they are being threatened by "them" in a down economy.
I dunno. I feel like the hope I have for my students--mostly white upper middle class kids--is overly optimistic given the deeply entrenched racism that will take more decades to go away, if it ever does.