Keep your “ass” home is the text I received from my mother when I told her I was headed to a save the confederate statute “rally” in Beaufort, North Carolina. My boyfriend, knowing I was determined to go, simply said “be safe” as I headed out the door.
All of the confederate statute media coverage had me curious so I could not give up this opportunity to see, first- hand, what all the hoopla was about. I will confess, my curiosity and excitement quickly transitioned to fear as I got closer and saw confederate flags everywhere. Still in the safety of my vehicle, I paused for a minute, gathered my thoughts, and thought, maybe I should have actually “kept my ass home”. Being the stubborn person that I am, I refused to allow my fear to stop me from having this experience. However, also having a tinge of sensibility, I decided not to park amongst the confederate supporters. Instead, I wheeled the truck around and parked on one of the quiet, Beaufort, neighborhood streets and walked two blocks to the courthouse.
As I walked up to the area where the “rally” was beginning, I became afraid once again but I still refused to give into my fear. Was I looking for trouble? What would I do if someone openly questioned my presence? What would I do if someone called me the “n” word? Not knowing the answers to those questions, and, quickly realizing I was the ONLY African-American person present, I decided to stand across the street and observe.
Not appearing to be very organized, most of the supporters simply stood around after signing a petition to save the statute and posed for pics, proudly waving their confederate flags in front of the statute. As I was getting bored with watching what I soon realized was more of a “gathering”, a man stepped up and began to speak.
Unfortunately my safe place, across the street, meant I could not hear him. So, I walked across the street, ignoring the stares at the lone “black woman” present for the “gathering”, and stood amongst the supporters so that I could hear, waiting for the hate to flow. Noone called me the “n” word, and, while they looked at me, noone, other than a local reporter, dared to ask me why I was there.
Much to my surprise there were no hate filled speeches given. Instead each person that talked at this “gathering” talked about historical preservation, respecting one another’s views, unity, and love.
When one young man stepped up with his thick beard, confederate t-shirt, and confederate flag in hand, I knew for sure he was going to be spewing hate throughout his speech. Instead, he spoke out against racism and hate. After he spoke, I honestly felt guilty because I knew that I was guilty of stereotyping. I assumed that his speech would be filled with hate simply because of the way he looked.
Following the bearded, confederate flag toter, another man came forward and said we had to learn to “love one another”. Arrogantly, I began to wonder did my black presence cause a shift in the tone of the speeches we were hearing. Quickly I decided that it was absolutely absurd for me to believe that I could cause such a dramatic shift. This group of confederate flag toting, confederate soldier supporting, white people, were not filled with the rage and hate that I had witnessed on television. They simply believed in their cause. Who am I to knock them or judge them for that? Many of the causes that are near and dear to me are offensive to others but it never stops me from doing, and standing up for, what I believe is right.
Prior to this experience I have felt oddly disconnected as I heard story after story about confederate statute protests. Why? Because I honestly don’t care, one way or the other, about these confederate statutes. Does it make me less of a black woman that my blood doesn’t boil when I walk past one? Or, even less of a black woman when I don’t even notice these statutes?
As I told the reporter that asked me “what brings you out today”? I was curious about why people were so interested in these statutes. There are so many issues that are having devastating effects on our society. I feel our energy would be better spent elsewhere.
As a mother of three African-American girls, I spend my energy trying to make sure they are smart, beautiful, conscientious contributors to society. As a lawyer, I spend my energy fighting against the injustices that are still rampant in the legal community. As a citizen, I am very much concerned with the extreme level of poverty in my community because I know that poverty prevents so many talented people from realizing their full potential.
Readers: What is your position on confederate statutes? Do you think I was naïve to think that the protestors present were not hate-filled?