Monday, April 22, 2013

Niagara Falls

I visited Niagara Falls last week with my family.  Apparently, not many people travel from Virginia to Niagara Falls, because there isn't anything like an interstate connecting the two.  We travelled on seven interstates:  70, 80, and 90, 76, 81, 86, and 99.  If we had taken the directions prescribed by Mapquest, we would have add 66, which would have given a nice symmetry to the numbers (70, 80, 90; 66, 76, 86).  Ninety-nine is actually kind of interesting, because it is the highest-numbered interstate.  I didn't know it existed before this trip.  The longest stretch of one road was US-219, but we had to make a dozen turns (more or less, depending on what you count as a turn) just to stay on it for about 130 miles

We were unable to go in the Cave of the Winds because it was closed for reconstruction, but we did ride on the Maid of the Mist -- which we re-christened the Maid of the Deluge, because "mist" did not do justice to the amount of water we were covered in.  It was a little too cold the day we visited:  the temperature dropped from 80 on Wednesday to 40 on Saturday, but the boat ride did not open until Friday, so we had to take it when it was on the cold side.  We considered ourselves fortunate to have avoided the thunderstorms that were predicted, not that we would have noticed much difference in the amount of water that ended up on our clothes.

We took what is probably the shortest trip ever into Canada.  While crossing the Rainbow Bridge, we saw a sign for an aviary that was right on the river, so we went there.  As a family of bird-lovers, this was the perfect place for us to spend an afternoon.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Accidental Racist and Southern Pride

The South has done a lot of bad things in the cause of racism.  Segregated schools and lunchcounters are the least of it.  Some of the things I have heard about are sickening.

The South has also taken a lot of vitriol for its racism.  When I moved to Georgia in 2008, a friend of mine asked, quite seriously, "Are they all Neanderthals down there?"

No wonder there is a feeling of Southern pride.  The South is viewed with scorn and contempt by much of the country, so it is not surprising that some Southerners react defensively and tout the positive aspects of their culture.

It is also important to remember that this is 2013, not 1963.  Blacks and whites live and work side by side in the South, the same as they do in the rest of the country.  Is racism completely eradicated?  No.  There is always room for improvement.  But it is important to think about progress, too, about how far we've come.  I've never seen a segregated school or lunch counter, even when I was little.  I have never seen any segregated institution.  All my life, it has been taken for granted that people of all colours are equal and deserve equal treatment.

What should we do about the past?  Should we say there is nothing good in the South and let's get rid of everything that it has been and remake it like the North?

I don't think so.  A lot of good has come out of the South; and not everything about the North is worth emulating.

It's good to remember the mistakes of the past so as not to repeat them.  It's not good to keep the mistakes front and center, to emphasize the bad to the detriment of the good.  If you want to move ahead, you have to think positively.  You have to have a positive example and work toward it, not just run from the negative example.  If you run away from racism, you can run in any direction, and not all of them will be good.  If you run toward a positive example, you will be running away from racism but toward a common goal.

Southern culture arose out of a combination of blacks and whites (and other races, to a lesser extent).  The South would not be the South without blacks and whites.

Let's take the good of the South and use it as an example of what the South can be.  Let's hold it up as exemplary, and let's hold the racism as a bad example, and let's move toward one and away from the other.  Let's not just have a negative example, let's have a positive example of what can happen if we work together.

Black and white Southerners often have more in common with each other than with people of the same race in the North.  They have a shared heritage, part of which is bad, but part of which is good.  One of the good parts is how the South has overcome racism.  Integration was forced in some places, and it created resentment.  But Southerners did not, as a whole, react with bitterness to integration.  If they had -- if the KKK had revived, if it was impossible for blacks to get elected in majority white districts or for a black presidential candidate to get many votes among white Southerners -- there would certainly be more cause for concern.

The racial situation in the South is not perfect.  But it is much, much better than it was 50 years ago, and that is something to celebrate.

I love the South.  I love all Southerners, black and white and every other race and creed.  I take pride in the good things of our shared heritage, things like going to church, sweet iced tea, and the Southern drawl.  I regret the part of that heritage that was bad and wrong.  I think the best way to overcome that is not to tear down Southern culture as it exists today, but to build on it.  Build on the multi-racial society that the South has become, build on the distinctive way of life familiar to people who live there, build on the pride that people take in a shared history that includes positive and negative aspects, to reinforce the positive ones and to work together to overcome the negative ones.

I grew up hearing about Southern pride, but I never heard it expressed as a facet of white supremacy.  Maybe some did, but I didn't.  It was always about a way of life, and that way of life included all races.  It makes me sad when people attack that pride and call it racist, because it fundamentally isn't.  It makes me sad that some blacks feel offended by Southern pride, because the intention is not to exclude them.  If the Confederate battle flag is the issue, by all means, let's ditch the flag.  Let's come up with a symbol that all Southerners can look on with pride.

I hope someday all Southerners will share the pride that I do.  There is so much to the South besides race.  I don't deny that race is a big part of its history, but it's not the only part.  There are good food, good music, good writing, and some very, very good people down here.  God help us to get along, to recognize our common bonds, and to show people that all Southerners, black and white, have reason to be proud of where they are from.