I was able to keep my face a neutral mask when a young White woman recently described her upcoming plantation wedding to me.
I was attending a gala dinner where an acquaintance and his fiancee excitedly relayed their plans to get married at a “beautiful, old-time” plantation in the South. The bride-to-be’s eyes lit up as she remembered the Spanish moss hanging from the trees lining a red dirt path to a grand white mansion.
“It’s going to be the wedding of my dreams,” she cooed. “That big white house is just incredible.”
With great effort, I kept a calm, mild expression on my face while on the inside I thought of the slaves — my ancestors — who had toiled and died there. I instinctively knew it had never once crossed this woman’s mind where the financial capital came from to build that estate, nor what had happened in the fields and cabins surrounding the big house. Where she saw a gorgeous wedding setting, I saw a reservoir of inhumanity, pain, and suffering.
For many years, my small-town Southerness has been a cherished part of my identity, an anchor I cling to whenever I get homesick or question the mostly career-driven life choices that sent me to different metropolises across the U.S.
Then came November 2016.
The biggest challenge to my identity as a Southerner has been the mainstreaming of White supremacy and the resurgence of Confederate pride. In the age of Trump, where White supremacists are re-energized and legitimized, where Confederate monuments and symbols once again ignite ferocious debate, I’ve had to reckon with my Southerness like never before. When a bunch of racist White men gather with torches in the night to shout “blood and soil” and “you will not replace us,” where does that leave a born and bred Southerner like me? If the South is their heritage, then what part can I take in that?
The biggest challenge to my identity as a Southerner has been mainstreaming of White supremacy and the resurgence of Confederate pride.