Bree Newsome became a shero (a fond term coined by one of my favorite authors, Maya Angelou) in my book the day I learned she removed the Confederate flag from the South Carolina capitol grounds. Her story is an impressive one of activism and awareness raising that warranted her being a shero in my book even before she boldly scaled a flagpole to remove a divisive symbol of racist bigotry from government property. She may have just come on the radar of the mainstream through this action, however, she has been fighting the good fight against racist oppression for some time. I was grateful to have an opportunity to find out more about her and her work, and be inspired by her commitment and bravery.
I was so impressed by Bree’s activism that I said so. Publicly. On my personal Facebook page. I was sorely disappointed to get a resounding racist response that sent my heart into a pounding flurry from a great uncle who only responded curtly that the flag should be put back and left alone. When I responded that I did not agree and did not understand the appeal of the flag and only saw it as a symbol of racist bigotry, all I got in response was that that was my opinion, which he respected, but his should be respected, as well. I could not let it go. I stated yet again that I disagreed and pointed out it is historically a symbol of white supremacy that was flown by people who fought to keep the institution of slavery in place, and it should not be displayed from any government building that represents all people, not just white people. There was no response.
What really worries me about this particular great uncle’s views is the fact that he has biracial grandchildren. I myself identify as biracial with a white mother (the great uncle is her father’s brother) and father of Mexican decent, and I feel disgusted by this symbol of white supremacy. My great uncle has grandchildren who are biracial with a white mother and black father. I haven’t been able to muster the courage to ask, but I’m so curious how he rationalizes this flag’s history with the love I assume he feels for his grandchildren. I don’t even know how I’m going to be able to interact with him the next time our paths cross. I have lost a great deal of love and respect for someone I was taught to have only unconditional love and respect for, but cannot reconcile their viewpoints with my sense of justice.
Even more love and respect was lost after an exchange with a cousin from my white mother’s side of the family (her brother’s son). He posted to his Facebook wall an image of Reverend Al Sharpton next to an image of a Confederate flag with a statement across the top and bottom of the images stating something to the effect that this is a racist symbol, the other is a flag. My heart set to pounding almost right out of my chest yet again. After a heated exchange in which he claims he’s honoring his heritage and I refuse to believe that’s a heritage worth respecting, I realized there is no changing this cousin’s racist views, either, even after I shared openly how this flag makes me feel and how as a person who identifies as biracial, I do not feel okay honoring any ancestry that flew this flag as they support white supremacy. I shared how I felt the legacy of any ancestors who flew this flag led to me being told at a young, impressionable age that I would be disowned from the family if I ever dated outside of my race. The hypocrisy was not lost on me as I recognized my own biracial identity, and realized my mother would have been disowned and us along with her by these ancestors because she dated outside of her race.
I held back from sharing my fear that there are ancestors of ours staring back from the old photos of white folks gathered at a lynching of black people I’ve seen all throughout history. He states that he doesn’t believe in slavery but he posts an image of a white blue-eyed baby with a statement that reads something to the effect, “I’m responsible for slavery? But I just got here!” I try to keep in mind he’s just a harmless good ol’ boy born and raised and still living in the same city he was born into in the South, and at the core of him, he’s a good person, but I’ve had to unfollow him on Facebook because his posts have continued to make me question his goodness. If it were anyone else, I would have unfriended them immediately. I am trying so hard to feel some sort of unconditional love for him, but I’ve lost all respect and can hardly imagine seeing him again in the future. Like my great uncle, I am most concerned about the fact that he is raising a son of his own, and I can only imagine what he’s teaching him. It’s not the overt racism of our ancestors, but it’s a more subtle yet sinister racism that will continue to divide us as we attempt to move forward. I’ve tried to figure out what role I should play in trying to engage him in these discussions further, but I’m exhausted, disgusted, and just plain fed up with getting nowhere or worse, finding I dislike him more and more.
This is a member of my family. With family like this, who needs enemies?