Monday, May 19, 2008

I Wish I Was In Dixie

Internalized hatred is something that I have been trying to understand for sometime now.  About a month ago I came across the story of  Jacksonville City Councilwoman Glorious Johnson, at Blackpoliticalthought. In an attempt to build racial solidarity Ms.Johnson recently led a crowd at a image Confederate Memorial Day event in a roaring rendition of  I Wish I Was in Dixie. She urged them to sing the unofficial Confederate anthem "loud and proud."  According to the  Florida Times-Union,  "Johnson defended her singing of Dixie. In a letter, she said that it told the story of a freed black slave pining for the plantation of his birth."

Behind her, Confederate flags rippled in the breeze at graves where the Kirby-Smith Camp says 40 Confederate soldiers are buried. Tending to such graves is part of the mission for the Sons of Confederate Veterans.image

During the ceremony, Johnson joined about 60 others who pledged allegiance to the United States flag and then said a "salute to the Confederate Flag."

Johnson said in an interview after the ceremony she doesn't view the Confederate flag as a racist symbol. She said by talking with members of the organization, she has learned more about the Civil War.

"This flag is not a flag of hate, but a flag about heritage and history," she said. "The people out here are not about hate, but about heritage."

The heritage/history that the Confederate flag and Dixie represent are slavery, Jim Crow, Ku Klux Klan, and oppression. It is revisionist to suggest otherwise.  The fact that, that flag continues to be celebrated is evidence that white privilege is alive and well not only in the south, but in the United States. 

As she stood there on that windy day channeling the fictional character uncle Tom, did she for one minute envision the horrors her foremother endured  surviving on urine, feces and minimal food during the middle passage?  When they arrived in the states the last shred of their identity, and humanity was torn from them as they were sold as human chattel at slave auctions. Her ancestors  survived whippings, rape, and all manner of degradations so that she could sing Dixie in celebration.  I could no more happily sing that song, than I could put on a white sheet and go trick-or-treating with my children.

By identifying in an apologist manner with the symbol of the confederacy, Ms. Johnson has internalized hatred, prejudice, and fear.  Even if we accept that the premise of this was to increase social cohesion, without a critical conversation about race, and its role in the history of the south, I fail to see how anything meaningful could have been accomplished.  Ms.Johnson played the role of token black woman thus giving  the impression that African Americans accept with joy  the status of a colonized people within a "free state." 

No matter how many renditions of Dixie Ms. Johnson sings, it will not change the fact that the Confederate Soldiers she was celebrating, died trying to keep her ancestors enslaved.  Participating in this event may have elevated her status to favorite minstrel fool, however playing the roll of  queen of the least, will not engender anything other than ridicule from whites, and righteous indignation from blacks.  No matter how many times you wish upon a star Ms. Johnson, you will not turn white, nor will a group of avowed rednecks change their racist attitudes.  Learn to love yourself for who you are, and if that is not possible at least show your ancestors enough respect, to stop celebrating slavery, racism, and discrimination, on soil that is soaked with their blood, sweat, and tears.

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