There are countless sources of inspiration in this world and I count ancestry as one such source. There isn’t one individual figure I look up to, but rather the general march of my genetic past from one side of the Atlantic to the other and all the travails in between. The roots of my family tree may be in Northern Europe, but the branches extend clear into the deep South of that new country, the United States, where the settlers were brazen enough to throw off the king’s chains and start an experiment in freedom that has sadly gone awry. What is happening to the country they built? It pains me to think that they might be watching. And yet, this is also a thought that inspires me to action.
Look around you as one event after another becomes a debacle of free speech inhibited. Look as our protests become riots. Look at our freedoms slipping away, one day at a time, a gradual drip of poison like an IV in every American soul. What would our great-grandparents say? Would they be horrified? The answer is a resounding YES. Something must be done to change that answer to a satisfied NO, and it must be done before it’s too late.
After a recent encounter with a black “activist” on the streets of Atlanta, I sat down and thought about the young man involved. He was the typical sort that hovers downtown with nothing better to do ~ drooping but designer pants, loose Nikes, sideways ball-cap, cumbersome gold chains; we’ve all seen him, the contemporary urban black answer to Everyman and he was there by the dozens. The encounter was uneventful and I walked on, ignoring stupid white girl and fucking honky; just par for the downtown course. What would I have said to him given the chance? I would have asked him about his ancestors. I would have asked him what they thought about recent BLM protests (read riots).
I might have said, “Wake up! The proud African residing inside you is ashamed. Did your ancestors build their own village, create their unique culture, and try like hell to preserve it even through slavery so you could bitch and moan about white-washed Oscars? Will you continue to ignore the inner voice of the noble African chieftain who is your precious ancestor when you or a fellow protestor shatters a car window and takes a laptop? What did he say? Shhh… Listen! What did your great-grandfather say? Listen to him, the man who suffered under the Arkansas sun dreaming his descendants would be free. Does the cash handed to you at the pawn shop make it easier to ignore his voice? Is he proud of you?”
He might have responded, “You ain’t nothing but a damn racist and I ain’t listening to this bullshit.” He might be right, but we all saw it happen; it made national news. Still, no one wants to SAY it.
Say this instead, “You don’t have to listen to me; stop screaming racism and listen to your ancestors. Imagine them watching you today. They’ve put down their tools and looked up from the cotton fields and they see you in a hundred and fifty odd years, free. Are they proud of you? If you’re not absolutely certain that the answer is a loud YES, you’re doing something wrong.”
Obviously, I don’t imagine enslaved Africans when I think of my ancestors. I envision whites with bent, red necks from Germany, France, England, and Ireland, some “spirited” away as involuntary indentured servants (the nice way of saying slaves), others free but starving, others free and taking this new world for all it was worth. Most dug out a life in Appalachia, but just barely. Momma just barely surviving another childbirth, kids just barely scraping together enough to eat, Daddy just barely keeping the greedy banks away from the struggling farm. It was always just barely. My grandmother just barely survived scarlet fever while my grandfather just barely survived the war. Yes, always just barely. But they made it and here I am.
I must ask myself the same question I wanted to ask the young protestor ~ are my ancestors proud of me? I don’t know. I thought about Uncle John Bell Hood, a feisty general who saw an arm and a leg sawed off on Southern battlefields only to tie himself to his horse and ride into the fray once again. Family rumor has it he retired to New Orleans after the misunderstood War of Northern Aggression and he lived there many years with his African mistress. For him, the war wasn’t about racism ~ the term hadn’t even been invented yet. I know that, and I think he’d be proud of my knowledge; I know that damn war wasn’t about slavery.
No, the War Between the States wasn’t about black or white. It was about green, the green in those Southern fields and the green tucked away in those Southern wallets. That was the green coveted by the bankers pulling Lincoln’s strings. They didn’t care about the slaves; wage slavery is a more profitable venture, after all. It is here that I’d like to tell that young protestor that we have the same enemy. Your ancestors will tell you about our country’s battles with the bankers. Let them inspire you to follow the money. Follow the bullets! Look up at the string pullers to find your true enemy, not at each other. Shhh, listen! They will tell you, We Have the Same Enemy.
Be inspired. Cut your strings.