Why do some Americans still fight the Civil War?, asked Jason Wilson in Charlottesville VA in The Guardian. Ask my dead parents who worked hard to poison me with their racist bigotry as they wrapped their rebel flag around my neck.
My mother Virginia was born in South Georgia and didn't consider herself a racist. "Some of my best friends are black," she'd exclaim as she remembered her mother's African-American cook Molly, who "was just like family." Although I cannot reach back through the fog of time, I doubt an African-American woman cooking in a hot South Georgia kitchen for the pittance she received felt like my mother's friend. Even less so, as a friend to her employer--my grandmother.
The mythology fell apart early in my life when I wasn't permitted to invite African-American children from my elementary school class, to my birthday parties. I remember something about "they wouldn't feel comfortable" being the story.
Babies aren't born hating, as children they must be taught. Don't call it the Civil War ("It wasn't civil"), I was taught.So as a child I was given a thin book extolling the truth about the War Between the States, with which I was repeated vaccinated to the truth of States' Right. Nostalgic exposure to GWTW (Gone With the Wind) indoctrinated me about those good old days. Then there was that day, when I was about 11-years-old and I came out of my room to hear the words I'll never forget.
"What about Candy?" asked my father. Using my childhood nickname, my parents spoke about their fears that I would soon move out of elementary school into the 7th grade and beyond. Schools that in Princeton NJ would include those people my mother called "nigras", Southern ladies didn't use the N-word.
I listened and puzzled why it was a problem. Then the problem of Candy was solved by a company transfer to Houston, Texas where we moved into a red-lined neighborhood without the problem of those people, blacks, browns and Jews.
My mother would carefully and repeatedly show me the lineage from me to the brave soldier who'd fought for the Lost Cause. As a child my mother had given pocket money to the Confederate Memorial on Stone Mountain, GA.
Yes both my parents were racist bigots. What a shock it must have been when, despite their threats, I not only married a Jewish man, but also converted to Judaism at my choice--not my husband's or his family. Yes Fran, I've always been a bit of a PITA.
My mother, grandmother and beyond had been card carrying members of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. I thought it a lark to join in 1979; every bigoted group needs a Jewish member--right?
There is an escape hatch for those raised in bigotry, but I had to press the button to do so.