What If All These 'Heritage Not Hate' People Celebrated Less Hateful Aspects Of Their Heritage Instead?
Any person, when looking at their heritage and the history of their people or the state they live in, can find good things and bad things. We all have some shitty relatives, we all have some great relatives. I was born in Massachusetts. Many good things happened there and many bad things as well. One thing I can tell you though is that if you go to Salem, you're not going to see a bunch of statues honoring William Stoughton, the notorious judge in the Salem Witch Trials, nor any of court magistrates or the accusers. Why? Because while, yes, the Salem Witch Trials were a part of Massachusetts's heritage, everyone pretty much collectively agrees that they were the bad guys. So instead of honoring them, Salem chooses to memorialize the 25 people who were killed because a bunch of really stupid and evil people thought they were witches.
And yet, the statue defenders and the Confederate flag wavers love to cry Heritage Not Hate! — often while screaming racial slurs — as if the mere fact that one is related to bad people, or that one comes from the same state as other bad people, makes the things those bad people did less bad. This is probably not a thing people would say if their relative was Charles Manson. That is probably even something they would keep quiet, on account of how it is widely understood that Charles Manson was a monster.
Hell, the Hitler family all agreed to never have children. Didn't see them going around waving Nazi flags and then getting mad when people didn't understand that they weren't celebrating the Holocaust, they were celebrating their heritage, as relatives of Hitler.
I happen to be half-Irish and half-Italian. I could, if I wanted, choose to honor and defend Magdalene asylums. Or I could get a tattoo of Mussolini across my chest. I do not do those things, because that would be super messed up. When I choose to celebrate my heritage, I do so by drinking a lot, listening to opera, and being incredibly attractive and charming.
Surely, they too could find some things to like about their culture and heritage other than "Hey, remember that time we owned people?"
It's a choice and people make these choices for a reason. They decide what they want to celebrate and honor and hold up as good and right. People in the South are not condemned to defend the Confederacy until they die. No one in the United States is required to justify the fact that our founders enslaved people, and the fact that people keep trying is as much of a problem as anything. Any of us can choose to admire the good things that happened in this country, while admitting that the bad stuff was really bad. It's not all or nothing.
Some like to say that people who enslaved people should still be celebrated if they did other stuff that was good, because "You can't hold people in those times to today's standards!"
This would make total sense if there were no such thing as historical villains, which there are, or if we didn't regularly look back at things people did in the past with horror, which we do. Again, no one is out there defending the people who conducted the Salem Witch Trials as heroes, despite the fact that they, too, were products of their time.
It would also make total sense if those complaining were not the very same people who so often use "moral relativism" as a scare term. Or if there were not people who existed at that same time, living in that same culture, who were able to figure out that slavery was bad, which there absolutely were. If all of these guys were so great and worth honoring, why were they unable to figure that out when so many others could? (Actually, many of them did figure it out, but decided "eh, fuck it, why bother?").
Slavery was never good, anywhere, but slavery in the United States was very different from slavery in most other places, in that it was entirely race-based, and defended by people claiming that God specifically wanted Black people to be slaves, and that whites were superior. Slavery was not unique by any means, but that, itself, was a concept largely unique to the United States at the time. It became more unique as time went on and other countries started getting off the slavery train and condemning the practice, as those who wanted to keep enslaving Black people felt they had to dig their heels in to really justify the practice.
This is not a tactic unique to that particular time.
There is no amount of "it wasn't really that bad!" or "the real villains were the carpetbaggers!" or "actually it was about states' rights" or "but they founded the country and came up with some otherwise good stuff!" that can hide the absolute ugliness of slavery. Or Jim Crow. Or the Salem Witch Trials. Or internment camps. Or any of the other really ugly shit we've done.
And trying to justify them won't make them any less ugly. What we can do, however, is acknowledge their ugliness, and, when we need to celebrate and cheer, we can cheer for things that are actually good. For things that are actually worth being proud of. If we were a completely irredeemable country, that would be one thing, but we're not. We've done some good shit, and we're capable of being better, just so long as we keep trying to do better.
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Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse