Two Views

by Edric Haleen

(July 12, 2015)






I lost ancestors in the war.






        They weren’t slave owners,

        And they weren’t racists.


        They were brave,

        And they were proud.


        They were called on by their new country

        To defend their land and to protect their future.


        And they answered that call.







And it cost them their lives.



And now -- 150 years later -- I feel pained.







    My connection to the past --

        to my heritage --

    Is under attack.


    The right to honor my ancestors

    Is under siege

        by forces that want to strike

        an admittedly painful blot

        from our collective past.


    In their fervor,

    They are stepping too far.


    They are dishonoring my ancestors --

        and me in turn --

    Who merely fought when they were called on to fight,

        and never did or meant anyone any harm.



    We just wish -- we just wished -- to live our lives in peace.


    Why can’t that wish be honored?




    Why demand that every last symbol come down?




-------------------------------------------------







I, too, have lost ancestors.







    I have lost ancestors who died

        bound in the holds of ships;

        bound for a new world that was not theirs.


    I have lost ancestors who died in trees,

        killed for the crime of trying to live as a human.


    I have lost ancestors who died in streets,

        killed at the hands of people in power

        that my ancestors were not allowed to share.







But I have other ancestors, as well . . .







    I have ancestors who had their families ripped apart,

        never to be reunited.


    I have ancestors who had their children

        taken from them and sold,

        never to be seen again.


    I have ancestors who were raped by their owners,

        so they would bear those owners even more workers.


    I have ancestors whose owners

        forced other slaves to rape them,

        because this would produce for the owners

        even stronger new workers.


    I have ancestors who were

        whipped,

        burned,

        scarred,

        branded,

        beaten,

        and abused,

        because they were deemed sub-human.




    And I have ancestors who watched as men all around them

        left home and fought and killed and gave their lives

        for a cause committed to the idea that I,

        and all my ancestors,

        don’t deserve any better,

        because my ancestors and I are sub-human.



    Under a variety of Confederate flags,

        these men stalwartly opposed the forces

        who would free us.


        Who would recognize us.


        Who might respect us.


        Who might improve our lives and our lots.





    And even though that fight ended over 150 years ago?








There are still men flying those flags.








    And even though we are now allowed to vote,

        that right is still challenged at every election.


    And though we are now allowed to live wherever we want,

        efforts to limit where we live still continue.


    And though we are now allowed to run our own businesses,

        we still have trouble securing capital for such endeavors,

        while others obtain it far more easily, and far more often.


    And dog whistles still shrill

        freely and piercingly through the land,

        painting us as



            lazy


            entitled


            dangerous


            undeserving



    Blown not just by regular men and women,

        but also by leaders and would-be leaders,

    Even as they proudly extoll the virtues

        of the post-racial society we now enjoy;

    Even as they bristle with indignation

        at the mere suggestion that this might not be so.







So let’s speak of heritage . . .







    Heritage is that which comes to us when we are born.


    We are powerless to control it,

        and we have no choice about whether we wish

        to accept it

        or refuse it.


    It is just ours.




    Your heritage includes ancestors

        who chose to fight under a banner

        that represented an odious cause.


    My heritage includes ancestors

        who suffered horribly at its hands.




    And both of our heritages include

        a color of skin

        which we can neither alter nor negotiate.






    You ask for Confederate symbols to remain

        so you have a way to honor your ancestors

        and your people.


    I ask for Confederate symbols to come down

        to honor not just my ancestors and my people,

        but also to honor myself.




    Because when I look at these symbols,

        I know all too well

        that they were flown to defend the ideas that


            I am not equal; I am less.


            That slavery is my natural condition.


            That my heritage,

                the state into which I was born,

            is one of subordination and inferiority.










And I do not accept this.










    I wish to walk through a world free of reminders


        that no matter who I really am,


            no matter what I may achieve,


                no matter how much good I do . . .

   






        Many will still hate me,


            merely for the bit of my heritage


                that they can see . . .