Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Reconstructing the South

I don’t know what to think anymore. When racism, homophobia, and misogyny are openly expressed, I feel like the world tipped, and I can’t gain my footing or think straight. When it visits my life so closely I can touch it, I become unhinged.
A few weeks ago I discovered the attorney who represents my Homeowners Association (HOA) is a prominent member of a noted neo- Confederate hate group, League of the South (LOS).  Their logo is a black cross on a white field. The white field represents white purity and the black cross represents never surrendering to the government. They are against integration, interracial marriage, and equality. They promote secession from the United States.
In their write-up of the LOS, the Southern Poverty Law Center described the hate group, formed in 1994, this way: “The League of the South is a neo-Confederate group that advocates for a second Southern secession and a society dominated by “European Americans.” The “godly” nation envisioned by the League should be run by an “Anglo-Celtic” (read: white) elite that would establish a Christian theocratic state and politically dominate blacks and other minorities. “
They also believe, as the lawyer representing my HOA said in a video blog,
It simply cannot be honestly disputed that we are under threat from all sides today. Whether it is the media; the Federal government; the state governments, which falsely claim to represent us; or organized agitators – all are arrayed against us and are intent on our destruction as a distinct people. There are influential individuals in the media and in government calling for expressions of our heritage to be a crime. There are some who even call for ethnic cleansing of the South through numerically overwhelming our people at the ballot box by hostile immigrants from other parts of the United States or from the third world. This is nothing other than colonization and ultimately genocide. It may be a soft genocide but it is genocide nonetheless. Our people will be erased through deliberate government policy.
Apparently, even though North Carolina is in the top ten ranked states experiencing population growth, there are certain Southerners who do not want transplants, Northerners like us, or especially interracially married people like us (for first time readers, I am white and my husband is black), to relocate to their state.
The president and founder of the LOS, Michael Hill, recently gave a keynote address at a conference in August 2015 and spoke about letting the liberals assist him in radicalizing Southerners. He said they made his job easier.
I find his words incredibly unsettling.
As the president of the HOA, I don’t care to have the chair of the NC chapter of the LOS conduct legal business on our behalf. I don’t see that he can objectively serve all the neighbors in our development since quite a few of us are people of color and Northern transplants. I also don’t want my dues supporting his hateful rhetoric, which motivates, radicalizes, and incites people to violence.
My fellow board members disagree. They feel he simply has strong opinions. They like him.
We have exactly the same information and yet we disagree. The other officers offered that they share a Southern heritage of which they are proud. I told them my in-laws have a Southern heritage, too.  They were silent, because surely they recognized that the Southern heritage my in-laws experienced included exclusion, violence, socio-economic oppression, and Jim Crow. Or maybe they feel like many outspoken Neo-Confederates who think Southern heritage is only white Southern heritage. Maybe they feel that the experience of black Southerners doesn’t count.
I offered to resign. They asked me if they could do more research first. I felt they were dragging out the inevitable.
Sometimes I just can’t understand how anyone can uphold segregation and exclusion and feel perfectly fine about it.  Or how anyone can scream about radicalized Muslims and be silent about radicalized racists.
In fact, during our discussion one of the officers brought up gay marriage and Kim Davis. He said that even though he agreed with Kim Davis on the definition of marriage, he felt she had a civic duty to perform the work. He felt our attorney, even with his beliefs, was still fulfilling his duty to us.  The other officer chimed in that she didn’t agree with gay marriage either and told a story about how the department she managed during her career had many gay employees and there was nothing she could do about it because she would have lost her job.
If there had been no threat of termination, what would she have felt right doing to the gay employees under her management?
It is not just a strong opinion when you have power over another group’s ability to live, work, learn, worship, and play. It is blatant discrimination. And in the case of the LOS, it is racism at its most virulent.
I interact with people everyday who have “strong opinions” about my marriage and about my moving from the Northeast to the South. I have never been disrespectful. I have never once tried to be punitive.  Yet many felt perfectly fine telling us we are an abomination, staring at us in places we have every right to be in, and, in one frightening encounter, veering their car at us.
That is hatred. That is exclusion. That is the demand that we don’t come into their space, even though it is our space, too.  That is the belief that we are less American than they are, even when they talk of secession. That is dangerous and, in growing situations, deadly.
Our history remains unchanged.
I feel disappointment in my fellow HOA officers, in friends and family, and in Americans overall who don’t share my outrage. In my eyes they are people who aren’t concerned with the rising number of fatalities perpetrated by haters, racists, homophobes, or misogynists. They are blind to systemic racism and either deny its existence or blame the victims of it instead of seeking out the truth.
I find myself staying away from friends, family, and all people. It is not due to my prejudice, because I am a true liberal: tolerant, accepting, and open, and I follow the first documented socialist, Jesus Christ. I exclude myself because I see that even people who are close to us choose not to acknowledge the racism that rages in our country. I am not sure why they choose to pretend it doesn’t happen except maybe they can’t handle it.
When people around me ask why I view everything through the perspective of race, I feel disappointment and anger because they refuse to acknowledge the difference between race and racism. They refuse to acknowledge my truth and the truth of America.
So I choose to go it alone with the few people who share my experience or who are willing to, if not completely understand it, because one can’t unless one experiences it directly, at least agree that it sucks to be a person of color in this country. Not only is it terrible, it is often fatal.
The original sin of our country, slavery, continues to impact the structure of our society and every social interaction transacted in our lives. Everything from our jobs, to housing, education, health care, and class, is impacted by race and privilege in America.
In his commencement speech in 1965 at Howard University, Lyndon B. Johnson said, “You do not take a person who, for years, has been hobbled by chains and liberate him, bring him up to the starting line of a race and then say, 'you are free to compete with all the others,' and still justly believe that you have been completely fair. Thus it is not enough just to open the gates of opportunity. All our citizens must have the ability to walk through those gates."
Organizations like the LOS want to perpetuate the uneven playing field for minorities, women, and LGBT individuals. I have lost hope that we can change the pervasive evil embodied by organizations like the LOS and others like it because our country can’t handle the truth.
This evening I found out the HOA officers can’t handle the truth either. We met again to discuss the attorney. I said, “I’m ready to hear you out.”
Then I got to hear about the different flags that represent Southern heritage, that blacks fought on the side of the Confederacy (they were slaves. Did they have a choice?), and just because someone has an opinion doesn’t mean he can’t perform his job. I was told that down here there are probably a lot of people who are members of groups like that.
I responded that was probably true, and I have a right to not do business with people and businesses if I am aware of their associations.
One wanted to know if I’d experienced racism in our neighborhood, and I mentioned our shooter neighbor. “But she’s mental,” was the response.
I asked if they would agree to having a member of the Black Panther Party represent us legally. They vehemently said no. I asked if they would let a radical Muslim represent the HOA. One said she would never have a Muslim attorney, period.
I’d had enough. I stood. I shouted. I told them I was offended that they could sit there and say who they wouldn’t work with but expect me to work with a group trying to radicalize white Southerners against people of color and the government.
Isn’t that the very definition of privilege?
I said, “At the end of the day, all I have is my dignity and my personal ethics.”
I resigned.
As I opened the front door to leave, they asked me not to let the neighbors know my reason for resigning. I told them I had to give the reason, because I made a commitment, and I wanted them to know why I broke it.
My breath heaving, my body electrified, I drove all the way home with the emergency brake on. I told Ronald all I could remember as soon as I let myself into the house. He said he already knew how it was going to turn out. I said, “You are never wrong.”
Then, before I could be blocked from the email group, I wrote:
I am sorry to report that I resigned from the position of president due to deep differences of opinion amongst the board on continuing to do business with an individual who is a member of a known hate group. I would hope that as a neighborhood, we would want all our interactions to be in the best interest of all neighbors.
It was my pleasure to serve you.

Don’t be silent.
Michael Hill, founder and president, LOS
For more information on the LOS, see the complete write-up at the Southern Poverty Law Center website:
Listen to Michael Hill, founder of the LOS, at the LOS conference in August of 2015: