More Than Dixie
Working-class white people in the South have better stories to tell than the Lost Cause
I think she is trying to stare me down. Her eyes are leveled right at me.
In another space, at another time, we might be friendly. We might chat. I might say, “Excuse me, ma’am, my apologies,” as I bumped into her on my way to pay my bill at the diner. And she might smile at me and say, “No problem, hon.” She might comment on my tattoo, and I might tell her I like hers. Maybe she has a butterfly that makes her think of her mother or a bit of script reminding her to be strong. She might show me the pictures of her grandchildren, the ones she keeps in her billfold, and I might tell her that I love children too. I might tell her to have a nice day, and I might mean it when I say it.
But, for now, we have both arrived here, on a street corner in downtown Graham, North Carolina, under the shadow of yet another Confederate statue, a mostly unremarkable statue, one like many in our small Southern towns, a statue that has never been right, and now we are here in the heat of the long days of 2020’s summer, breathing in the stale air, breathing out change.
The woman and I are being kept apart by a line of cops. She is standing in what can only be described as a fighting stance, her knobby knees sticking out from her jean shorts, demonstrating her defiance by refusing to turn away. She is holding a poster board above her head, probably bought at the Family Dollar where I also shop. On it, written in marker, are the words: “I was born in 1956. I don’t remember slaves.”
A man stands behind her waving the Stars and Bars, that strange flag that has dotted my own Southern life, its motion creating a slight ripple in the July heat. To her side is another man, the man I believe she came here with, and he is screaming obscenities over the heads of the officers at me and the other people gathered. His obscenities are particularly vile when they are directed to the young Black men beside me, who he calls “bucks,” not quite the N-word, but we all know what he means. All lives matter, he chants, all lives matter. He is loud, bombastic, agitated, furious. All lives matter. All lives matter. When it comes from his mouth it…