Sunday, October 09, 2005

I'm Gonna' Stick My Neck Out...

It's not a turtle post.

Yesterday, I rode into town and there in the parking lot of the Megalomart was a pickup truck festooned with signs and bumper stickers. It was the professionally produced magnetic signs on either door that caught my eye.

They read: "Florida Cracker, an endangered species"Posted by Picasa

I smiled. I know what this guy is feeling. When a thousand people a day are moving into your state, they bring their own cultures and most don't really give a damn about what was there before. Sound historically familiar? Anyway...

I glanced up at the rear window of the pickup truck. I don't know how this guy could drive safely with every inch of the rear window plastered with the Confederate battle flag...the stars and bars.

My smile vanished.

Back in April, I thought long and hard before choosing my "nomme de plume". If you travel back to my very first post, deep in the archives, you will see that I was concerned that "cracker" was a loaded term and wrote a little disclaimer. My concern was that I would be judged by my pen name.

A little history. I grew up in the town Martin Luther King called, "The most racist town in America". Our sheriff, L.O. Davis threw him in jail. I met L.O. as a teenager, his nephew was my fishing buddy. As a small child in the early '60's, I saw the Klan with their robes, signs, and pipe sections outside Sears and Woolworths constantly. When you're little, you don't understand the big picture, but the impressions, like black and white snapshots linger.

I started school in 1964 in a pure white public school, the black kids had their own school across town. By the time I made it to 5th grade we had 3 brave, scared black kids in our school. Bare compliance with the desegregation laws.

In the 7th grade, (69-70) they got serious about integration and created a 7th grade school the whole county. We would be bussed to what had been the all black high school and we would mix.

We mixed, we fussed some as we got to know each other, and then we went through the ensuing school years together and nothing would ever be the same.

Although I grew up with it, I let go of the Confederate battle flag as a symbol of my southerness many years ago. You may be surprised to know that I wrestled with that decision. The war was stupid (as are most) and the cause was wrong, but the boys that fought it did so out of love of their home. The average soldier was a poor dirt farmer's son, not a slave holding plantation owner.

There is a reason we send the young to war, they are impressionable and idealistic and not prone to question the big picture. It was true then, it is true today.

Most of us hold the beliefs we have simply due to the way we were raised. If you are christian, jew, moslem , or's a good chance you are because your parents are the same. Those southern boys probably never questioned their cause. Hindsight really is 20/20.

I have a family member listed among the dead on the confederate war memorial in downtown St. Augustine. So I wrestled. I did not want to dishonor this boy's sacrifice. In the end I let it go. I don't even whistle Dixie any more.

For decades I have only seen the battle flag as a symbol of hate and ignorance, with the exception of those historical reenactments that would look pretty silly with the rebel reenactors flying some politically correct pseudoflag. It is okay to study history, it is not okay to change it.

So I have some history with race and racial attitudes in the south.

Today, I work with kids, mostly 7th graders. They are a wonderful patchwork of race and ethnicity. They are we were back in 1970. They don't realize or appreciate how far we've come, because they are young. They tease each other, but disputes are mostly over girls, boys, ...normal, non racial things. They can't imagine a world of separate water fountains and restrooms, etc. I can, I was there. Change did not happen overnight with the passing of a took years before those things were all gone.


Point is, this guy with his Florida Cracker signs and his battle flag stickers is ticking me off by promoting a stereotype that I will just have to do battle with forever I guess. Guilt by association. I will just set the example and let you be the judge.

I'm really stubborn. I'm really Floridian. I'm really not letting go of this label.



the Contrary Goddess said...

While you came to one decision after wrestling with it, don't think it ridiculous or wrong that others, after wrestling, came to a different decision.

Anonymous said...

Dagnabit. I made a long and thoughtful comment about this post, and it seems to have disappeared into the ether. I never think that profoundly or express myself that cleverly again!


roger said...

what's in a name, as the bard said (or someone said). your readers know you by the content of your posts and this reader admires the bigness of your heart. a good style and masterful use of language make your stuff pleasurable to read too. thanks for letting us in on your own experience of growing up during the change away from segregation. while i understand that some claim the confederate battle flag as a symbol of honor and duty, i think they do so in willful ignorance of the way many see it as a symbol of racism, some proudly.

pablo--make a copy before posting! a little insurance against frustration. save those words of wisdom for us.

Rexroth's Daughter said...

Thank you so much for sharing such personal insights with us. You have traveled one of those paths that I have only read about and admired, arriving at a big-spirited grasp of all of humanity. I would say that the seventh graders you work with are enormously lucky to have you, and your blog readers are fortunate as well.

Floridacracker said...

I understand what you are saying. The one thing the pickup truck guy and I would agree on is his right to fly it. I have moved past it, but his free speech right is sacred to me.
I know the whole "Heritage Not Hate" thing. I used to use it, but for me personally the symbol is too tainted anymore. Thank you for your comment.

I will wait while you recompose...

Insightful as always. Thank you for the kind words. I am a work in progress.

Thanks. Seventh graders are a special larval humans. They take require great patience, some don't make it to metamorphosis, but most do and that makes it worthwhile.

swamp4me said...

I used to teach 7th grade, and 8th, and 9th, and 10th, and 11th, and, oh yeah, 12th...
Teenagers, you gotta love 'em.

Floridacracker said...

I do too! 3/5 of my classes are middle, the rest high school.

Deb said...

A perspective from here in Minnesota: We don't consider ourselves as racist; never mind the Indians, who didn't want to assimilate and are now saying that they have rights to some of the walleyes in some of the local lakes--Good Heavens! We're not racist, just they don't understand...well, you get the picture. Anyway, hang on to the Cracker label and wear it proudly. Those that say anything else are not true Crackers.

Zanne said...

Wow...what a great post.

I am the daughter of a Florida Cracker, as you well know. I said as much on a forum once, and was raked across the coals for that. I made no apologies, saying, "Would you have me re-write history, deny my heritage and pretend that certain things never existed?"

Actually, my dad was an "enlightened Cracker", seeing as he was the orphaned son of peanut and cotton farmers who were hardly better off that the blacks in the area. His uncle was a moonshiner who spent a year or so in federal prison (got creamed for admitting that also).

At 58, when I stand back and think about the social and cultural changes I've been through (civil rights and feminist movements), I'm awe struck. Anyone who whines about how downtrodden they are ... has no appreciation of how far we've progressed.

I was in Florida when Emmett Till was murdered, and remember well the pure white terror that ensued. The death of that Chicago teenager was the spark that ignited the civil rights movement.

I miss my dad dearly, for me the original Florida Cracker - an honest, hard working, UN-prejudiced family man who served in two wars and gave freely of himself.

Floridacracker said...

Thanks for that perspective and yes, I'm hanging on...tight!

I find being raked over the coals to be a warm cozy feeling, don't you? Your dad sounds like a great guy. Poor folks of any race have more in common than they sometimes realize.

Hick said...

Great post, as usual.

Couple-a thoughts:

1. Nerd Boy is a 7th grader. No wonder he likes your blog.

2. The name Hick is not the most flattering name, either. But, I wear it proudly.

3. Growing up in my little hick town, we didn't have any blacks that went to my schlived in my town. My parents, who also grew up in little hick towns with no blacks, taught me to be kind and friendly to everyone no matter what they looked like. Everyone has something to offer from which I can learn. I find that little piece of advice works pretty much every time it's tried.

4. The war that you speak of (Civil War? War Between the States?) was bad the first time around, therefore I won't enter into that conversation.

5. I also like to live by the rule that says: Just because I can, doesn't mean I should. I defend anyone's right to say most anything he wants and he should not fear that the government will go after him, but just because one can say hurtful or hateful things, doesn't necessarily mean he should.

Hick said...

"schlived"? What's up with that? I meant to say that there were no blacks living in my town.

Anonymous said...

I struggle often with my identity---like what the heck is the quality of Southern-ness, and who gets to define it?

I, too, am a several-generations Florida native, and when I was growing up (in Georgia), "cracker" was an epithet. Whatever! Seems like people just need someone to look down on.

Floridacracker said...

A vastly different experience growing up, but good advice. Thank you.

How true. Cracker does cut both ways...I remember my dad responding to someone who had called him a cracker, "Smile when you say that". I was a kid, but I could tell he was serious.