POETRY + 10

sojourner-truth---abolitionist-and-feminist.jpg
Sojourner Truth

A friend has posted news of a Texas charter middle school that asked students to brainstorm a “balanced” list of the pros and cons of slavery. This is what is meant by “false equivalency”. All I can think of on the pro side? I am not on that side. On the con side, slave owners sacrificed their souls. On the con side is a lengthy list. There is no balance possible, it is a demented assignment.

April is National Poetry Month, and my students and I have been stealing 20-minutes out of our class to write bad poem drafts. They are only bad because they are so young. (The poems, not the poets.) Twenty minutes might get something started, but after we complete several such drafts we will revise just one. Maybe that one will break our hearts.

This is also Confederate History Month in five U.S. states. (There used to be six.) I refuse to go look up which ones still celebrate the most deadly conflict in the history of my country, and I do not want to guess. I can only assume that the legislators of these states have so little to be proud of now that they must perpetuate a fictional glory in the past.

Why is this a problem? Let me count the ways.

  1. The Constitution was ratified over a four year period. Delaware was first in 1787. Southern states ratified in 1788, except for North Carolina in 1789, the year before Rhode Island, which was last in 1790.
  2. Southerners were notable authors of our Constitution, and states’ ratification means each state agreed to the terms outlined therein.
  3. The Constitution of the United States makes no provision for state succession.
  4. The most notable feature of the Confederacy was its support of slavery. (Seriously, if you didn’t learn that in school, consider that the textbook that taught you about the Civil War was produced by white apologists in Texas, not people with actual history foremost in the sights. When I was a girl, the books still insisted on calling it “The War Between the States.” My father would roll his eyes, take a deep breath, and correct what they were teaching me in school. I am sorry he was not there to do that for you.)
  5. The Confederacy was in open rebellion against our nation—treason anyone?
  6. Men from my husband’s family, like so many, fought on opposing sides.
  7. The south lost.
  8. Why not Civil War Month?
  9. I am so heartily sick of hearing about how monuments to southern generals need to remain standing in order that we not forget our past.
  10. Remind me, what past are we trying to remember?

My husband and I each have relatives who fought with the South in that war. We imagine they were honorable men and believed in their cause. We also accept that they were wrong, terribly wrong in that choice. However badly the North behaved after the war, they did win it. And slavery, well, there is no supporting a government determined to preserve a bald, unwarrantable usurpation of human rights, and long after most of the Western world was busy outlawing the practice.

It is a paradox for us, of course, but not really a challenging one. We can both feel interest and connection to our past, and yet recognize the abomination of the system they struggled to uphold. We feel no guilt for slavery. We were not born then. No one we have ever met was alive then. our personal identities are reliant on our own actions, not the actions of relatives who are mere photograph and documents. There is no need to belabor one of the uglier passages of our nations’ and families’ history.

It’s called letting things go.

Go write a poem. Consider the words, the verbs and intentions; couch ideas in concrete images. We are a proud country, but what should we be most proud of? Surely not open family discord, bomb blasts, and butchery. Choose something that saved lives, choose what preserved natural landscape. Hold out a hand and pull someone out of despair.

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