By Amalie Davidsen
What does Confederacy mean?
A few weeks ago I went to Manchester, Kentucky. I clearly remember driving through Maggie Valley, observing the beauty of the trees surrounding the road, passing me by while I was focused on driving in the thick fog.
Before I reached Tennessee, I had already given up on getting directions from the paper I had printed out from Google Maps, and was just praying my iPhone GPS would not let me down. When I passed the “Welcome to Kentucky” sign, I felt relieved.
Living in the South for three years has made me aware of Southern pride, which is very characteristic of this part of America, even in Asheville.
Sights of Confederate flags are fairly normal. They appear once in a while in different forms — attached to cars, worn as clothing, hung as flags. Even my downstairs neighbors have one hanging visible on their wall. I am not entirely sure why, but my heart always falls to the ground when I see it. There is something about its past of symbolizing oppression and superior power which scares me.
I have talked to a few people who take huge pride in the Confederacy and are not afraid of showing it. When I ask them why, they tell me it is solely a symbol of the “Great South,” as well as the patriotic importance of making America great again.
Then I get confused. If one supports America as a nation, then why pick the Confederate flag, a symbol of the goal to become separate from the USA, to represent patriotic America? How can it be a positive representation of the South if it symbolizes leaving America? I would argue against that hypothesis, but again, I did not grow up in the South.
There are many other representations of the South one can take pride in, but I do believe the traditional ties to the Confederacy have to be cut, because its past carries a history of brutality and murders of innocent individuals.
I have always been very quick to judge people who take pride in the Confederacy, and prior to my journey to Kentucky, I was very much afraid of people who do so. I am not sure; I believe it is because I felt like I could not identify with “proud white Southerners,” and their intimidating appearance, even though we share the same skin color and speak the same language.
After a long day exploring the rural parts of Kentucky with a consistent lack of mobile signal, I decided to find my way back to North Carolina. I had been driving for 20 minutes before pulling up to a Huddle House. My iPhone was nearly dead and I needed Wi-Fi in order to generate a route.
I felt like I had stepped back 50 years in time when I entered the restaurant.
A young black woman welcomed me, “How you doing, hun?” in a strong Southern accent. I placed myself at the bar, ordered coffee and plugged my phone into a lonely outlet. I took a look around. The set up was like all other Huddle Houses.
I took a glimpse at the other guests who were all white, elderly couples who had one or two pounds extra on the side bone. After observing the guests, the cook entered the open kitchen; a black man, he wore a T-shirt reading, “You cannot trust skinny cooks.”
He threw a couple of chicken tenders into the fryer while wiping sweat from his forehead with a small towel.
Shortly after, a majestic Harley Davidson bike pulled up. The bike had two Confederate flags attached to the back and Confederate flag stickers all around it.
A white man and woman got off the bike and entered the restaurant, both wearing American flag headbands. They both appeared very patriotic. They sat down and shortly after, the waitress took their order.
Before they even entered I had already made a generalized and stereotypical assumption of who they were. Honestly, I was curious of how the chemistry and conversation with the black waitress and cook would develop.
No racial tensions, which I somewhat had expected, occurred. Instead, the cook was joking with the man of the couple while personally taking his second order. I do not know why I had assumed so, but I clearly had an idea the couple would be first class bigots toward anybody who is not white, Christian and American.
My fear toward the couple eased, and since no one else in the restaurant knew how to get to North Carolina, I approached the table where the couple was finishing up their bites. At first, the man looked at me suspiciously while he was fixing his bandana. His suspicious grimace turned into a gentle, friendly smile when I asked him if he knew how to get to North Carolina. He asked me to grab a seat at the table where plates were stacked up after their meal, and pulled up his phone. In a very thick, southern accent he told me how I would make it home safely.
Afterward, I asked him if he had been in North Carolina, and he told me stories of how he has traveled through the South on his bike. We had a long conversation, until his wife reminded him to move on with their day and we separated.
So what does the Confederacy mean?
I am still not sure. My interaction with the white couple proved my generalization wrong in this instance.
Still, I do not, and doubt I would ever think the Confederacy could be a positive symbol of the South. Though, I have to admit my solo trip to Kentucky made me realize one should not generalize and human interaction and conversation is important.
I am not an expert on either the history of the South, but I do think it is important to discuss the appearance of the Confederate symbols.