Clinton, South Carolina, Wednesday, July 1, 2015, 1:30 p.m.
Times change, but the Constitution changes with them. That’s the way the Founders intended it. To some extent, we all wish things were the way they used to be.
Two nights ago, I was talking with a close friend, and we talked about how much more sensitive people have become. For instance, both of us grew up Washington Redskins fans. It never occurred to either of us that someone would consider the mascot offensive. We just figured that no one would name a team in order to insult anyone. The fact that the team had the name meant its fans meant no harm. They meant honor. It might not have been considered honor by others, but that was the intention.
The first time this ever affected me directly was in college. I was on an intramural basketball team, and we all had cheap cotton jerseys. The team was Redmen, and it wasn’t because we were all St. John’s fans (for that was then their nickname), and it didn’t have anything to do with American Indians. It was because a good many of us chewed tobacco. Our team was a veritable cornucopia of offense, but we didn’t mean it that way. We meant it as a joke, mainly a joke on us.
Furthermore, one of our players was of Italian descent. We all had nicknames above our numbers on the back. My number was “50,” and my nickname was “Tug,” which hardly anyone other than my father ever called me. It was all I had. My Italian teammate put “Wop” above his number.
Another American of Italian descent, who wasn’t on our team, told him he ought to be ashamed of it. It was a slur, he said. We went back to the sporting goods store and had the nickname changed.
To “Swopy,” which didn’t mean anything other than it was a name other than “Wop.”
It was the first time I ever heard of such a thing. I felt sorry for my teammate, but it made me realize that what was acceptable was based on whether or not someone was offended.
For instance, it was common when I was a boy — and, for that matter, now — for the term “redneck” to be used. Some take pride in being a “redneck.” It can be a term of either admiration or derision.
Not my father. He considered “redneck” a slur on farmers. Once I called someone a redneck in his presence, and he went crazy. I stopped doing it. If I had called someone a wop, dago, kike, slant-eye, jerry, kraut, polack, linthead, or wetback, he wouldn’t have said a word.
Maybe linthead. That was back when there was such a thing in the South as a cotton mill. People lived on “the mill hill,” which often wasn’t a hill at all, but my mother grew up in one textile neighborhood, and my father grew up on the border of another. Back then mills weren’t gigantic empty brick buildings with kudzu covering the walls. Back then, half the people I knew worked in them. In fact, some of my football teammates got through playing on Friday nights and drove straight to Joanna because that mill allowed them to work six-hour shifts on weekends. I went home to sleep and could barely get out of bed the next morning.
I’m not as sensitive. Perhaps I should be. I do, however, believe in principle, and I don’t think many do. I see a certain tyranny of both the left and the right. People get mad about everything. It’s their right. I think it’s just a consequence of a market that doesn’t have anything to do with money. If everyone felt the same way about the word “redneck” that my father did, civil people wouldn’t use it unless they were prepared to fight for the right to do so.
I am a Southerner who finds the Confederate flag offensive, but I also believe in freedom of expression. I believe people should keep their own houses in order before they go around demanding that everyone else do so. I think the country is damaged by two groups of people: (1.) those who take no responsibility for their actions, and (2.) those who have made up their minds on how to live and demand everyone else adopt the same rules.
I also grew up during the civil-rights movement, and its effect on me is underscored by the fact that my second novel, The Intangibles, is a tale of those years.
I watched a parade of run-down, white Cadillac convertibles roll through one of this town’s black neighborhoods flying Confederate flags, with “Dixie” blaring through speakers, and signs tacked up on telephone poles that read “KKK Watching Over You.” I have been threatened over the fact that my best friend in high school was black. It’s also true that most people, black and white alike, thought the Ku Klux Klan was nothing but riffraff, even then.
In the sixties and seventies, rebellious expression was everywhere: raised fists, black power, white power, flower power, peace symbols, sit-ins, smoke-outs, smoke-ins, swastikas, crosses of both the Christian and German persuasions, and even motorcycle helmets fashioned in the Nazi style. In the South, there must have been 10,000 billboards that read “Impeach Earl Warren.” He was then Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
If those times taught me anything, it was to believe that people have a right to be stupid. That is this country’s great unwritten freedom, the right to be stupid. Without it, truly, our civilization would grind to a halt. As Lincoln said, “Some of the people are stupid all of the time, all of the people are stupid some of the time, but not all of the people are stupid all of the time.”
It was Clyde “Short Stuff” Lincoln, from that Lincoln bunch that lived out Barrel Stave Road. My granddaddy said wudn’t none of ’em no ‘count.
I don’t know what’s going to happen in Daytona Beach this weekend, or in Darlington on Labor Day, or anywhere else, but if this was when I was growing up, attempting to ban the hoisting of the Confederate flag — by the way, I’ve noticed that saying “rebel flag” has also gone into disfavor, even though, for people who don’t consider it to have a racial connotation, that’s exactly what it is — would effectively make twice as many fly it.
That may not be true anymore. I hope it’s not. The world has changed since when I was but a lad.
When I began writing about NASCAR, rebel flags could be seen in the infields of tracks that weren’t in the South. In fact, I remember being amazed one Friday when I drove through rural Delaware and Maryland, en route to a Baltimore Orioles game, because, with NASCAR in the area, people away from the track, those who lived out in the country, put up rebel flags in front of their houses. I’m assuming they didn’t fly them year around, but I may be wrong. I’m also assuming they were symbols of general rebellion and nonconformity, not political specificity.
NASCAR officials first said they wouldn’t allow Confederate symbols to be sold on their property, which, I’m assuming, was already true. They said they supported efforts here in South Carolina to take down the aforementioned flag from the Confederate memorial at the Statehouse. I’d have left it at that.
If they had, there’s a good chance it would have died down.
It’s the same reason I have never understood why people who own businesses insist on making political statements. My dad used to like this short-order place in a nearby town, and when we were out looking at horses or cattle, or selling or delivering fertilizer, we’d stop by and have some fried chicken or a couple hot dogs. That place is still open, or was about ten years ago when, feeling nostalgic, I decided to stop in.
Just inside the door was a table full of general right-wing pamphlets. Little Confederate flags were on sale, and cheap gray Rebel caps, and T-shirts of the “Fergit, hell!” variety, but the fellow who owned the place also despised Bill Clinton, and I didn’t.
I wouldn’t eat there again if it sold the only hot dogs between here and Nevada. I’m sure that fellow doesn’t get much black business. Why alienate people who like hot dogs and fried chicken? You’re liable to keep alienating until there’s no one out there left.
The world is always going to have people who divide it into “them” and “us.” Black and white. Native and foreign. Rich and poor. Educated and ignorant. Smart and stupid. Urban, rural, and the suburbans who cut both ways.
Some of them load up the truck and move to Beverly. Swimming pools. Movie stars.
Live and let live. That’s what I say. That, and, please, pretty please, buy my books here: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1416767492&sr=8-1
Maybe then I can move to Beverly, though I’m satisfied I’ll always be gone to Carolina in my mind.