Guilt v. Responsiblity

A man in Alaska has filed suit alleging that the Fourteenth Amendment does not carry with it the right to hold public office. This particular frivolous lawsuit not only infuriates me, but concerns me.  Not that there is a bigot out there willing to allege that Barack Obama cannot be president because of his race, but that said crazy felt comfortable enough in the current sociopolitical environment to file suit challenging his candidacy. Not only that, but if you read through the complaint, there have been attempts in states other than Alaska to keep Obama off the ballot.

I am not going to say that this man is representative of conservatives, or even the Republican Party.  But if you read the document, he is also a birther, and those crazies are more thick on the ground than one would think in a rational society.

These people drive me nuts.  Racists in general do, because of my background.

I am a child of privilege in many ways.  Not only in the way that white people in general are privileged, but in a more particular way that those of us who are white Southerners and who have roots reaching back to the antebellum period have.  A lot of my ancestors owned slaves, including one who was a plantation owner in Greene County, Georgia*, and who owned more than one hundred and thirty slaves.  (A horrifying number of those were children and teens. )

I have no guilt about the actions of my forebears.  I have not been a slave owner.  I have not supported slavery.  I have not longed for the return of the antebellum South and the plantation.

I am not guilty. But I am responsible. Although often used interchangeably, the two are not the same.

As a descendant of slaveholders, and one whose family has been shaped by the institution of slavery, I have a responsibility to support in whatever way I can efforts to overcome the lasting effects of that evil system. I say “support,” because it is unfortunately not my fight per se; I can only give whatever aid I can and speak the truth as I see it. And in that truth I have to defer to others who, sadly, have more direct experience with the lingering shadows of slavery and Jim Crow.**

The Bible says that the sins of the fathers shall be visited upon the children to the third generation.  I think that is right, although I think that that obligation extends even further.  The wealth of my great-great-great-grandfather allowed my family to continue in the form it took, and I am a product of that wealth, even if only distantly.

Don’t misread me: I am no hero here.  I would not for one minute have you think that I would represent myself as such.  I am just fulfilling a duty that has been left for me.  If I am guilty of anything, it is that I have not done enough.

My forebears did evil.  To the extent can, I feel morally compelled to support the correction of that evil.

*Oddly enough, this was not from the Greene side, but from my mom’s side.  My dad’s side is no cleaner, however.
**This also broadens into a moral requirement to support those of other ethnicities who were not subject to slavery but who have experience of bigotry in America.  Quite frankly, I fail to see how anyone with a knowledge of U.S. History can feel otherwise.

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2 Responses to Guilt v. Responsiblity

  1. Pingback: Owning my privilege. | The Wild Winds of Fortune

  2. Pingback: A white woman looks at Selma. For what it’s worth. | The Wild Winds of Fortune

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