Bless your heart … really

BY ANDREW TAYLOR-TROUTMAN, Columnist
Posted 7/3/20

There have been summer days so humid that it seems like I have to swim to the mailbox in the evening. Recently, I passed a neighbor walking her dog and — as I was raised to do here in the South — …

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Bless your heart … really

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Posted

There have been summer days so humid that it seems like I have to swim to the mailbox in the evening. Recently, I passed a neighbor walking her dog and — as I was raised to do here in the South — I greeted her with a comment about the weather: “Sure is a hot one.”

“Oh, yes!” she replied enthusiastically. “I just love the heat!”

Really? It was hot as all get out (as my grandmother would have said).

While the weather is a matter of opinion, we can agree that this summer has been full of the heat of protests regarding Confederate flags and statues. This caused me to think of another saying I learned back in the day: heritage, not hate.

My maternal grandmother came from a large farm family in Granville County. As the older generation of great-aunts and uncles passed away, I would attend the funerals in the little Baptist Church with my parents.

But the real event was after the service. The elders gathered in the cemetery and shared stories. I made sure to stay within earshot.

Stories are some of the best prayers.

My favorite family story involved my great-great-grandmother chasing none other than Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman off her dirt yard … with a broomstick!

Really?!?!

As an adult, I’ve come to doubt the historical accuracy of that tale. Yet, the lesson remains as clear to me now as when I was a child: When the going gets tough, the tough get goin’! That story about my great-great-grandmother, though historically dubious, is part of my heritage. One day, I hope to pass the larger truth of it along to my children.

And I want to teach my children the whole story about the history of the Confederacy. Not only our family’s personal involvement. My children need to know that Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy, was crystal clear that the South went to a battle to preserve both an economic system and a way of life — slavery. The South fought for the right to own human beings based on the color of their skin.

In terms of the statues, my children need to know that the vast majority of Confederate statues were erected in the early 20th century — decades after the Civil War. The main point was not to mark the past but to terrorize and to traumatize the Black community. Such hate is as inseparable from the heritage as the humidity in the summer air.

As my friend from Alabama told me, one can argue that one’s ancestors went to battle for individual reasons. But the larger truth is that the South fought to maintain slavery. This is like the fact that there’s humidity in the air whether you see it or not. Or, whether you’re shielded from it or not.

I’ve come to think of the “heritage, not hate” argument in this way: How many people who say they “love the heat” go home and relax in the air conditioning?

As a white person, I have the ability to be selective about Southern history. I could focus only upon my personal history. Black people do not have that luxury. They remember the heat of persecution from slavery and segregation. Therefore, all symbols of the Confederacy should be restricted to private museums — places you can choose to patronize. Or not.

I recognize that removing certain statues does not make peace and justice a sudden reality in our society. But our public spaces should be free of divisive symbols in the name of a larger truth: Love thy neighbor. I think that love commandment — which is found in religions and cultures across history and around the world — is the larger truth taught at my family’s Baptist Church and many others across the South. The story of love is the best prayer.

To put it another way, we should teach our children to say “bless your heart” — and really mean it.

Andrew Taylor-Troutman is the pastor of Chapel in the Pines Presbyterian Church and author of “Gently Between the Words: Essays and Poems.” He is currently working from home with his wife and three children.

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