Discomfiting reaction to a documentary.

Tremaine Lee took us on a trip through the Confederate South in his documentary and afterwards Carolyn Randall Williams commented on the documentary. At many point I found myself taken unawares, finding in myself very White-oriented perceptions. Despite being married into an African-American family for 56 years, still, I was raised White working class in the North and then West.

One instance was a memorial plaque on a stump indicating that a slave auction block had been on that spot. Blacks in the town wanted it removed and the Whites thought it would serve as a reminder of a terrible past. That latter argument made sense to me, and even when Black townspeople talked about how it made them feel, I still had little reaction other than to think it could be better removed to a museum and a plaque placed in the ground on that spot. But Williams in particular couched it in very different terms, as a reminder of who had been and still is in charge and by reminding Blacks of who they had been. Lee described how kids jumped and played on the marker. Williams pointed out the lack of context. Lee said there was no fence or barrier; it just sat on a pleasant street in a busy, pleasant intersection.

Williams talked about the woman who compared the monuments and so forth to Dachau and Auschwitz that the Germans had kept as monuments to remind people of what should never happen again. Williams pointed out again all the context provided those sites in Germany.

And so on. Even the Confederate reenactor had my interest because 19th century warfare always fascinated me. I tried to explain to my wife how the Confederate soldiers sitting in our curio cabinet did not represent slavery to me when I was a kid. That’s just the problem, she responded. Yeah.

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