mourning the loss of “the south”

In the past month, country groups Lady A(ntebellum) and The (Dixie) Chicks have revisited the names they’ve held for years in response to The Black Lives Matter movement and an increasing sensitivity towards racist behaviors. Splash Mountain, based on the long-forgotten and problematic film “Song of the South,” is rebranding. And Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede changed its name years ago after massive protests and upset. I understand why words like “antebellum” and “dixie” are problematic in the ways they celebrate a time period that no longer stands for what we, as Americans, want to represent. But a part of me is a little sad to see it all go, too.

These things hold a special place in my heart because, as a Northerner who always wanted to move South, they stood in direct contrast to what I grew up with and exemplified a world that I wanted to belong to. They were the things that shaped my southern taste – not in a way that glorified slavery or racist ideas – but in a way that romanticized a “simpler” and “slower” way of life. The “country” way. The “southern” way. I mean, there’s a reason we all love Southern Living Magazine, right? (Or wait – is it mostly white women who love SL? Because again, Houston, we have a problem…)

Lately, it feels like no part of our nation’s history is safe. I don’t know how to celebrate the 4th of July this year (let alone say “I’m proud to be an American”), knowing how much freedom many Americans still have yet to feel. I’m ashamed of our past. I’m sad we have to censor it we know it wasn’t right.

Taking plantation tours here in Franklin – even looking with a respectful kind of horror at the slave cabins that still remain – feels tainted and wrong.

Addy Walker, one of my favorite American Girl dolls, is no longer sold because she was the only black historical character and her story was rooted in enslavement, painting the picture that maybe that’s all black Americans have to offer to our history. (FALSE.)

Civil War battlefields and historical locations? These were natural additions to many of our family vacations growing up. The emphasis was always on how important this piece of the past was – not because it was violent – but because it brought an end to the darkest part of our American history, and as a white girl living in a nice suburban town in Ohio, I was apt to believe that this truly was the end of the inequality. Now, of course, I have no choice but to acknowledge how untrue that fairy tale ending was.

The truth is, I think I miss my innocence. I miss feeling pride for our country, our region, and our state. It’s not fair that I’ve spent nearly 30 years going about my life like everything’s fine, when so many black Americans have had to live their lives knowing that’s hardly the case.

I feel guilty reminiscing on those trips and attractions with fond memories. I mean, I truly loved my Addy doll. Maybe the sense of ownership is problematic, but I honored her story. She wasn’t just “a black doll” to me. Her books made me listen and believe in goodness and the power of hope. Splash Mountain – that big, thrilling drop – was always my favorite spot at Disney World. I cherished the down-home bluegrass sounds that echoed throughout that sector of the park and enjoyed the bullfrogs fishing and the strong southern accents that felt so far away from home. I’ve spent years adoring the classic cinematic elegance of Gone with the Wind, the sound of the word antebellum rolling off the tip of my tongue, the softness of the Build-a-Bear I named Dixie as an ode to the family memories I made at The Dixie Stampede.

I never meant anything wrong by any of it. I never intended to be a part of something that glorified a time I wanted to believe we had long moved past. But I see now where the problems lie. And I know in my heart that the South of today – the South that I inhabit – stands for much more than what it did 150 years ago. Or at least, I’m going to do my part to ensure that it does. I want to hold onto my memories with fondness, but I don’t want to hurt anyone by holding on too tight.

So I guess it’s time to move on, let the past be the past, and start pushing forward. America’s history may have a dark shadow cast over it, but its future – its humanity that is fighting for change and peace and true freedom – is bringing back the light.