My History is Steeped in Racism, and I Didn’t Even Know It

They’re shutting down the high school I attended, and my high school peeps are posting all sorts of nostalgic comments to Facebook of wonderful times shared at a school whose mascot was the Rebel.

Yes, that was and still is the school mascot. But of COURSE there was no racism in being the Rebels…… right? Picture me rolling my eyes here.

In high school we sang “Sweet Home Alabama” while smoking pot and drinking beer on the top of Monte Sano Mountain. I played in the marching band, and once we played Dixie at a football game, to honor the memory of some important white dude that had died. The Stars and Bars flew at football games, especially when we played rival school Robert E. Lee (now shortened to Lee High School, whose mascot is the Generals) or Jeff Davis High School.

After high school I studied for a year at Tulane University in New Orleans. Tulane is named in honor of benefactor Paul Tulane, who was also the largest New Orleanean donor to the Confederacy during the Civil War.

Partying was more important than studying, but after a few years I decided it was time to go back to school. This time I enrolled at John C. Calhoun Community College, named after a South Carolina politician who supported slavery and helped lead the South toward secession.

Practically every town in the South has a street named after Martin Luther King Jr., but they also have a Jackson Street, a Calhoun Street, and a Forrest Street (where my maternal grandparents lived).

photo from
photo from

I’ve always been aware of the overt and covert racism of the South, but I’ve liked to think that despite all that, I’m a progressive person today. Yet it wasn’t until this weekend watching news coverage of the aftermath of the shooting in South Carolina that I truly became aware of how much of my world was, and still is, affected by racism and the Civil War.

Yes, I do know white people who use the N-word, but they now look around before they say it.

I see Rebel flags on car tags, belt buckles, used as curtains in some mobile homes, and flying from flag poles.

I drove by two Civil War memorials on Interstate 65 on a recent trip to Nashville.

This is up close and personal with the statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest that can be seen from I-65 in Nashville.  An appropriately scary look for the man who formed the KKK.
This is up close and personal with the statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest that can be seen from I-65 in Nashville. An appropriately scary look for the man who formed the KKK. (photo:

And I live in a region with lots of whites who are worried that their heritage is being trampled on. I’m trying to figure out what that’s supposed to mean. How can someone want an ancestor honored as a war hero for fighting against the US, while at the same time want to blow up every country in the Middle East because a few people from that region attacked the US?  It just doesn’t make sense.

So wax on about how wonderful your high school years were if you must, but don’t associate your youth with a racist symbol. It’s time for Butler and it’s rebels to go. And while you’re at it, change the name of Lee High too, and its’ mascot the generals. You ain’t fooling nobody. We all know who the general was.

24 thoughts on “My History is Steeped in Racism, and I Didn’t Even Know It

  1. This is a long road that we haven’t traveled nearly as far down as we sometimes like to tell ourselves we have. It’s easy to overlook the many small acts of racism that surround us and important to start calling them out and challenging them.

    1. It’s just a damn shame that it took this long and this horrific a tragedy to even get the conversation front and center. Down here when African Americans complained, they were listened to, but rarely heard.

  2. Thank you for speaks out. I grew up in a similar situation in the near-South (Texas). I’m now an attorney In the civil rights field. My family and in-laws wonder how I can be so liberaL. They forget I grew up I. The 60-70’s and there was a new wind blowing then….

    1. I wasn’t going to say anything, but on the Daily Show last night Jon, Jessica and Jordan made fun of how everyone made a big deal about Jon’s comments last Thursday, while ignoring the many African American voices that have been calling out for years, and I realized that we do all have to speak out.

  3. I was also reared during the 60’s when racism abounded and the Civil Right Act came into being. Racism still exists today and baby steps aren’t good enough. It’s time for us to put on our “big girl(and boy) panties” and face it. My nephew is black and the way he is treated is appalling compared to whites.

    1. If you don’t see it, you don’t realize it’s going on. For white people don’t have close ties to anyone who isn’t white, it’s easy to think that everything’s alright, or to not think at all.

      I confess that I learned about John Calhoun last night watching the Nightly Show. I went to a damn college named after the man, and didn’t know what he stood for. That’s sad.

  4. A close friend of mine who’s from Alabama and openly gay got annoyed several years ago when I mocked the people who dress up in Civil War attire and wave the Confederate rebel flag; claiming I was “making fun of my heritage.” I flatly told him that it wasn’t much of a heritage. That was after he noticed that a grade school in Dallas was recently named after César Chávez, wondering if they “teach tomato picking and yard cutting.” We were in my truck, when he said that, and I literally stopped in the middle of a busy thoroughfare and asked him, “What the f*** is that supposed to mean?!”

    Black slavery was NOT a work-in-exchange-for-food-and-shelter type of agreement, as some neoconservatives are claiming. And the Indian genocide really was that bad. We can’t change history, but we can look at it from the viewpoint of a more civilized society and uncover what truths need to be told.

  5. I uncovered covert racism in my home town in New Jersey. My best frend from elementary school there is Black. No one told me Jews and Blacks were not supposed to be best friends. Oh, the horrors! Two six-year-old girls, whose birthdays are less than two weeks apart, upending the social fabric of a supposedly liberal town! But it never occurred to me to NOT be friends with someone who was kind and helpful and laughed at the same cartoons I did. Almost forty years later, Patty and I are still friends. I’m determined to write that stage play for her to star in, just like I promised in first grade. And she knows it! 🙂

    Debby H.
    aka The Boca Deb

    1. Makes sense to me! I know in my case, I had friends who were of different races/cultures than me, but the overt racism in my family created doubt in my mind and it harmed our friendships.

  6. Sadly, we are still working on getting the “redskins” mascots changed.. but wouldn’t it be nice if this did actually change something.

  7. i understand your thinking, but you can’t beat yourself up for a way of life from 50 years ago. I grew up in NYC and wasn’t aware of the racism. My schools were integrated. I became aware of it when my family drove from NY to Miami during Christmases. I remember going to the bathroom and when I came out I saw the For Colored sign. i saw it on the water fountains also. I just went to the ladies room and to this day don’t know whether it was For White or For Colored. I didn’t know the difference.

    I did feel the anti-Semitism, particularly on Long Island. During the summers we took a cabana at a beach club on Long Beach, Long Island. There were signs near the entrances that said: No Dogs No Jews in that order. There were clubs that accepted us and we went there.

  8. I grew up north of Chicago and I didn’t pay attention to it at the time but my high school was surprisingly colorblind. The school was mostly white and hispanic in 1977 with only a couple of black students who, as far as I knew, were well liked.

  9. Excellent commentary. The shooting deaths in South Carolina have, hopefully, raised our nation’s consciousness about how they treat those who are not like the majority. I hope their efforts result in a positive shift in attitude and behavior across the nation.

    As a side note, the high school I attended in Central New York also had the nickname “Rebels” and that was my nickname from some friends as well. The name did not have an association with the Confederacy … or the South. I think it was more in tune with the times of James Dean’s “Rebel Without a Cause.”

  10. Do you read If not, check out his latest. Racism continues to be embedded in our societies. It’s better than it was, but any complacency is misplaced.

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