Growing up in California, it never occurred to me that my heritage as a great-great-great-granddaughter of Stonewall Jackson was something to note or be proud of. I went to school and learned about the evils of the Civil War, and determined for myself at an early age that slavery was absolutely abhorrent. It took me years to realize that I never could, and never would truly understand how much my friends of color have to battle with racism every day of their lives, and just how much privilege I have in my life, not having to live in fear each time I walk outside of my house. My friends have patiently taught me to listen and be a supportive ally, which I try my best to do every day.
It wasn’t until I was in college that I realized that my heritage meant something to others, especially in the South. My first trip to the hometown of Stonewall Jackson in Lexington, Virginia for a family reunion was a shock when a bus full of tourists hopped off a bus and started taking pictures of the statue of Jackson and my family members. I learned to keep my mouth shut about my ancestry after a few experiences, where even in Spain an American acquaintance insisted on taking a photo with me to show off to all of his friends back home. I felt ashamed, and then embarrassed. How could I be related to someone who fought for the enslavement of people? What does it mean that some Americans still celebrate him as a war hero?
What violence happened in Charlottesville is not how I see my family, and not how I see myself. Before the elections this past November, I had hopes to see our country move forward and follow up a great black president with a great woman president. Now I am horrified as other families, like mine watch their ancestors’ likeness be used for hatred and violence, dragging our country in the backwards direction. I strongly believe that history should be preserved, but as a strong reminder of what not to do, driving us to push ourselves to look at how we can move as far from that grisly past as possible.
I feel that my family ties have implored me, as it has some of my cousins, to respond to the event that happened, which shocked and horrified me, from thousands of miles away. How can you justify the use of history to defend hatred, intolerance and violence?
The one thing I believe is that our country is not as divided as we fear. I am not the only descendant of the Confederate legacy, and not the only one who can barely watch the news in fear, watching destruction of our country. However, many of us are not speaking up which implies that we are accepting this intolerance. I will not comply and I will not allow the alt right to use my family’s identity for their purposes, and I encourage everyone to do the same. By speaking up we can show just how many Americans are against hatred and intolerance, and in solidarity we can stand against those who are trying to pull us down.