Are Confederates in Your Attic?

Here’s an interesting question posed elsewhere today.  Are you entitled to celebrate Confederate heritage if you have no Confederates in the family tree?

It’s not my question, but it’s at the core of the question that’s been posed.  Can you talk about honoring ancestors if they aren’t your ancestors?  Can you construct a cultural identity that is not rooted in personal history?

After all, people with no Irish ancestry celebrate St. Patrick’s Day (although what that day had to do with Irish heritage is open to debate) and people with no Mexican ancestry celebrate Cinco de Mayo.  Open that door, however, and celebrating Confederate heritage becomes a simple excuse for drinking or other pursuits.

We can also discuss what “requirements” one needs to declare that they are a southerner and that they choose to honor southern heritage as their heritage.  That does not preclude celebrating other heritages, by the way, however defined.  Many Americans have complex family trees that create connections all over the place, and so someone may claim both German and Irish ancestry, for example.  Same goes for race, religion, and national origin (remember the days when lots of people claimed to be 1/64 Cherokee?).

Ponder the implications.  Who speaks for “the South”?  Who speaks for “southern heritage”?  Who speaks for “Confederate heritage”?  Are there any gatekeepers, and requirements, any prerequisites?

Yes, I understand this begs the question of what constitutes “southern heritage” and, indeed, “the South.”  That’s a question for another day, although one can easily imagine the relationship between defining the heritage to be celebrated and who is entitled to claim it.  I happen to think, for example, that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who was assassinated today in 1968, is as much a part of southern heritage as Robert E. Lee.  I happen to think that George H. Thomas is as much a part of southern heritage as Nathan Bedford Forrest.  I happen to think that Julia Dent Grant is as much a part of southern heritage as Jefferson Davis.

I’m sure someone will declare that to see things this way constitutes “lumping,” but they can lump it.