There’s a topic that popped into my head one day while doing my usual “talking to myself” shtick. This time, what came out turned into a rather heated rant revolving around a specific, unaddressed, unacknowledged … actually denied cultural wound. It’s a long standing wound and by this point in time it’s gangrenous and has caused a great deal of harm. It is long past time that someone, somewhere, give this wound a voice. Not to vent or spew poison — but rather with the intention of healing.
Those who’ve read this blog know of my work with familial wounding, and through that alchemizing process I hit upon some pretty nasty cultural wounds which go beyond my family. Most of them are gender related, but not this one. See, a cultural wound affects everyone to some degree who identifies with that particular culture. As to just what a “cultural wound” is, I shall you point you once again to the brilliant work of Robert Ohotto.
In this case, I’m talking about the wounded Southern cultural ego.
What is that wound? Well, it actually revolves around the Civil War and specifically the aftermath. My mom is a huge Civil War buff and I spent my childhood eventually visiting every single major battlefield with the exceptions of Antietam and Shiloh. I’ve been to every major surviving plantation home, from presidents (Hermitage, Monticello, etc) to families (Shirley, Bel Meade, etc). I was steeped in a strongly Confederate-leaning upbringing, and with that I am also very socially liberal. I see no conflict between individual sovereignty and social equality – in fact, they go hand-in-hand.
Despite all this exposure, I always thought “that was over 100 years ago; the issues are long dead”. Then I attended the 150th Battle of Gettysburg re-enactment. The final event was Pickett’s Charge. The two sides then stopped to face each other – Yankee and Confederate. Women walked between the lines carrying wreaths in honor of all the Americans who died during that battle. Then the two sides were supposed to come together and shake hands. What literally blew me away and hit me to my core was watching just how many of the re-enactors turned their backs and walked away … on both sides. The expressions of the men who chose this action were all different levels of furious. It was in that moment that I truly realized … “It’s not over. Not by a long shot.” I then remembered catching my mom once in a rant against Sherman and what an evil bastard he is. IS. She was on a roll, angry and impassioned, and speaking entirely in present tense. Truly, it’s not over for the cultural psyche if those who are plugged into it speak in present terms.
The wounds inflicted in that war were triaged somewhat, then picked at and picked at and picked at before being left to fester. The Reconstruction era was a dark chapter that doesn’t get talked about much, indeed it’s typically glossed over as if “and then we rebuilt yay! koombayah” No. My mom always said that the absolute worst thing that happened to the South other than the war itself was Lincoln’s assassination. Knowing history as I do now, I agree with her completely. My great-grandparents lived in a home built in the 1840s and expanded in the late-1860s and it included traps specifically to defend against Carpetbaggers. That blew me away when I was shown the cubby holes where the family would hide when the looters came. Or the trap door which allowed defenders to drop down on top of anyone at the front door. “Reconstruction” was roughly 40 years of deliberate abuse aimed at punishing the culture which dared to defy the powers that be, and part of that abuse was ensuring blame got heaped aplenty. Scapegoat anyone? Here’s what it goes like:
*cue the music* The North was the righteous hero who fought for the moral cause and won. They were innocent of any wrong doing. It was those ill-bred, dirty uneducated Southerners who fought to keep slaves. They are bad people and it was all their fault.
*raised eyebrow* Really? How simplistic.
Do you honestly think that brothers would feel so strongly about whether or not rich people could buy other people that they would literally face off to kill each other? Especially for a single statement/issue. It was indeed a war that tore families apart, with the whole “brother against brother” and “father against son” being LITERAL. Not figurative. Literal. And you want to convince me that brothers were willing to kill their brothers over THAT issue? Hell, if you know anything about history you know that the institution of slavery was dying all on its own and rightly so. Rightly so! Hear that — rightly so, but if you think slavery is over then think again — “human trafficking” is just a PC term for “slave trading”. It’s not legally sanctioned here, but we sure do loose a lot of people to slave traders and I’m not about to church it up so we can pretend the gritty truth is less ugly than it is. *clears throat* My apologies for the digression.
So if the Southerners got all the blame for the war and had to accept the moral judgment to boot, what do you think this did? Bear in mind, there was pretty much not a single whole male left after that war, and by “whole” I mean that literally – as in “not missing body parts”. It’s eye opening to read the accounts of the hardships the women faced in that period because SOOOOO many men were missing hands, legs, feet, arms or were otherwise so scarred as to require operating at less than full capacity — if they came home at all. Being a largely agricultural economy at the time, this was beyond devastating. Then the carpetbaggers come in, aiming to pillage and loot the larger wealthy looking homes which were all the support many of these communities had left. There wasn’t much organized opposition to these bands of murderous robbers because … hello! Devastated to begin with. So, in the midst of this poverty hardship and pain, now start with the moralizing and judgments, the scapegoating and the blame throwing, and allow the poverty to go on and on and on. Anger goes somewhere, and who do you think is the unfortunate group to get shit on even more?
If you said the black community, you are indeed correct. Scapegoats for the scapegoats. The saying is “shit rolls downhill” and that definitely includes bearing cultural shadows. Let’s move forward a few decades, a century. The Civil Rights movement comes along, long overdue for sure. Voting rights for blacks. Equal access to amenities and services, education and jobs. HUZZAH! So the cultural wounding for the black Southerner is somewhat being addressed, but in the process now the white Southerner is once again being told “you are bad” and “you are evil” and “you are wrong”. That cultural archetype was angry and wounded to begin with! Let’s let this anger fester for another few generations, with the occasional violent flare-ups but otherwise unaddressed and unacknowledged as a legitimate wound. Now we’ll throw in a black President. I will admit that I was caught up in the “I hate him so virulently that I can’t look at him” emotionality. I actually had to stop and actively look at the “why” before I could unravel the rejection and see its source more than 150 years in the past. Then I was free of that crap and glad for it because that rage wasn’t mine as in me-personally – it was the voice of my cultural wounding. Alas, most people are not self-aware and so never once ask “why am I so unreasonably angry about this??” So after this presidential episode let’s trot out the white guy who says all the “right things” to a group who by now is caught firmly in the activation of a flamingly infected cultural wound.
Given all this, it now makes absolute sense to me where “this” is coming from. Where all the vile rage that I’m hearing pouring from the mouths of people I call friends but I know, KNOW are good people who wouldn’t even think such things on their own. Aaaah, yes. I see. I understand. I empathize. Now it’s time to heal.
So what happens now? Well, firstly, recognition. The number of people who actually deny that white Southerners have a wound or deserve to have their wounding validated is staggering. Another manifestation of cultural wounding! There’s plenty to go around! And do you know what? Saying “the wounds suffered by the white Southerners deserve to be recognized” does NOT NOT NOT NOT NOT in any way take away, negate or diminish the wounds suffered by the black Southerners. Remember I said that shit rolls downhill? Energetically speaking, the lowest tier is trying to rise up and throw their own shit plus the projected shit they’ve been carrying which is NOT theirs onto another group, and that other group is rejecting the attempt. I tend to think of societies as interconnected pieces, and if we want to heal one part we have to also heal another as well. That means acknowledging the wounds that are present … without judgment.
This is just as true of the cultural wound inflicted on the Native Americans! As I said, there’s plenty of wounding to go around and acknowledging one group’s wound does not diminish the impact of another group’s wound. I’m not Native, I’m not plugged into the Yankee cultural psyche, etc. But I can still see where the wounds they are dealing with are just as invasive, painful and damaging. It’s not a competition.
I actually think that right now our many and sundry cultural wounds are tap dancing down the center of the street practically begging us to be adult enough to own them. Just look at Trump having even the slightest degree of political success, then toss in the Black Lives Matter movement, the amazing cooperation and unity of the Native Peoples in their fight for control of their land, then the governmental responses across the board to this, and then the women’s march is a cherry on top. Holy shit balls, Batman! Something is energetically afoot and if we as a people don’t stop and ask ourselves “whaaaa?” then we’re going to be in even more trouble. This shit is coming up for a reason. We are being asked to own it and then alchemize it – turn it from led into gold. Heal the many wounds and move through them. Not past them, through them. Each of these groups and cultures has the right to be angry about the wounds suffered. It’s ok to be angry – but it’s the disempowered victim that demands everybody apologize and grovel and cater. Don’t be ‘that guy’. Be adult enough to ask what is your personal relationship to your cultural inheritance (whatever your personal one is) and what can you do to ease the suffering?
About the featured image: from the 1981 movie “Heavy Metal”. It’s my answer to the question of: “what happens if we refuse to question the wounds that we carry?”