education, life

Living Among Confederates

“I see Confederates everyday,” I said to a friend last weekend. My two regulars are an unnamed artillery loader on my walk to work and a Revolutionary War Veteran who became a Confederate cavalry leader on my drive from my neighborhood to a main thoroughfare. I have not lived in Richmond, Virginia long enough to understand the complexities of maintaining or renovating Monument Avenue, but I avoid driving on that road because I don’t like being reminded that I live in a place where a significant portion of the population thinks the Confederate States of America is worth celebrating.

I stand for truth and reconciliation. It is true that many Confederates boldly risked their lives for a cause they believed in. It is also true that the legacy of their cause is that my ancestors and my contemporary peers have been discriminated against and treated as less than human. It is true that we live in a country where free speech means that painful words are allowed to be spoken. I did not know I would someday live 75 miles from Charlottesville, Virginia when I wrote this poem last year:

Our Differing Beliefs

You believe
this man is
a hero

I believe
his heroic actions
fought
for my ancestors
to stay slaves

You believe
this flag is
pride
and freedom

I believe
its bars
caged
my ancestors
when it waves
I think someone
wants me
to be a slave

The government believes
this memorial
causes pain
and you may
as I
defend your honor
with words
and signs
and footsteps
but not murder

I believe
all spilled blood
cries out to
the God of justice
Let our fear
and our dignity
keep each other’s blood
flowing in our veins

Krystal J. F. Grant, August 2017

Richmond skyline at sunset
seeing Richmond from Union Hill

For me, believing in reconciliation means agreeing with the message of anti-racist vandalism on Monument Avenue statues but recognizing that such actions create more anger than empathy. It means opening the semester by playing versions of “Black Is the Color of My True Love’s Hair” by Nina Simone and by Luciano Berio. It means meeting strangers with kindness and without assumptions about who their forefathers might have been. It means holding hands with my Scandinavian-American husband as we take a walk around the block after dinner. It means seeing myself in the upside-down flag of Sonya Clarke’s Ediface and Mortar at the Institute of Contemporary Art as someone who belongs here and can survive here, even though it sometimes feels grim.

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