When I first started writing personal essays and memoir, I never thought I’d spend so much time writing about race or, more specifically, that I’d be forced to deal with the constant, low hum of of racism and racial commentary that runs through the stories of my family.
I wasn’t naive. I certainly expected to deal with my family’s issues with race in the historical chapters — scenes that marked my mother’s and her siblings’ coming of age in the 50’s and 60’s and of my growing up in the early 70’s — in a part of the country that looks to be central on the U.S. map but considers itself just as much a part of the south as Alabama or Mississippi, at least from my family’s vantage point. What I did not anticipate was how this hateful and shameful thread of our story would not die with generations past.
I woke up this morning, this Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, to see that one of the young boys in my family has gotten himself a new tattoo, a confederate flag with the words ‘Southern Justice’ prominently displayed on his shoulder.
** The photo will not be posted here. **
I would like to say I was surprised, but it’s not the first flag I’ve seen in recent photographs of our next generation. I looked up the meaning of this particular design and read this: Common patterns which are used with the flag tattoo design include skull and crossbones over the top of the flag. The other variation is the use of word ‘rebel’ near the flag. A rather patriotic iconography has a bald eagle flying across the flag or over the top of the flag. Racist tattoos sporting this flag are those which use the words ‘Southern Justice’ on them with or without a noose.
Only after reading this did I look back at the darkened photo and notice the noose strung along the bottom. I am more naive than I thought. Back to work.