On being called “racist” in the newspaper

June 26, 2015

In his letter to the editor
the professor makes good points about
how The South, if it ever was, is not
extant. And should never rise again.
Not even in my romantic heart.

Because I never picked any cotton
(though my momma did, and my daddy
died young; a-working for the Air Force),
and my career in tobacco was
cut short by my colorblindedness.
And the only blues I ever played
was ersatz, whiteboy, E-A-B stuff,
twelve bars below the Texas Street bridge.

Still I don’t think he meant to be rude;
to challenge the authenticity
of my experience or to say
that identity is just a mask
that may be slipped on or off at will.

He knows as well as I that there is
bigotry in the white trash blood
that laps in my breast and collects hot
in my pink ears whenever I am
called to task by the righteous victims
of pharoah’s unjust and merciless,
reckless and punishing hatefulness.

Some of my ancestors were busthead
imbibers, bad debtors and horse thieves.
Some of them were ignorant and mean.
And had I been of their time then
I probably would have been like them.

Yet might I respectfully submit
that the professor is incorrect;
Jack Cash was no apologist, sir.
Not for the louts and the deniers.
They silklynched him in Mexico,
for telling truths. Sure as Trotsky was
assassinated, they came for him
in their ghost hoods with tar and pitch.
Like Wolfe said, you can’t go home again.

I disagree with his contention
that Welty and O’Connor were “mere
sentimentalists “who sought to make
that South — which has never existed —
“more palatable“ to callow minds.
Should we just agree to disagree?

I never meant to suggest the world
is less cruel or brutish than it is
or that I could ever feel your pain
or guess at the hurt and shame you knew
and still know in your capacity
as the official arbiter of taste
and seemliness in matters of race
and whom may get into whose face.
So I offer this apology.

For every word you misunderstood,
and for every dumbass peckerwood
whoever mumbled “Fergit Hell“
or raised a rebel flag or rebel yell.
You look at me and see those boys?

Well, I do too and I am not proud
of what they do and what we’ve allowed.
But you do not know me, sir, at all.
Still you presume, and you pretend
I would not have you for a friend.
And I might not; for I hold grudges.
But it is history that judges.

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