The Confederate States Constitution & Being in a Minority
September 4, 2017 -Steve Hays
Whether it puts you in a position where people make fun of you or hate you, being in a minority or being treated unfairly because you’re different is something this country has always said was the antithesis of why we joined as a nation.
If we aren’t living what we preach, however, maybe it’s good it’s becoming so obviously in need of another look that we can’t ignore its existence.
I read the other day that the first thing that the eyes see is light and dark—and color. There’s no getting it out of our minds, which then automatically relate what we see to past experiences.
Are we doomed or is it simply how perception works? The good news is most us have learned we can also get beyond our knee-jerk reactions, projections and fears—before we act. Being in a supportive environment helps.
In retrospect I think I’ve been lucky that I’ve been in the minority more than once. I went to Virginia schools beginning halfway through the third grade. We moved to Sioux City after the seventh grade. There were no African-Americans in our school or neighborhood. They were in another area of Arlington that I didn’t discover for several years.
Growing up as an Air Force brat, you got used to moving every few years. It introduced you to many different cultures and people. I think it prevented us from being too fixed in our ideas of how to do things.
When we lived off-base in Japan none of my friends spoke English, I adjusted. I was five and didn’t go to school the first year there. That was one of my most enjoyable periods of being in a minority. After starting the third grade in California then moving to Virginia, I discovered I was in the dumb or slow minority. I was so far behind in math all my recess time was spent working on it. Being made fun of for that was tough for me.
In Iowa people laughed at my you all’s that flowed out too easily. I transitioned to “you guys.” Going to ten schools to get through high school meant you often found yourself as the “new guy” under scrutiny.
Alaska introduced me to something new—scorn and hate. Playing basketball in the Air Force gym after school often meant I had the court to myself until the airmen got off work and came in to play pickup games. Then I became the only non-black on the court.
I was in the ninth grade then and about five feet tall—for me, a temporary minority. They were older, taller servicemen and wanted the court. I moved to a side basket and kept shooting, not even really thinking of joining them.
Then one day they were one guy short and someone asked if I’d join them. He obviously didn’t ask everyone else first. Some were very vocal about not needing “him” and I saw contempt, anger and hate.
But one guy said, “Let him play. Come on. Be on my team.” The same group didn’t play every day so similar scenarios played out more than once. I decided I enjoyed being in the game and there was always someone who welcomed me, fed me the ball, encouraged me to shoot and get into the game.
While there were times when some openly criticized me and said I shouldn’t be there, it always seemed to compel someone else to say something to balance it and welcome me in a “don’t worry about him” sort of way. It took only one person to include me, and eventually others did too and we became a team.
It’s now that I appreciate that experience more. I was given the opportunity to discover different areas of the country and know a little bit about being in a minority, from time to time, but, of course, know nothing about being black. Only what it’s like to be treated with kindness, as well as see hate in someone’s eyes—and that most often, acting and being human won the day.
As much as we’ve heard about racism lately I’m surprised we hear so much about monuments and so little about the Confederate Constitution. Going to school and living in Arlington, Virginia, right next to Washington, D.C., we knew monuments. Seemed like we’d read history and then go visit where it took place. I heard about Gen. Robert E. Lee.
What I haven’t seen much about is what’s in the constitution the Confederate states fought for. I wonder if people read it more would see what the fight was for and against.
Simply put, blacks were considered property and could be bought, sold and treated any way their owner felt appropriate. They had no rights at all. It also stated that part of the Constitution could never be changed or modified.
Only a few of us pretend that the US Constitution created the perfect society that everyone has lived up to ever since, but, given the times, the Constitution was inspired and visionary. More than declare the way things were, it set a goal and we’ve constantly moved the goal line and expected more of ourselves.
It’s good news that there have usually been people moving it toward including more people than the founders started with.
Through the years we’ve often—not always—moved in the direction of passing the ball to new people and inviting them to join. We’ve also often required that the new arrivals be labor hard until a new group of immigrants come.
When we interrupt that cycle because of race, religion or sex, we get stuck. We divide ourselves and lose the goal of being a place with liberty and justice for all. Our game is to ensure equal treatment under the law—not provide privilege and preferential treatment. That was the purpose we agreed on.
If those differences become political, that’s a different game—not one based on the principles Americans chose at the beginning.
Today we’re finding out what isn’t working. Will we find that it takes only one, or a few, to say, “of course, include everyone; join in”? When we are more inclusive, the game expands. We get better.
I wonder if people in the old South knew what their constitution said or if they were defending the only way they knew how to live?
Today we know the difference and modern communications show us when we don’t live up to our agreements. Having that in the open is not all bad. It means change. We have a good game plan.