I love North Carolina. I love how it feels to be outside in autumn. I love seeing deer running in the woods near my childhood home. I love the darkness of the night sky contrasted by the brightness of the stars when you get out to the rural areas and the coast. I love the caramel leaves from my memories of playing with Caramel, my family’s dog, in our backyard.
Those things are not all uniquely North Carolinian. They are not even uniquely Southern. Deer live in the North. You can see the sky really well in Colorado. Autumn in California is probably pretty nice. Caramel leaves cover the ground anywhere in the country where there are deciduous trees.
What is unique to North Carolina is that North Carolina, despite horrible laws, strong transphobia, historical connections to the Confederacy and low teacher pay (please pay my mother!), is my home.
I embrace North Carolina as my home. I have the privilege to love my home because I am white, cisgender, straight and raised Christian, so I was not oppressed by my home, the culture that raised me, the friends around me or the laws that protected me.
By virtue of loving my home, I love the South. I love the heat of Florida, the city of Atlanta, driving by the Peachoid in Gaffney, South Carolina, and the memories of visiting my great-grandfather at his home in Oklahoma.
However, I do not love the former Confederate States of America. The Confederacy broke the United States because they felt their ownership and abuse of other humans was threatened by Abraham Lincoln. They started the Civil War over slavery, not states’ rights as taught in Texas schools.
We who love the South must separate our love of the South from symbols of the Confederacy. The Confederacy should not be praised sentimentally as a keystone of Southern pride because it is not. Things like respect, hospitality, kindness and good cooking are some of the keystones.
Symbols of the Confederacy do not fit in with Southern values because they are symbols of slavery, which directly contradicts our modern values of respect, hospitality and kindness to all.
The geographical and ancestral overlap between the South and the former Confederate States of America makes the task of separating Southern symbols from Confederate symbols non-obvious, but it is a vital task. We have to distinguish ourselves from that society that fought a war in defense of slavery.
Contemporaneously, a key symbol of the Confederacy are Confederate statues. Whether this Confederate symbol belongs in the symbology of the South has an easy answer: they were mostly built in the Jim Crow Era as a means of enforcing white supremacy, so they should not hold over into our modern Southern symbology.
Another common, modern symbol waved under the auspice of Southern pride is the Confederate battle flag. Its explicit connection to states that fought for slavery makes it a symbol of racism, so it too should not be waved, especially not in front of a state capital.
Now that Student Body President Jackie Gonzalez has put the word “Dixie” in the spotlight in her op-ed advocating that the term be removed from the NC State Alma Mater, we have another element of Southern symbology to discuss.
Dixie is a geographical term with hazy origins that clearly predate the Civil War. Wikipedia has an image of the Confederate flag as the headline image in the article on the word “Dixie”, but other historical sources do not mention the Confederacy explicitly in their articles on the term.
Dave Wilton, who holds a Ph.D. in medieval English literature and teaches writing at Texas A&M University, has a writeup on the word “dixie” containing no references to the Confederacy.
While I will not pretend to be an expert on language, and remain somewhat confused about the modern connotations with the word “Dixie,” its usage, while obscure, seems even now as neutral as saying “The South.”
I of course have no place to (nor do I) deny that for Gonzalez and others, mentions of the South, including in the form of “Dixie,” harken to strong feelings of oppression and discomfort. The South is a part of the United States of America, and by virtue of its history is oppressive to anyone who is not white, not cisgender, not male, not straight or not Christian.
There was no proper reconciliation after the Civil War to help the people of the United States reach a full, cultural understanding that people of color are people too, so we now have to confront head-on the residual wounds rather than staking meaningless claims as part of an ongoing culture war.
In the end, what matters more than whether Gonzalez is right about the word “Dixie” is that she is out to detoxify NC State of condemnable elements of Southern history, most prominent of all, the war fought in defense of slavery.
I admire this detoxification effort of hers, and it is what is important in all of this. She is a leader seeking to make NC State a place that always embraces diversity, and I thank her for her efforts on this front. I ask of everybody to do likewise by staying vigilant for ways to make NC State a more welcoming community for all.
Editor's Note: Carter Pape is a former Technician staff member.