Conversations With a Yankee

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My
new neighbor, whose house is the only one nearby with columns, is
one of those chatty types: the u2018let's-do-lunch' friendly Yankee
who is happy to live in the South as long as he can make money and
toss out his two cents worth of advice for nudging it toward becoming
less culturally Southern. Like the vast majority of such people,
he is incapable of imagining that his counsel concerning the path
of Progress could reflect anything save enlightened altruism. Lose
that hillbilly accent, he said he tells the aspiring managers under
him, for it tells everybody you are ignorant or racist or both.
And if you don't do anything about it, it's your own fault.

His
name is Richard Daley u2018Biff' Grobnick. He claims to be the great-grand-nephew
(or some distant cousin; even a century ago Yankees tended to be
fuzzy on family relationships) of the late Chicago mayor. He also
claims to be the grandson of the cousin (again, he doesn't know
from first to fifth cousin) of Slats Grobnick: the average Joe who
provided the late Mike Royko with pantries full of food for thought.
A limousine liberal Grobnick is indeed a sight to behold.

I
reckon Biff takes every opportunity to talk openly to me across
the monkey grass because he knows I have a PhD in English. That
and because he is trying to figure out if I don't have a u2018service'
(as the fashionable now say) mow the yard, trim the bushes, and
plant flowers because I don't have the money (which I don't) or
because I am so uncultured as to prefer wild flowers and shaggy
growth that shelters wildlife over Yuppie yarding (which I do).

My
college English professors were the most tolerant of diversity,
Biff tells me, his face aglow. They opened my eyes to the beauty
and equal goodness of cultures. I guess, he adds, now that some
of you people are getting educated, you'll lead the rest away from
all that redneck stuff, like those backward tugging memories and
racist Confederate soldier statues and flags. We can't mold a society,
he opines, his face reflecting true suffering from empathy with
injustice, that honors all cultures while we have that flag reminding
people of the original and unpardonable sin of Southern slavery.

Well,
I say in as tv-sounding a voice as I can muster, the Confederate
Battle Flag is a modification of the Scottish flag, the St. Andrew's
Cross. It represents an ethnicity as well as a militarily defeated
nation of confederated sovereign states; thus the Confederate Battle
Flag represents a cultural heritage.

I
don't tell him it also represents the traditions of orthodox Christian
belief and practice. Biff earlier had told me he found it offensive
that pushy Christians flaunted their beliefs and symbols and seemed
to be less wary of doing so in the South. I'm a Democrat, Biff had
said, and I'm all for government saving us from religious tyranny.
When I lived in New York City, I hated hearing news about Cardinal
O'Connor telling politicians it was wrong to vote government support
for late term abortions or gay marriages. Clergymen need to mind
separation of church and state, Biff said with wagging right forefinger.
They have no business meddling in public morals.

Scotch,
Biff exclaims. That's it. I was in London a couple years ago doing
business, you know. And I'm proud to call myself a WASP, let me
tell you. The English are responsible for rule of law and freedom
rather than of barbaric rule of might, and because the good ole
USA is a nation created by the ideas of the Constitution, we all
are WASPs when we accept that. And all those amendments and Supreme
Court rulings, of course.

That
explains a great deal, I say.

Anyways,
Biff continues, while in London I spent a lot of time with a man
named Dutch Thoston. Fine English businessman. He's related to Margaret
Thatcher somehow and went to school with Tony Blair. Well, he went
on about all that devolution stuff in the United Kingdom. Said if
it wasn't for government centralized in London, all kinds of injustice
would've prevailed and nothing would've been accomplished. Said
without government centralization in the hands of Anglo-Saxons,
Northern Ireland would've been a hellish battleground. Said that
without the rule of Englishmen from London, the Scotch, Irish, and
Welsh would have exterminated themselves from famine and violence.
Said the Scotch demanding devolution were partly greedy to get that
North Sea oil and gas and partly childish haters of the traditions
of the superior English culture that breeds peace and in no small
part racism.

Racism,
I query, uncertain about both grammar and the intended meaning of
those last assertions. English culture breeding peace imposed at
gunpoint and racism following the conquering sounds rather like
an update of some ancient Celtic assessment of the self-proclaimed
Pax Romana.

Yeah,
Biff responds. Dutch said some Scotch really hate monarchy in principle
but others are just racists. They would love a Scotch king, but
being racists they won't accept an English king of mostly German
blood. And they don't like being ruled by an English controlled
democracy either.

I
see, I add.

Yep,
plain as the nose on your face, Biff says. If the Scotch are that
prejudiced against other whites, and especially ones as cultured
as the English who've given civilization to so many around the world,
well, you can just imagine what they would be like toward black
people if they were allowed to rule themselves.

I
hadn't focused on that, I confess.

Well,
you should, Biff affirms. Without the English conquering the Scotch
and setting up a centralized government from London to rule them,
the Scotch might have become the world's worst racists. That's why
Braveheart is a racist movie.

That's
some cultural and political analysis, I acknowledge.

Well,
thank you, Biff says. I may not have a PhD, but I did graduate from
Northwestern and the Wharton School of Business, and the professors
taught us to think critically like this.

To
anticipate racism that needs to be corralled, I ask.

Yep,
Biff agrees. Racism is the world's biggest problem, and if to stop
it we have to conquer some people and take away their freedoms,
then it's for the good of world peace. And if to stop it inside
a country like ours we got to take local control away from racists
and allow non-racists in Washington DC to rule, that's a small price
to pay to end racism and promote equality of all and secure real
freedom.

I
see, I say.

Good,
Biff nods. The connection is plain. The Scotch had to be conquered
by the English and ruled from London to make the world safe for
democracy and freedom. And Scotch descendants in the South had to
be conquered by descendants of Anglo-Saxon Puritans from the North
to make America safe for democracy and freedom. He pauses. And I
bet you know it was for the best. The South losing the Civil War,
I mean.

How
so, I query.

He
grins, as if certain I am pulling his leg in that way favored by
hillbilly jesters in American popular culture and recent scholarship,
the twain twining tightly in these postmodernist times.

Can
you imagine the Southern poverty without Wall Street or those northern
industrialists? Or without all those Federal government programs?
Or who would've written anything to equal the Declaration of
Independence or those u2018Give me Liberty or Give Me Death' speeches.
The way Dutch described it, it was the same with the Scotch. You
let such go free, and they'll use their freedom to enslave others
or else just stay poor and force others to send money to save them
from starving. We owe it to the world to protect it from that kind
of trouble from violent, prejudiced people. That Confederate Battle
Flag, Biff says with a concerned visage, the St. Andrew thing if
you will, must be buried for the good of world peace and racial
harmony. Only a racist or ignorant redneck could defend it. We got
to stand up for the oppressed and the victims of prejudices.

Kind
of like England fighting World War I to assert and defend the rights
of small nations, I say.

Exactly,
Biff answers. If we want to do good, we must sacrifice. Can't make
an omelet without cracking a few eggs. Say, he asks suddenly, his
face showing concern, your name isn't Scotch is it?

No
it's not, I answer.

Whew,
Biff hisses. You said your family had been in the South for centuries,
and I just thought maybe you might be Scotch too and offended. Some
people are incapable of seeing or hearing the truth about their
own kind.

Sad,
aint it, I ask.

June
7, 2001

Jimmy
Cantrell [send him mail]
holds a PhD in English with a specialty in Southern fiction. In
an attempt to be found fit to teach in the tolerant and diverse
world of educratdom, he soon may label himself an albino African-American
considering sex change surgery and working to bring socialist justice
to all.

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