In 2nd grade, I developed an obsession with Gone with the Wind. I don’t remember the first time I saw the movie, but I do remember watching it compulsively. I could recite every dress Scarlett wore in the order she wore them. I knew all the details of her life and started collecting Gone with the Wind memorabilia.
I dressed up as Scarlett for Halloween. I named the little gerbil I received for Christmas Prissy, an incredibly embarrassing personal factoid I have only told a handful of people up until this post.
In high school, I finally read the book. I remember loving the novel even more than the movie and reading the 1000+ pages in a couple of days.
What I don’t remember at any point during my love affair with Gone with the Wind was racism.
I am a white female and the only perspective that mattered was that of the white female heroine, followed closely by her white male love interest. It never occurred to me that slavery was more than a historical backdrop. I never wondered how Mammy or Pork or Prissy felt. I never questioned the revision of Confederate motives.
To my young white Southern mind, the antebellum South was exactly as the opening text describes it “a pretty world” that was to be glamorized and remembered as something beautiful that was gone forever.
Only in college did I begin to see Gone with the Wind with more critical eyes. My college has a complicated relationship with the Civil War and its history, but it was there I first learned about The Wind Done Gone and began to fully understand for the first time that Margaret Mitchell’s depiction of the antebellum South was neither accurate nor instructive in any real way.
I learned that Gone with the Wind was racist. I learned that writing about beautiful dresses and a passionate love affair can’t hide the whitewashing of slavery and the devastation slavery itself caused.
And yet, I am ashamed to say – even after realizing all of this – I kept Gone with the Wind. I kept my dolls and my coffee mugs. I kept a small model of Tara on my bookshelf.
In truth, Gone with the Wind had become more than the text and film to me. It represented a piece of my childhood. It held as a bond between me and the female members of my family. In particular, a beloved family friend had given me pieces of her own collection. I love this woman and I would never do anything to hurt her. How can I look at her and tell her something that brings her joy – something that used to bring me joy – only brings me shame?
However, after the deaths in Charleston and the surrounding discussion of Confederate symbols, I’ve decided saying goodbye to Gone with the Wind is a very small – but important – thing I can do.
I have heard the arguments for maintaining Confederate symbols. I know people see it as a part of history and no one is arguing that history is unimportant. However, the careful study and understanding of history is very different than the glamorization of our painful past. We don’t need Gone with the Wind or the Confederate flag to remember that the Civil War happened. Enough ink has been spilled on that period in our history to fill the Mississippi and anyone truly arguing that we’re at risk of forgetting hasn’t ever googled “The Civil War” and gotten 214,000,000 search results.
Conversely, the other argument I hear is that removing Confederate symbols is so small it won’t matter. Is taking down the Confederate flag or getting rid of Gone with the Wind memorabilia really going to make a difference to race relations in this country?
To that I say, it’s worth a shot.
Gone with the Wind was special to me at one time. However, it’s just not WORTH it. It’s not worth holding on to something – no matter how much pride or happiness or fondness it might still evoke – if it hurts other people.
For too long, we have ignored the gaping wound that slavery left in this country. We turned the other way as gangrene set in and the infection spread. The fact that it took the slaying of nine innocent black people in a church for us to finally decide to take down a flag that has symbolized nothing but pain and oppression to FORTY FOUR MILLION Americans for 150 years is depressing.
However, the state of race relations in this country is so bad that any movement at all is cause for hope.
We have to start somewhere. We have to start saying we’re sorry for the pain our ancestors caused. We have to acknowledge that our own privilege was built on the backs of other’s oppression.
As an eighth generation Kentuckian, my history is important to me. However, I have found that acknowledging the truth of that history – including the fact that my ancestors were slave owners and Confederates and deeply flawed human beings alive during a dark period in our past – is more empowering than any trite speech falling out Scarlett O’Hara’s mouth.
We have to let go of the past in order to step forward into the future.
As a mother, the future is now my focus. I’m not merely raising Kentuckians or Southerners. My three sons are Americans and I want them to grow up in a thriving forward-looking country that makes room at the table for everyone. That can’t happen if the table is buckling under the weight of old symbols and prejudices.
It’s time. It’s PAST time to say goodbye to these symbols. There is nothing disrespectful about burying something long dead so that something better can grow in its place.
So, I’m saying goodbye to Scarlett and all she symbolizes. I will not show my children the movie. The book and memorabilia are gone from my home. I’m saying sorry to those who were hurt by that story and the praise it has received. I’m apologizing for my own ignorance and pledging to do better and teach my children to do better.
It’s not enough but it’s a start.