"Mammy's revenge" and "Cut the flap"

Readers respond to Laura Miller's essay on the myths of the South and Charles Taylor's critique of book flap copy.

Published May 4, 2001 8:48PM (EDT)

Read "Mammy's revenge"

Let me begin by saying that I am currently the lowest, most despised form of life on the planet: a white, Southern, college-educated American male. If you read any national publication, listen to the evening news or pay attention to NOW and the NAACP, I should be taken out and shot immediately for every single negative thing that has ever happened.

Do I sound defensive and paranoid? No, not me.

Southerners have listened for decades while the rest of the country condemned the region and its people for perceived shortcomings. (As if we held the copyright on racism and ignorance. No, everybody north of the Mason-Dixon line is enlightened and tolerant. Right?) Our anger and defense concerning the Confederate battle flag and other examples of the "Old South" comes from fatigue. We are simply tired of being told we are/were wrong.

We go to work, we pay taxes, we go to church, we raise our children to do the right thing. And because some of us, including myself, look fondly on a piece of cloth, we are wrong?

Many people see the Confederate flag as a symbol of racism and slavery. They have the right to do so. I will not and cannot try to change their mind. But what I find troubling is the other side doesn't respect my opinion; they don't think I am entitled to hold the beliefs I do concerning that flag and what is represents.

Ms. Miller stated she has never gotten a good explanation about the flag and what it means to Southerners. Let me try. That flag is a symbol of the region. I read a quote that said North, East and West are directions; South is a place. When I see that flag I think of every thing I love about being from the South: manners, hospitality, gentility, colorful and proudly insane people, independence and spirit, humor, literature, dedication to family, birthplace of the blues and rock 'n' roll, greasy, fat-laden Southern cookin', beautiful mountains and beaches, warm weather. Is that enough or does she need more? I can go on.

I was born in Memphis, Tenn., and raised in a small town in north Alabama called Sheffield. I am as Southern as they come. I feel fortunate and blessed to be from the South. If other people don't understand that type of pride, if they don't understand our failure to be contrite about the past, that's too bad. We are not going to apologize for who we are or who we were.

-- Colin Kirkby

"It's enough to make a Yankee feel as baffled as the New York radio show host who recently grilled a Southern guest about white Southerners' attachment to Confederate emblems like the battle cross. People insist that these symbols stand for something more than just the defense of slavery, he complained, but they never say precisely what that something is."

I'm from St. Louis, Mo., and for the past 10 years I've lived in Nashville, Tenn. Neither of those states feature the rebel cross on their flag. However, a lot of Tennesseans empathize with our neighbor states over their flag conundrums.

I can tell Laura Miller exactly what the stars and bars stand for in the South: rebelliousness.

Everyone loves a rebel. James Dean, Marlon Brando, Rebel Jeb, Ice-T. They all carry the same kind of mystique. It's my sincere belief that most modern Southerners do not want to intimidate blacks. A lot of them, however, want to retain the appearance of rebels. After all, rebels are cool.

When a Southern state prominently features that symbol on their state flag, it's a message meant for the federal government. Flying over every state office is a reminder to everyone: "We rebelled once and we can do it again -- at the drop of a hat."

At one time I'm sure this message was meant both for the government and for African-Americans. This is why I understand their feelings on the issue. Sometimes you just have to let go of history, no matter what it may do to your self-image.

-- Chris Phillips

I was born and raised in the South. I can't remember a time when the flag of the Confederacy was not on display somewhere in our home. I read "Gone With The Wind" every summer starting when I was 10 and ending when I was 15. I could quote whole passages of the movie long before video and DVD made it possible to watch it daily. My ancestors owned some of the largest plantations in Mississippi and one forefather owned more slaves than any other man in the entire South. Today, I look at that past with a sense of horror. And when I see my fellow Southerners glory in the legacy of Tara, I can't help but feel amazed.

Southerners are indeed the most masochistic creatures on earth. No other group celebrates a lost war the way we do. I would never frame the high school term paper with the big red F on the upper right corner, but Southerners wave that flag whenever possible. I can't imagine showing off the rejection letters I received in my last job hunt, but I know people who are pleased as punch to brag about how many of their ancestors fought on the losing side of the Civil War. Would any German in his right mind build a museum and shrine to Adolf Hitler? Probably not, but Mississippi has one dedicated to Jefferson Davis.

Why my fellow Southerners insist on flaunting the fact that they lost a war over the most base of causes is simply beyond my understanding.

-- Hamp Simmons

Due to the controversy over flags and their Confederate emblems that has been travelling around the South these days, I feel it is important to identify myself as a white Georgia resident. Very little of the media has taken an effort to include the voices of people from either the black or white races who do not agree or identify with their race's dominantly portrayed opinion. Furthermore, I would like to identify myself as a person with an MFA in creative writing who has read Randall's galley.

The purpose in my letter is to note that one identifying tenet of postmodern fiction is the reworking of other people's stories in order to shed new light and perspective and further explore territory that may have been previously overlooked in a piece of fiction. It is completely valid for Randall to lend her voice to a discourse that has been well-traveled. Published works have done this in the past. For instance, Jean Rhys' "Wide Sargasso Sea" (see Bronte's "Jane Eyre"), and J.M. Coetzee's "Foe" (see Defoe's "Robinson Crusoe"). I also want to say that I am embarrassed and ashamed to see how obvious it is that the judge's ruling stems from good ol' boy racism, rather than a valid, educated literary read.

-- Tiffany Benduhn

How would Laura Miller like it if her columns in Salon were to be lifted, the words and content turned around to the thief's advantage, and, oh yes, used as a tool to skewer her social and political viewpoints? A task that would not be difficult do by even a cursory reader of her reviews. The thief would use the money obtained from the sale and enjoy fancy dining and laugh at Laura while doing so. Miller would sing a much different tune than she did in the "Wind Done Gone" piece. Fortunately, there are laws against such things and the judge ruled correctly in the matter. "Gone With the Wind" has romantic and fictitious elements in it as do, I think, all novels. All in all a very tawdry piece by Miller, but one is used to seeing such today by writers wielding a political ax. Frankly, Ms. Miller, "I don't give a damn" what you think about the South, "Gone With the Wind" or anything else.

-- Don Howard

Read "Cut the flap"

"Lame and misleading" isn't the worst sin of blurbery -- taking away a reader's opportunity to be surprised is. I don't buy or recommend books with "Rosebud was his sled" blurbs -- they take away my chief reason for reading anything, which is to discover what the book has to tell me.

I'm less amazed but more disgusted all the time by how many decent books have their surprises given away on the back cover. Sometimes I think it's done to save over-assigned college students the trouble of reading the book (to be honest, in my student days I might have appreciated this). Sometimes it's just cruel -- the paperback edition of "Felicia's Journey," to name just one offender, is as dangerous as poison ivy to readers like me who want the author, not the copywriter, to deliver the goods.

-- Eileen O'Brien

My favorite sign on the side of a truck is "Jones Demolition -- We also Build." Would you employ them to build? Charles Taylor demolishes blurbs enjoyably, but I challenge him to find more that he likes. His one example: autobiographer takes off women's clothes and is morally confused -- boring! His paragraph describing the ideal blurb (witty, or weird, enough to be intriguing ...) was terrific, but show us some better examples!

-- Dave Belden

My favorite bit of extraneous jacket copy is from a '50s edition of "1984" that tries, manfully, to make it into a space opera: "In a world where the baby a woman bears may not be her own!"

I can remember a great deal of Orwell's masterpiece, but genetic diddling in Airstrip One never made much of an impression on me.

-- Alissa Clough

By Salon Staff

MORE FROM Salon Staff

Related Topics ------------------------------------------