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My Beloved Dead

Artist journal page created by Connla Freyjason for an Artist Journaling group in which he was formerly very active. The theme for that day? Lies he has told…..Features elements from the January Gathering: Winter Time (available by clicking this image) by Duncan.

It’s that time of year again: the time of year when even the Muggles don’t have troubles talking about the Beloved Dead and actively seeking them out.  Halloween (Samhain) has been my favorite time of year since I was a child because it is the one and only time of the year where I, Michelle Iacona, get to “put my crazy on the front porch”, as they say down South.  It’s the one and only time of the year when people like me, who can do what I do, are even semi-accepted by the Muggles. It’s the one and only time of the year when I feel like I can be completely myself.  The rest of the year, I have, for most of my life, been forced to live inside the shell of a firestorm of lies, and so have my Beloved Dead. You see, I bring most of mine with me, everywhere I go.

For the past twenty-four years, I have literally given over my life to being a shamanic trans-medium.  When you say the word medium to most people, it either conjures images of some wizened old gypsy-woman, sitting in a trance in a very controlled environment, while the dead speak through her in her voice, or of some young, hip whipper-snapper who is constantly spot-on, but defines mediumship simply as relaying the messages of the dead to the seeker(s) (ala Hollywood Medium).  Neither of those is what I do.  I’m not that kind of medium.  There is very little that is “controlled” about my environment–sure, we have wards on our house, and I have wards on my person, and I have a few in my “ranks” who actively act as guardian or warrior figures; that’s pretty much where any of the normal definitions of “controlled environment” begin and end.  I can literally “switch off” with any of the members of my “ranks” at the drop of a hat, and with some of them, most Muggles would have zero clue that “Mishy has left the building”.  I patently do not “channel on cue”; I don’t “take requests”; I’m not a deejay.  What I do is not a “parlour trick”, nor is it a service I perform for the living.  No, this is a service I perform strictly for the Dead. And these Dead have, over the past twenty-four years, become Beloved.

I’ve often been asked by those who actually understand what I do–such people are few and far between–precisely why I do it.  I give up a lot of my time to do this; I have literally risked my lifemy livelihood, and my relationships with other living people to do this.  It would be so much easier simply to be the priestess, the Druid, the writer, than to do this.  In fact, because I do this, I actually have very little time for all of those other things that I can do, and do well.  So why would anyone choose this life?  Because I love them.  I love them with a love that is completely selfless, and very few people ever get to know love like that, much less express it themselves.

I certainly don’t do it because of what the Dead might teach me.  Trust me, I’ve been “at this” long enough to know that just because they’re dead, doesn’t mean they’re smart! Contrary to apparent popular belief, death is not the sort of spiritual awakening most people seem to think it is.  Does it clue you in, often quite suddenly, to what’s really going on in the Universe? Sure.  It’s definitely a crash course in cosmology, not unlike being thrown into the deep end of the largest swimming pool imaginable.  Most of the Dead I know and have met have been shocked by that, most of them to the point that they honestly need therapy: someone who can actively listen to what they’ve just experienced, and then help them make some sense of it.  In fact, the “cosmic newsflash from the Great Beyond” that is that sudden dip in the “cosmological pool” is often so overwhelming that the Dead actually need a break from it.  Luckily, I’m here, to give them that break.

Which works out nicely, because given my disability, I could also really use a break from my own body.  Lots of people have psoriasis and/or psoriatic arthritis, and live with it every day.  Very few people have psoriasis and/or psoriatic arthritis on the level that I have it.  That’s not just my opinion: that is the very informed official diagnosis of the former head of Pediatric Dermatology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC).  If you are not actively living in my skin–as my Dead do–you cannot fully understand what I live with, on a day-to-day basis.  Imagine your own body attacking you.  Pretend your skin breaks open and secretes acid whenever it takes a notion to do so, while at the same time your bones are eating themselves and erroding.  That is what I experience every day.  So, yeah, I need a break.  Thankfully, my Dead love me back with that same selfless love, and are willing to step in and give it to me.

It’s rare that I get to use the personal pronoun “I”; most of the time, you will hear me refer to myself with what my Dead and some of my dearest live friends, relatives, and lovers have jokingly come to refer to as “the royal we”.  That’s because the instant I stepped foot on this path, my life ceased to be merely about me.  Suzanne jokingly referred to me today as the MDTA–Mass Dead Transit Authority–and she’s not wrong!  My life has become the paragon of that famous quote from Star Trek II: The Wrath of KhanThe needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one.  Wherever I go, whatever I do, the Dead are not far behind. What happens in my life reverberates in their afterlives, and vice versa, when they are here on the physical plane, “riding” me, or “horsing” me, or however you want to describe them inhabiting my flesh and blood person.  I have a responsibility to my Dead, and my Dead also have a responsibility to me.  We keep each other safe; we work to better each other’s welfare.  If you ever needed a real definition of what a symbiotic relationship actually is, take a look at our life, and you will find it.

Experiencing life (and death) in this way has taught me lessons in loyalty that most people never get to learn. The quickest way to end up on my shit list is to hurt or offend one of my Dead.  I have both ended relationships with the living and had relationships ended for me by the living due to my ardent defense of my Dead.  The Celtic Value of Loyalty informs everything I do in my life, and everything my Dead do in their afterlives, in relation to me, and this has been the case for twenty-four years between myself and Connla, twenty-two years between myself and Taliesin, and soon-to-be twenty years between myself and Michael.  “Newcomers” (whom we lovingly refer to as “Newlydeads”) quickly learn the value of loyalty within the scope of this relationship, too.  In the end, I don’t care if one of my Dead has been with me for two years or twenty:  they’re already dead, they’ve been through enough; hurt or offend them at your own peril. I will become the protective mother (think: Kali-ma), when it comes to them, and that is a side of me nobody wants to see! They reciprocate that loyalty: hurt or offend me, their “vessel” or “conduit” (and also, more importantly, their new family), and be prepared for a reaction equal to someone defending their child, spouse, or mother from an arsonist.  

These lessons in loyalty that I have learned in relationship to my Beloved Dead have often made it very hard for me to socialize with the living.  In fact, for the most part, up until four years ago, I had reached a point where, apart from a very few live people, I honestly preferred the company of the Dead.  The Dead don’t tend to stab you in the back as often as the living.  Perhaps that’s because they can more clearly see all they stand to lose by doing so.  The Dead don’t take a look at this particular situation and decide “oh, wait, I don’t believe in that”, or “I don’t believe in you”, or “I don’t believe this is actually happening”.  The Dead don’t point their fingers at me and call me a devil worshipper or a fake.  No, they are quite aware of what they are experiencing and what we are going through.  The Dead don’t demand “prove its”.  Live people tend to do all of that and more.

Which is why, when we moved North four years ago, and suddenly found ourselves in a whole new world (cue that song from Disney’s Aladdin), surrounded by people who actually understand what I can do, and what we are doing, we still didn’t tell those people what’s actually “going on” here.  We finally found ourselves in a position where we were meeting people who we honestly wanted to keep in our lives, which is rare for all of us, myself included.  We’ve lost more people than I care to count over the past twenty-four years because we were honest: because we told them what was “going on”, and they either:

  1. Decided they needed a “prove it” (in other words, they wanted us to treat our lives like some damnable dog and pony show and somehow prove to them that this is actually “real” or authentic)
  2. Decided they could dictate to me and my Dead who is in-body when (I’ve actually had at least one person turn to me, sitting here, spending time with them, as a friend, in my own body, and ask “when is Michael coming back, because I miss him, and really want to spend time with him instead”)  
  3. Stated they “believed in” all of this, until such time as said “belief” became somehow inconvenient to them  (this one most often happens when the person in question has definite pre-conceived notions about precisely what kind of personality the specific Dead person involved ought to have, according to them.  I often wonder what would happen in the world if we treated living people that way?  It’s because of this one that every singly one of my Dead now introduce themselves under their taken names, and to most people never reveal their actual given name–and, therefore, their true identity–from birth and in life.)
  4. Challenged me and my Dead to a face-off over afterlife cosmology, based on their own personal gnosis as a living person who has never actually been dead (Yeah, this one happens often, yet it never ceases to boggle my mind and theirs.  I mean, if you’ve only read books and seen movies about Iceland, for example, you wouldn’t try to tell a native of Iceland that either a) Iceland doesn’t exist, b) is nothing like what they say it’s like, or c) that they are the tourist, and you’re the aficionado, would you? This is genuinely the exact same thing! Yet it happens to us. Regularly.)
  5. Refused to obey our rules. (Look: our rules are simple, and really the same as in any other friendship with any other live person.  Things told in confidence should remain in confidence. If you wouldn’t go around spouting to everyone within shouting distance a secret told to you by a live friend, then why the hell would you feel motivated to betray the confidences of the Dead?  If you treat other live people with respect, not expecting them to jump through hoops or otherwise “perform”, why the hell would you do that to the Dead?)

It is still terrifying, every single time we “come out of the coffin” to someone we care about.  It’s one thing, to be “out and proud”, here on this blog, where we’re speaking largely to strangers who we hope will become customers who we hope might become friends.  It is another thing entirely to be face-to-face with someone you’ve come to know and love and worked hard to build relationship with and have to finally say “oh, by the way, all of the time that we’ve been growing attached to each other? Yeah, some of that time it was one of my Dead, not me, and they really care about you a lot, so please, don’t be one more person that we lose because of this….”   

Inevitably, in the sorts of circles in which we now travel, there will be those people who will ask “but I, myself, am psychically aware, so how is it that I couldn’t tell this is what’s happening, if this is really what’s happening”?  My response to those people is two-fold.  First, if you have actually spent time around me, and then around Connla, Taliesin, or especially Michael, how could you not tell the difference between me and them? I am a girly girl with a fairly strong Southern accent (especially if you are hearing me for the first time and are not from the South), who enjoys dripping with jewelry and wearing long, flow-y skirts, and generally “being a chick”, versus Connla, who speaks with a deep voice (although he has, admittedly, and much to his chagrin, picked up a Southern lilt courtesy of living in the South for twenty years), dresses in a very masculine style, and saunters everywhere he goes like some action hero who just got kicked out of the comic books? Or Michael, who is obviously Australian.  Second, after a decade or so of scaring the holy bejeesus out of small children who can most definitely see who is in here, whether they want to or not, my Dead have grown very skilled at cloaking themselves from “prying eyes”, willing or otherwise.  The first hundred or so times that you have to turn to the parent of a suddenly-screaming child and say “I don’t know what I did to frighten your child, but I’m really sorry” teaches you to keep your guard up, and never let it down.  Those first few hundred times when a kid calls the person in-body out as a dude, in an otherwise apparently female physical form, in the middle of Walmart also quickly puts the kibosh on not putting up a protective shield, lemme tell ya! Finally, and perhaps a bit too simplistically, my response to such people would be: “They’re people inhabiting a person.  Do your psychic bells and whistles always go off, every time you’re around people inhabiting people?  If so, that has got to suck for you!”

Most live people fear the Dead, and fear Death even more.  I feel profoundly blessed that I no longer do.  The Dead are just people.  If you aren’t afraid of other live people, you shouldn’t fear them, either.  Sure, over the years, I have had encounters with the angry dead, too.  I don’t enjoy the company of live angry people–they, quite frankly, scare me–so it’s pretty natural to feel the same way when it comes to dead angry people.  My solution, when it comes to them, is simple: they aren’t invited to “hang out”.  Most people feel a certain sadness when it comes to speaking of the Dead, or dealing with Death.  I’m not a stranger to grief, even though I know in my heart of hearts that it’s not like we “can’t keep in touch”.  I’ve seen what the Dead themselves go through upon crossing over–how they miss their living friends, relatives, spouses, children the same way those living friends, relatives, spouses, children no doubt miss them.  The Dead grieve the living, the same way we grieve the Dead.  And that is painful to know and to watch.  If I can afford them a momentary happiness, by letting them briefly “live” again, in the midst of all of that, I am honored to do so.   But they are absolutely not allowed to ever make contact with those living friends, relatives, spouses, children, because I understand, and they have to come to understand, that the pain of such encounters would be debilitating for both parties involved.  Why? Because of “prove it“.  Because this is not the “Mishy Dead On Demand Network”.  Because pre-conceived notions define belief in existence too often when it comes to this.  Because the absolutely unavoidable debate on cosmology that is destined to ensue will do more to build sadness and anger than it will to quell it.  Because, quite simply, these are our rules

Long before Samhain became a time for me to honor the Beloved Dead, Halloween was a time when this little Southern girl could actually whip out the Ouija board and the Tarot cards and dress the way she wanted to, without anybody threatening to burn her at the stake (which actually happened to me in high school: a group of boys decided that because I was actively doing spellwork for my friends and reading Tarot that I should burn for that, and they meant it.  While they never actually went through with attempting to carry out their threats, that did not make them any less real, nor any less terrifying).  Over the past twenty-four years, Halloween also became a time when I could “let my Dead out in public”:  they could actually go to the “redneck bar” dressed and behaving as themselves, without fearing any sort of backlash apart from “wow, Michelle always has the coolest and most authentic costumes! She even acts the part!”  

As an ordained Druid and medium, however, Samhain has brought a much larger view of this time of year into my life.  It is the Celtic New Year: a time when we let go of the old, and welcome in the new.  It is also, obviously, the time when we Pagans pause to actively honor our Beloved Dead.  Three-thousand-words-into this blog post (and thank you for sticking with me this far), that is why I am writing here today, rather than Connla or Frances or Taliesin or Tobias, or any of the others of my “possee”.  I am here, writing this, because I am sick and tired of having to live behind a veil of lies, and so are they.  Being forced to live our lives that way does not honor my Beloved Dead; it lessens them.  So this is my “New Year’s Resolution”, of sorts:

Believe whatever you choose to believe; my Dead and I will continue to know what we know.

This is who we are.  This is who I am, and what I can do.  I love and honor my Dead, for I know that my Dead love and honor me.  And for all of you out there who have loved and honored us in the same way:

Thank you.  We also love and honor you.




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The Cultural Revolution….In America

As Americans, when we hear the words “cultural revolution”, that actually sounds like a good thing, right? I mean, wouldn’t a cultural revolution denote an explosion in the arts–music, painting, literature, dance?  Well, yes, that does sound like what that phrase would imply, but if you know anything about the history of China–which I do, having a minor in Ethnomusicology specializing in Asian Musics (which should really be a Major, but I couldn’t cope with Music Theory, so I was 3 credits shy)–then the words “cultural revolution” paint a strikingly different image in your mind: an image wherein religion, art, and the cultural heritage of a People are snuffed out, in many cases irrevocably.  We stand on the cusp of precisely that sort of cultural revolution in America right now!

That sort of cultural revolution–the bad kind–isn’t something on which the Chinese exclusively cornered the market, although certainly theirs is the one which I know the most about.  Similar cultural revolutions happened preceding the period we’ve come to think of as Nazi Germany (1933-1945), and also in Iran (1980-1987) and in Libya (1973-1977).  The Chinese Cultural Revolution encompasses a period from 1966-1976.  A Cultural Revolution is actually defined as any reform movement in which a national government aims to radically change its country’s political, social, economical, and cultural values.  Sound familiar from what you’re seeing in the headlines right now? Well, it certainly does to me!

In China, the Cultural Revolution began in May of 1966, when Mao Zedong alleged that bourgeois elements had infiltrated the government and society at large with the aim of restoring capitalism to the otherwise Communist country (please note that while the Gang of Four were rounded up and summarily executed in 1976, China remains a Communist country).  For those who don’t realize what the term bourgeois actually means, it is a French term, meaning:

1) Literally: those who live in the borough, in other words, the people who live in the city, who are usually merchants and craftsmen, as opposed to those who live in rural areas.

2) a legally defined class in the Middle Ages, made up of those having citizenship and political rights.

3) a sociologically defined class (in modern times), referring to people with a certain cultural and financial capital belonging to the middle class. (i.e., “working class” citizens)

Mao Zedong labelled these bourgeois elements “revisionists“–people who wanted to revise, water down, or otherwise change the teachings of Marxist thought.  For those who are unfamiliar with Marxist thought, please substitute Communism wherever you see it mentioned herein, as basically, that’s precisely what it means in this particular case.  Mao Zedong was not a theoretical, historical, or classical Marxist–he was a Communist, and deep down, there is a definite difference!

In August of 1966, the Chinese Communist Party (headed by Mao Zedong, remember) passed its “Decision Concerning the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution”, which later became known as the “Sixteen Points”.  Within this document, Mao Zedong’s party outlined their war on the “Four Olds”:  Old Ideas, Old Culture, Old Customs, and Old Habits.  Lin Biao, the leader of the Red Guard–a paramilitary organization made up primarily of students , averaging in age from 19 to their early twenties–called for the destruction of these Four Olds.  At first, what precisely composed the Four Old was not defined.  Things began simply enough, with the renaming of certain streets, places, and even people–millions of babies were born and given “revolutionary”-sounding names (often named after Chairman Mao himself).  But over time, these “simple” things took on a far more destructive tone: historical cities all over China were ransacked and destroyed;  the burial place of Confucius was vandalized;  libraries full of historical texts were burned; temples, churches, mosques, monasteries, and cemeteries were closed, looted, and destroyed; religion was labelled superstition, and Buddhas were destroyed, the Buddhist monasteries in Tibet were destroyed by their own monks, held at gunpoint by Red Guard members, and home shrines to Quan Yin and Buddha were replaced with home shrines to Chairman Mao. Intellectuals, artists, and priests were rounded up and put into forced labor camps.  Chairman Mao actually closed the schools in China, believing that “the more books one reads, the dumber a person becomes”, and instead recruited students for the Red Guard.  Because of this, about one million college students and two million high school students neglected their studies.

When we look at America today, we like to think that something like that could never happen here. And yet, look around:

Within the past few weeks in America, there has been a tremendous outcry to rename places, military bases, streets, and parks because of those places having been named for Confederate historical figures.

The Confederate flag has been labelled a racist emblem, with zero attention being paid to its actual history–many black Confederates also fought in the Civil War, and the majority of those whites who fought in the Civil War were not slave owners.  Even back then, the South was the poorest portion of this country, and the slave-owning elite were the minority, not the majority.  The estimated 1,250,000 men who fought on the side of the Confederacy could not have been, and were not, all members of the slave-owning elite in the South.

In the wake of the Confederate flag having been thus labelled, The Dukes of Hazzard, which promoted zero racial stereotypes, has been pulled from America’s air waves simply based upon the presence of said flag on the roof of a car. Meanwhile, other shows which definitely promoted racial stereotypes–such as The Jeffersons, Good Times, Sanford and Son, Diff’rent Strokes, and The Fresh Prince of Bel Air–remain available for viewing, likely because of their predominantly African-American casts (even though the racial stereotypes promoted by these shows are more often negative portrayals of black people as well as white).

Vandalism is running rough-shod over historical monuments all over this country, and not only those which were put up in support of the Confederate dead, but also those which have absolutely nothing to do with that segment of history–a statue of Christopher Columbus, who did, in fact, enslave many Native Americans, was recently defaced; however, his historical actions relating to slavery had nothing to do with the ancestors of modern African-Americans.

We are systematically removing God from everything in our country, including the schools.  By the words “removing God“, please note: I do not mean only Christian images of God. So far as I’m concerned, the phrases “In God We Trust” and “One Nation Under God” could just as easily mean the Supreme Deity of any major world religion, including Pagan faiths, and yet, those same folks who would have us rewrite our American history from the Civil War forward also seem to have a major issue with those two phrases, chalking them up to  a “more superstitious” time, in precisely the same manner as Mao Zedong did during the Cultural Revolution in China. (Further note: I am in no way suggesting that there should be prayer in our school systems.  Here, I am arguing only for re-instating the Pledge of Allegiance.)

In my experience, most of those championing the removal of the Confederate Flag, and the removal of an honest teaching of Civil War History in our schools are between the ages of 19 and their early twenties–just like the students of the Red Guard during the Cultural Revolution in China.

Also in my experience, most of those championing the keeping of the Confederate Flag are precisely those folks who would have been labelled the bourgeois in China during the period of the Cultural Revolution: working class folks of the middle class.

Scary? You betcha!

But this is the slippery slope we start down when people are not taught history, so that they are not doomed to repeat it.  Most people in the United States have never even heard of the Cultural Revolution in China. I know I didn’t learn about it until I reached college, and honestly, I probably would not have learned so much about it then, had I not opted for that attempted-second major in Ethnomusicology with emphasis on Asian Musics.  And clearly, given the age ranges of kids promoting vandalism, name changes, and over-all removal of the Southern cultural heritage, that branch of history isn’t being taught truthfully in schools, either!

Perhaps all of this could be blamed on a Cultural Renaissance that should have happened in this country, and didn’t.  I’m talking about the Cultural Renaissance which should have happened, in the wake of the overturn of slavery, in the late 1860s-early 1870s, and, if not then, in the 1960s with the success of the Civil Rights Movement.  At one or the other of those times, there should have been a Black Cultural Renaissance, wherein black and white alike were taught the true history of those of African-descent in America; when Gullah-Geechee should have been taught in schools, along with its history, as readily as Spanish is today; when African-American authors drew on their cultural heritage to teach about West African culture (including the conjure men and conjure women of the South); when African-American musicians actively pointed out that the Blues and Jazz that white Americans fell in love with was rooted in the same West African rhythms as the Negro Spirituals; when African-American artists fostered arts including blacksmithing and basket-weaving, brought over with their ancestors from West Africa, as readily as they embraced white urban art forms, such as modern art; when black dance movements, such as hip-hop, actually recognized that many of the movements therein came from traditional West African dances, much moreso than they did from the urban streets.  Obviously, that Cultural Renaissance never came, and the lack thereof has left both those of European white descent and those with African-American slave descent lacking in what they truly know of their ancestors–historically or culturally.

By way of example: Most black Americans today hear the music of Salsa and Mambo, and automatically say “oh, that’s Latin music; that’s Mexican music”.  Most modern white people generally say the same thing.  In truth, however, we would have neither type of music now were it not for the descendants of West Africans who were kept as slaves in Latin America.  Yes, both musics are also heavily influenced by the Native Peoples of South and Central America, but the overall cultural root of Salsa and Mambo is from Vodun (aka Voodoo) practitioners in those areas: that’s why the heavy, almost hypnotic drumming, particularly in Mambo. Mambo is, in fact, a West African term for a Priestess of Vodun.  But nobody learns that, unless they’re aching to become an Ethnomusicologist, as I was.

Many of those calling for all of these changes in “how we present Confederate history”–a call which may more rightfully be decried as a wish to get rid of Confederate history–say that they are calling for these changes on behalf of setting up a dialogue about the history of how African-Americans (blacks) in this country have been treated over the centuries in which the United States has existed, and yet, I’ve heard no such dialogue. Instead, I have seen constant behavior that smacks of precisely the same sort of Cultural Revolution which occurred in China in the 1960s-1970s.  Such a dialogue might include some of the elements of my previously discussed Cultural Renaissance-that-should’ve-happened-yet-never-did.  Yet, instead of learning about those black Confederate soldiers who immediately became free persons of color the moment they rallied around that flag, to protect the rights of their homeland of the South from Northern invasion, those brave men–those FREE men–are going completely ignored. Or, worse, people argue that they were forced into fighting for the South, which is a bald-faced historical lie!  All eyes are on the South right now, and yet, how many of you know of, much less have heard, Gullah-Geechee?  How many of these black Americans who are apparently (and I say “apparently” because I also have some other theories on who is really participating in this bout of widespread vandalism) participating in the vandalism of Southern monuments are actually aware that there is an entire language, binding the descendants of the West African slaves back to the Mende, Kria, and other tribes of West Africa?  And how many of these alleged vandals know about Denmark Vesey, or Gullah Jack (the conjure man who was his second-in-command), or about brave men like Robert Smalls, who, if there had not been a Confederate flag on the back of the vessel he piloted across Charleston Harbor, would have never made it to freedom with his wife and children?  Where are these elements of a supposed dialogue?

Here is how Confederate History should be taught across this Nation of ours, and yet, it isn’t:

If they are going to teach about the evils and ugliness of slavery–because, yes, buying and selling other human beings as if they were working “house pets” was evil and ugly–kids should likewise be taught about what Sherman really did to the South.  He didn’t just march from “Atlanta to the Sea”; he destroyed people’s homes, took their slaves with him whether they wanted to go or not (Union conscription of African-Americans), raped, pillaged, and looted everywhere he and his Union troops went, which included portions of South Carolina and North Carolina, neither of which are geographically located between “Atlanta and the Sea”.

We need way more “Black History” in our schools.  It shouldn’t just be a month–it should be on a regular basis!  We don’t have a white history month, because the rest of the year, white people are legit all these kids learn about, and that’s nationwide, y’all, not just down South!  Frederick Douglas, Nat Turner, and Harriet Tubman should not be relegated to the month of February only, anymore than we only learn about George Washington and Abraham Lincoln on their birthdays or President’s Day!  And in that vein, these children should not only learn about “victorious” black people–they should also learn about the average, every-day black citizens of this country; folks who made history without even meaning to, like Denmark Vesey, Gullah Jack, and Robert Smalls.  They should learn about the blacksmiths who defined the American architectural landscape, like Philip Simmons.  They should learn about the Southern slave-owning blacks (yes, that happened!) who made their fortunes off the backs of their own people, because that gave rise to a significant number of black tradesmen in this country (locksmiths, tailors, blacksmiths, carpenters) who might otherwise never have existed!

Children should be taught in schools precisely how much of the South was made up of elite white slave-owners, versus blacks and poor whites. When one actually knows those facts, the Civil War takes on a completely different hue–and it is neither black nor white, but based in the same shades of Red, White, and Blue as our National Flag!

What is going on in this great Nation of ours right now bears far too many similarities to what happened in the Cultural Revolution in China. I am, admittedly, frightened, not only as a White Southern Woman, but as an American Citizen, period.  And, as an artist, I’m frightened even moreso.  Are we going to arrive at a time in our great Nation where as a Southern White Woman I’m not allowed to write characterizations of those of black descent, even when I’m trying to reclaim a history which most people–both black and white–have no idea ever existed?  As I embark on finishing my novel, Magnolia, I deeply fear that’s what we’re headed towards…..and it saddens me that this is what we are becoming.