Sometimes, the meme is not about you. Sometimes it is.

I saw a bunch of tweets and such going about the internets this week, talking about the Civil War and the Confederacy. One sentiment I saw was “The Civil War wasn’t about slaves, it was about money.” Another I saw was “It’s about slavery when you are the currency.”

I was reminded of how I, a white Northerner, learned about the Civil War.

– As a child, I was taught that the Civil War was fought to free the slaves. I was taught that the good Northern people invaded the South for the rights of the slaves. To free them from evil, wicked Southerners. (Note, that in this narrative, the slaves *still* aren’t people. “Southerner” is specifically defined to mean “white Southerner.” And to be Southern is to be wicked. And to be a slave is to be agency-less.)

– As a teenager I was shocked to learn that the Northerners had not, in fact, really wanted to free the slaves. That the war was fought for the selfish money-grubbing reason of national economics. That the only people who thought the war was about slavery were in the South.

– In college I learned about state’s rights. I learned about the history of the struggle between our state and national governments. I learned about abolitionists. I learned about free blacks. I learned about the social and economic strictures on impoverished white Southerners. I learned how the North benefited enormously from slavery, and had no real monetary reason to bring a halt to Southern economics.

In short, I learned it was complicated.

When I saw the tweets going by this week, I agreed with all of them. But I feel that they are not in conversation with each other. They are talking across each other to different audiences, to people who need to hear different things.

There are some [Northern white] people who still think that the North rode into the South full of a burning passion to right the wrongs of slavery and free all African-Americans. Those people need to hear, “it wasn’t about [a fight against] slavery, it was about money [that the North benefited from].” They need to learn that it was not a crusade for justice, but a war to keep the Southern economy part of the Union.

There are some [white] people who think that the Civil War was about state’s rights [and not about slavery at all, please ignore the enslaved]. Those people need to hear that the Southern economy was made of the blood and bodies of black people, and that it was definitely about slavery.

We all need to keep learning more, keep hearing more. We all need to listen to the voices of people not like us. We need to learn, to keep learning, to incorporate different views into our understanding of a complex world. *I* need to keep listening, to keep learning.

As an adult, I have learned more about the lives of free blacks. I’ve learned more about the lives of slaves in the south. I’ve learned how revered white leaders of the United States owned and abused slaves.

There’s always more to learn. Humans are complicated. And, sometimes, the things you need to hear are different from what someone else needs to hear. That other person still can benefit from a thing you already know. And you can benefit from a thing they already know.

Sometimes, the meme isn’t about you. Sometimes it is.



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