Editor's note: Danny Hughes is a good friend of mine, and a restauranteur in Gainesville, FL, a town I lived in for 6 years and of which I have deep ties. I found his response to the tragedy personal, nuanced, and genuine, so I wanted to share it with y'all. Danny has always been somewhat of a community helper. If there's a charity that needs a venue to host a fundraiser, he lends his bar. If there are stray dogs on the street, he'll try to find them good homes. If you need school supplies for your kids and are hard up on cash, Danny will do what he can to make sure your kids have what they need. If you need a job, he'll find extra work at his restaurants for you to do. He's the embodiment of "southern hospitality." Richard Spencer is scheduled to speak at the University of Florida in Gainesville in September, and Danny along with some other business owners and artists in the community are trying to organize an alternative event to drown out the publicity of Spencer coming to town. It's not a protest, but an event designed to run directly alongside Spencer that celebrates unity, community, love, and acceptance. I think it's a brilliant idea that still holds free speech up, but chooses to direct attention away from hate and to more productive and socially harmonious ideas.
I watched the news last night and I cried. I didn’t cry on 9/11. I didn’t cry about the Oklahoma City Bombing. I was jarred, I was afraid, and I was angry, but I didn’t cry. On Saturday, I cried. I watched my fellow Americans carry torches, dressed in body armor and chanting hatred and bigotry at other Americans and people all over the world because they believe - deep in their hearts - that they are superior, in every way, to anyone else who isn’t a white Christian.
They were marching to protest the removal of a statute of General Robert E. Lee.
I am by no means a student of Robert E. Lee, but I know enough about him that I don’t think he would have stood with the white supremacists marching on his behalf on Saturday. They were on the wrong side of history and I believe Robert E. Lee would have agreed with that.
I am the son of a white southerner, born in the south. My father was raised in northern Alabama at the height of the civil rights movement. I have an autographed picture of George Wallace, addressed to my father, in my office at home and I really don’t know what to do with it. (Short story, dad invited Wallace to his high school graduation and Wallace sent back that picture in response). I don’t want to hang it up, because his career in politics was…ahem…checkered, but I don’t want to get rid of it because frankly I find it interesting. (Side note- there is a lot more to the story of George Wallace, but that's another time).
As an American, white supremacists hurt me. In the deepest part of my being I am jarred by their very existence. As a southerner, it gets a little more complicated. Southern pride is something that is going to and has been questioned many times. How can someone have southern pride and not be a racist? It’s actually really easy. I choose to promote and embrace every part of my heritage and culture EXCEPT those parts. Southern hospitality, 'yes ma’am' and 'no ma’am', rock & roll and blues, country music and southern rock, fried chicken and cheese grits, cheap beer and Coc-a-Cola, bourbon, fresh Florida tomatoes and oranges, tree ripened Georgia peaches, slow southern drawls and Appalachian gibberish. Hell I don’t even hate NASCAR. But to accept white supremacists ideologies as something inherently southern - I just can’t do it. There are too many good people here. People who were born here. People who are 2nd, 3rd, 4th generation southerners (and beyond) who are beautiful, amazing, progressive people who just want EVERYONE to get their fair shake in life, and ensure that EVERYONE gets the same chances, and that NO ONE is less important or less valuable just because of who or where they were born.
Many of you are aware that I am a huge Drive By Truckers fan and those gentlemen are the type of southerners I aspire to be. Many of their songs are poignant after the events in Charlottesville, but I think The Southern Thing is probably the most apropos to my feelings in this matter.
“Ain't about no hatred better raise a glass
It's a little about some rebels but it ain't about the past
Ain't about no foolish pride, Ain't about no flag
Hate's the only thing that my truck would want to drag
You think I'm dumb, maybe not too bright
You wonder how I sleep at night
Proud of the glory, stare down the shame
Duality of the southern thing”
The south doesn’t have a monopoly on racism anymore than Arizona has a monopoly on droughts. It is truly everywhere you go. Just because you can’t see it, doesn’t mean it isn’t there. The only way to over come it, is to be louder, be smarter and be better.
To my Virginia friends: I’m sorry for what your state had to deal with this past weekend. I’m sorry to every man, woman and child - regardless of their skin color, religion, sexual orientation or anything else - that you had to turn on your TV in 2017 and see what you saw. I’m sorry for anyone that feels scared or less important or in anyway demeaned by what you saw.
I will not apologize for where I was born or to whom, but I will stand together, with anyone who will stand with me, to fight and defeat the ideals of anyone who thinks they are better than anyone else just because of where they were born or the color of their skin.
Myself and some like minded individuals are organizing an event in response to Richard Spencer’s planned speech here in Gainesville on September 12. Lets show the rest of the world how to respond to hatred. Lets be bigger than suppression. Let's be smarter. Let's be better.
Let’s get loud.
Be nice to one another, we’re all we got.