Mako Honda recently told the Washington Post that she and her husband Ryan Finley live on “the worst street corner… across the U.S.” You might speculate that the couple live somewhere in Los Angeles, which retains the notoriety of having the three most dangerous neighborhoods in the United States. Or perhaps they live somewhere in inner-city Chicago like West Garfield Park, which has witnessed a dramatic uptick in violence since the beginning of the pandemic.
But no. Ms. Honda and Mr. Finley live in a safe, middle-class neighborhood in the City of Fairfax, Virginia. Their problem with their street corner isn’t violence, economic depression, or even noise from the often traffic-congested Route 66, which borders the neighborhood. It’s rather that their house is situated at the intersection of Confederate Lane and Plantation Parkway in the neighborhood of Mosby Woods.
“The couple bought their brick rambler in 2019,” writes the Washington Post. They were “so focused on the relatively lower price in expensive Northern Virginia” — Mosby Woods is a community of brick ramblers and two-story colonial-style houses built in the 1960’s — that the names of the streets was an afterthought. But then after George Floyd’s death in 2020, they (and other residents) began to think more carefully about the streets of Mosby Woods.
There’s Reb Street, Confederate Lane, Ranger Road, and Mosby Woods Drive. The latter two are named after Confederate officer Col. John Singleton Mosby, whose guerrillas, nicknamed “Rangers” operated across Northern Virginia during the Civil War, most famously capturing Union Brigadier General Edwin H. Stoughton in a midnight raid at nearby Fairfax Courthouse in March 1863. There’s also Sherman Street, Tecumseh Lane, Atlanta Street, Bluecoat Drive, and Antietam Avenue. The names were part of a marketing scheme by developer Stephen Yeonas for the local centennial commemorations of the beginning of the Civil War.
It’s gimmicky, I’ll admit. Naming streets after local historical events that involved a famous Virginian (and post-war federal official) makes sense. Less so battles fought hundreds of miles away — a street named in commemoration of the burning of Atlanta? Or the Union General responsible for the destructive “March to the Sea”? Why? What the street naming reflects is not Lost Cause ideology or even a venerable localism, but an incoherent, clumsy ploy to sell homes at a time of increased American interest in the events of the Civil War.
Nevertheless, some residents are mighty upset about street names. One woman’s son after a fourth-grade lesson in Virginia history, asked her: “Is it racist to have streets like Plantation and Confederate?” Now the group “Neighbors for Change” is demanding the City of Fairfax alter any street names that make reference not only to the Confederacy but to “trigger words” like “plantation” that make people feel uncomfortable. One woman whose daughter is half-black told the Post that the street names are “unbearable,” “wrong,” and “hurtful.”
But there are also opponents of the proposed changes, who claim that they are not only unnecessary but a costly inconvenience, given that residents will need to change the address on driver’s licenses, credit cards, wills and other documents. Japanese-American Yo Kimura, who has lived on Confederate Lane for 46 years, doesn’t want the street name changed. “We are not responsible for this history… We are not carrying the spirit of this history either.”
The episode represents a fascinating (and depressing) intersection of various cultural and political currents in American society. A suburban, conservative, mostly-white, middle-class development was named by a native Washingtonian of Greek ancestry in commemoration of a local hero. Now the community is more racially (and politically) diverse… but a Japanese-American resident who has lived there for half a century opposes the name changes!
Perhaps the story of Mosby Woods (and many similar such incidents across the country), pace liberal corporate media, is not fundamentally about race, but culture and politics. The differing responses to the neighborhood by two Japanese-Americans separated by two generations is, I think, instructive. For it was not that long ago that recent immigrants to the United States manifested a certain deferential respect for the history and culture of their new nation. That is less so the case now, exemplified not only in Ms. Honda’s comment about living on the “worst street corner” in Fairfax City or the country, but demands by immigrants or the children of immigrants that Americans pay racial reparations or that baseball teams change their names.
Something has changed in America’s self-understanding that has caused this. One need not look far. The leftist academy instills in generations of American youth contempt for their homeland and its heroes. The liberal entertainment industry is awash in content that portrays American (and particularly Southern) history as one long story of racist and bigoted oppression. And liberal corporate media cynically publish in-depth investigations into America’s racist past, and even create “anti-racist” curricula for grade-school students.
America used to be proud enough of its heritage to honor and defend it. Now we not only malign our patrimony, but encourage recent arrivals from around the world to do the same, and to benefit politically and economically in the process! We should then not be surprised by younger generations of Americans, regardless of their race or socio-economic status, making absurd comments about how terrible it is to live in America.
I would imagine the aged Mr. Kimura of Fairfax, Virginia would have some words of wisdom for entitled, oblivious young Americans like Mako Honda and Ryan Finley. He might tell them that despite living in a predominantly white, still noticeably culturally-Southern suburb of D.C., he did quite well for himself as a racial minority. He might tell them that he possessed enough resilience to not allow the names of streets to affect his emotional well-being. And he might tell them that if they were to move to a neighborhood in the Japan of his ancestry, and condescendingly demand the renaming of streets named after daimyos or war heroes, the response would not be the type of self-loathing they encounter in liberal, suburban Virginia.
I grew up (and still live in) Northern Virginia, though it’s been a few years since I’ve driven through Mosby Woods. It’s a nice enough neighborhood, a relic of sorts that represents the post-war decades when Southern pride and bourgeois American patriotism often overlapped. But perhaps Honda and Finley are onto something. Having to live on a street corner next to elitist, prejudiced snobs like them would be pretty terrible.