What Could Southern Hospitality Look Like?

I need to make an apology. Somebody needs to make an apology. Where in the hell does the affluent left in America get off on so condescendingly writing off the part of the world that desperately needs the most help? In my days of ardent, firebrand, degree-seeking liberalism, I used to direct many a cheap shot at the people of the American South. Like most of the lefties who still engage in this hypocritical verbal barrage, I’d never so much as stepped on the ground in any part of Dixie when this snarky act of divisive dipshittery was a staple of my political vernacular. I’d never seen the homes aging faster than the prevalent realities of their time. I’d never seen the hordes of people waiting in those impossibly long lines at the plasma center to sell off some of their blood for $35. I’d never seen those endless cycles of poverty handed down from father to son like an old t-shirt.

I moved to the South in late 2010. Yes, the things you’ve heard about the predominant political and religious beliefs of this region are, for the most part, accurate. Protestant evangelism does reign supreme in Old Dixie. Getting an abortion down here— never mind being almost nonexistently rare— is something most girls who’ve had one done keep to themselves, because there is no greater sin than terminating a pregnancy in a world where many women view having a baby to be their main calling from God and their ultimate fulfillment. Anyone designing anti-Obama bumper stickers south of the Mason-Dixon Line has got a booming business on their hands. These states are dotted with more redness than a high school sophomore’s cheeks. And without a doubt, this can all make for a tough pill to swallow sometimes, but it becomes even more extreme when you’re living outside of the South and you rely on media exaggerations to find out what life in the embattled region is like. The truth, however, is nothing like the establishment wants it to be, and it’s time to get that straight. Bullets don’t go whizzing by peoples’ heads with every passing second. People don’t dance in the streets with assault rifles whenever a Planned Parenthood closes down. I’ve never witnessed a hate crime, or much in the way of any truly abusive, disgraceful racism out in broad daylight, outside of the usual systemic kind that festers and thrives in every corridor of American power. Hardworking whites will most often respect hardworking blacks/Hispanics, and vice versa, it’s just all about the “hardworking” part, because their stories and their hardships will be relatable.This is a region that catches a lot of flak because victimization complexes, excuse-making behavior and the over-analysis of situations is all alien to the core of its people, and so their hearts and minds outright reject it all like a bad organ transplant. These are people who have no time for chic liberalism’s pet projects, because they’re too busy doing what they need to do to eat, and they believe that’s what you should be doing, too. These are people who believe in swallowing a fecal sandwich if they wind up with a bite in their mouths, because that’s what personal responsibility is all about.

This is a generationally poor, dilapidated region in many parts. The exploited white working class here has more in common with the exploited black working class than perhaps either group will with anyone else. They share the same harsh conditions; they make up the same country-fried American underbelly of the overworked, underpaid, and tragically forgotten. But isn’t that who liberals say they want to lift up, that overworked working class? It’s going to take unity after centuries of whites and blacks being pitted against each other by a cynical few hoarding all the wealth and influence. What better way is there to foster that wave towards unity than by— instead of using the internet to further fan the flames of racial tension and mistrust with snarky, pretentious assumptions about people— taking the first step towards healing these divides created by elitism? Perhaps this could be done by not taking the bait once again and outright insulting the other side for the world they’ve grown up in. I read left-leaning web pages all the time that fall just one step short of encouraging the use of welfare and food stamps as an as-needed safety net, but as soon as some new numbers come out showing that EBT cards are heavily relied upon by many people in Kentucky or Georgia, suddenly these hyper-partisan windbags are the first to begin the shaming parade on the federal government’s “moochers.” All this does is stink of more of the same politics-as-football-game, “Go Team” mentality— the kind of political affiliation that can be conned into believing anything, because it really stands for nothing.

I know I couldn’t believe myself when flying the colorful flags of anti-racism or anti-homophobia or anti-sexism or anti-gender discrimination if I continued to deny the fact that even the lightest tinge of skin has a color of its own. Sure, on a theoretical level anyone can say that the people they choose to relieve their primal urges for condescension against are born “privileged,” and thus can look out for themselves perfectly alright. But how does that not make them seem like just another bloodthirsty predator rampaging with a rabid pack of puppeteered assholes out to do nothing but further its own company line? At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how white my friends Mike and Tia were born; they were still struggling every day to help raise a child with barely any steady work and setback after setback with their EBT card. Bobby and his family didn’t get a four bedroom suburban castle because they “won the racial lottery;” in fact, they were all cramped together in a one bedroom, low-rent apartment on a not-so-pretty side of town.

Are we really that desperate to be so good to the people we want to ally with that we’ll do it at the expense of our own moral codes? I’m sure the women and the minorities and the transgendered are strong enough on their own to keep their movements going when their college-educated, urbanized friends take a minute to acknowledge that equality means even their political rivals get a slice of the dignity pie, as well. And we won’t be all about the fact that human is human and hate is hate until we actually are, all the time, without any prerequisites for whom to be kind to. After all, a lot of folks might be surprised to find how many interesting, good-hearted, loyal people live down here, too, along with how underrated dip is.

I saw this behavior on display just now, perusing a comment section on a wonderfully challenging article written by a writer I respect, even if I don’t always agree with. Somebody chose to discredit his writing by simply reminding everyone that this man was the author of a book titled “The Redneck Manifesto.” Another one of my often heard favorites is from the mouths of well-intentioned youthful liberals wishing we’d just let the South secede again. That’s all without getting into the fact that poor, white and Southern is the one group of people TV and Hollywood doesn’t think twice about degrading for laughs, or that poor, white, Southern culture is the only culture that can’t be openly expressed without an opportunistic shit-show of hurt feelings ensuing— all the while disregarding the fact that it was the elites, not the people getting their necks reddened in their own fields, who were behind the institution of slavery and the codifying of Jim Crow. The implication I take from statements and actions like those is that those people don’t matter and we shouldn’t be indulging their voices with a platform to express their feelings or opinions, because who they are or where they’re from has become synonymous with what we hate. But wait, does generational poverty only come with the right to be dignified if most of it is spent in a concrete housing project rather than a trailer park surrounded by trees? I don’t think so.

None of this, for the record, is meant to let a white person off the hook when they spew some abusively racist, sexist, or homophobic nonsense. Nor is it meant to suggest that we collectively do a political 180 and begin to accept political movements that we believe will drive our country as a whole in the wrong direction. It’s simply meant to consider that it really also shouldn’t be excusable for anyone of any race or socioeconomic class to target anyone, including Southern whites who oftentimes are just as much victims of their circumstances as are poor black or Hispanics. After all, how open-minded and compassionate is it to assume that an entire region of individuals is dangerous and ignorant because we’ve unquestioningly accepted that their culture is. Ask yourself if you’d accept the same notion as an explanation for the existence of the Bloods or Latin Kings in the inner city slums, and try to recognize that anyone who is soulfully and intellectually worth his or her weight as a progressive, let alone as a human being, should never engage in behaviors that amount to little more than the tragically acceptable flip side of the coin. This one isn’t for those who are worthwhile; this one is for the slimeballs who engage, the useful idiots who don’t yet realize that their version of tearing down prejudice will still leave someone buried underneath the rubble.

I’ve been present in a courtroom to witness a black judge send an old white man, whose family was falling apart, to jail for a first-time crack charge after he’d poured his heart out in a desperate grab at mercy. I’ve seen Oxycodone, aka “Hillbilly Heroin,” do to entire communities what Chuck D rapped about in “Night of The Living Baseheads.” I’ve seen white women lose a child because they’re having a harder time finding reliable employment and dependable housing than you or I would have searching for a pot of gold over the rainbow. The South had white indentured servants then and it also has white convict laborers earning pennies on the hour now. The world will never be as cut-and-dry as it is within our ideological tents. So it’s probably time to stop demanding people check their privilege when they’ve barely got the right to healthy lives or an upwardly mobile ladder. Plus, I think that’s an endlessly obnoxious thing to say to someone who would take your day filled with microaggressions if it came as a package deal with your college education and financially supportive families.

So to everyone breaking their backs, burning their necks red, falling down and picking themselves up just to get by down here in Old Dixie, I am extremely fucking sorry. I really am no better than you. None of us are. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

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