When people criticize the American South for being “racist,” they tend to forget this is the part of America that has always had—by far—the largest quotient of black people. Even now, more than half of American blacks live in the South. And the KKK still reigns so supreme here, many blacks are moving back here from up North.
Therefore, it’s always amusing for me to hear white people who live in almost entirely white areas criticize Southerners for being racist. After all, Canadians treat their black person just fine up there. They don’t seem to understand that in order to have “racism,” you have to have, well, races—meaning more than one. You can’t pat yourself on the back for your “tolerance” if there isn’t anyone different around for you to tolerate.
I’ve lived in all four corners of the USA. Grew up in the Philly area and lived in Brooklyn. Lived in LA for seven years and Portland for 11 years. I’ve been living down in Georgia now for more than seven years. And although it surprised me and will probably shock you, I’ve never seen white and black people get along better than they do down South.
The Northeast, at least when I lived there, existed in a state of virtual apartheid. The West Coast, for all its Blue State pride, is significantly less black than the country at large. LA is less than ten percent black. In Portland, blacks are so rare that the well-meaning but clueless white progressives almost treat them like pets.
Blacks didn’t even start leaving the South in large numbers until the mid-1900s when they mostly fled into what are now Rust Belt cities in the Northeast and Midwest for industrial jobs. And in many cases, wealthy white industrialists imported them as scab laborers. This naturally caused resentment among the white working class. It also eventually led to extreme resentment among blacks who’d migrated North when they realized that white people weren’t any friendlier up there. When you look at ghettos in the South Side of Chicago or North Philly or the South Bronx, you’ll see blighted and ultra-hostile war zones that have no equivalent down South. I think this disappointment boiled over in the 1960s, when most of America’s large-scale race riots happened outside of the South.
I once read that Northerners tend to like the idea of blacks but treat them like shit individually, while Southerners hate the idea of blacks but are generally warmer to them than the damn Yankees are. I’ve generally found that to be true. Yes, I know about all the exceptions. Everyone does. The media and educational system never let you forget. But you should also never forget that the winners write history. Do your schoolbooks tell you about Union soldiers, who ostensibly fought to free the slaves, raping black women? Do they tell you that even Frederick Douglass said that many black men served in the Confederate Army as “real soldiers”?
To justify the absolute devastation that Union forces wreaked upon the South, as well as the subsequent century-long economic exploitation of their vanquished foe, it may ease the victors’ consciences to talk about Bull Connor’s behavior in the early 1960s more often than they mention the LA cops who beat the fuck out of Rodney King in 1991 or the New York cops who shoved a broom handle up Abner Louima’s ass in 1997. The telling of history is an ongoing exercise in guilt-projection.
I think the reason that there’s less day-to-day tension among blacks and whites down here is very simple—they’ve lived alongside one another far longer than they have anywhere else in the USA, and in far greater numbers. There’s a shared culture. What sounds like Ebonics everywhere else is merely the black version of the Southern drawl. What’s known as “soul food” everywhere else is merely “Southern cooking” down here. Your sweaty, screaming black Gospel preacher in Mississippi shares a lot in common with your white, snake-handling West Virginia faith healer—much more than either guy does with a tight-assed Methodist minister in Illinois. And most great American music came from the South. For all the whining you hear about how whites “stole” rock ’n’ roll, those black rockers were singing in English and using stringed instruments that were first developed in Europe. It’s a gross oversimplification to call rock ’n’ roll “black” music. Fundamentally, it’s Southern music. Northern record producers and British copycat musicians stole it from the South.
I have a white friend in North Carolina whose parents were sharecroppers on a farm. They occupied a shotgun shack alongside black families. And he says his parents told him everyone got along fine until meddlesome carpetbaggers started showing up in the 1950s and 1960s to stir up division. I know that the carpetbaggers, stricken as they are with a savior complex, hate to hear that.
A few years ago I had an office job in the Atlanta metro area that necessitated me taking two trains and two buses each way to work. Much of the time, I was the only white person on the bus or train car. And I don’t remember once receiving so much as a hostile glare from a black person. If it had been Philly or Detroit, I probably would have been stabbed within a week.
So that’s been my experience at least—the South is the least “racist” part of America. If you don’t like it, well, I have no problem with you staying put and freezing your ass off up there in the North Pole. We won’t miss you.