My California cousin is in town. I love and loathe her visits because although she is pretty sweet, I always sense a touch of imperialism from her because she is from California and I am not. Not only am I not from California, I am from the South (or I’ve been here long enough anyway that she chooses to call it that way.) And it seems that in her mind, the only thing worse than being not from California is being from the South. It’s sort of like a double-curse that I suppose can only be released by dying and then reincarnating in California.
And I get to wondering what I or any Southerner can do to shake the stigma resulting from several hundred years of slavery and then about 100 years of Jim Crow followed by several decades of very, very bad behavior by some, and only some, of our predecessors.
But it’s just too easy to take cheap shots at the South. To come into a place which you don’t understand because you do not live here and pick it apart and serve it up with a dose of sarcasm on Facebook, so your other California friends can chime in with comments like “Well you are in the South, after all.” And you can go online after a wonderful and hospitable trip to New Orleans and observe that “racism is alive and well, unfortunately”
Well yes, yes it is. Alive, anyway, but I wouldn’t call it well. I first witnessed racism as a child in my backward, backwater, inbred, illiterate home state of … Connecticut.
Racism is alive in the Aryan Nation world headquarters situated in that swampy Southern state of … Idaho.
Racism is practiced when Hispanics in Arizona and New Mexico and Texas are stopped and searched for absolutely no reason.
I’ve even heard that there are rumors that there maybe might sometimes be some not very nice attitudes practiced by the Minutemen, volunteers who guard the U.S.-Mexican border in … California. Yes, California.
And I want to tell her that she is wrong, and that she sees only what she wants to see. And if you come for a visit to the South and look around for toothless people – seriously, she remarked on Facebook that toothlessness is “prevalent” here – you are sure to find them. If you look for any hint of racism, there it will be. If you look for warm and kind people who will do just about anything for you, well, you will find them too.
Or could it be that I am wrong? Have my eyes adjusted to this light, so that I am now only mildly disgusted with the rebel flags or the lingering attitudes of our older generation? Have I grown used to this place, or have I grown to understand it?
This place is complex. Each twist in the road reveals a different view. Each state is different. Florida is not Mississippi, for example. Individual experience differs greatly as well. Working on a college campus, my observations might be different than if I worked in a restaurant or on a construction site.
Yes, racism is alive, but it is not thriving. By my observations, it is dying. To some people, it does not matter if we have interracial marriages and African American mayors and Hispanic college professors. To those people, it is too easy to place us in a box than to grasp complexity.