There were a couple of interesting pieces out in the last week. One was an outsider’s view of southern plantation tourism, where slavery is never mentioned and everyone wants to be Scarlett O’hara. The other article was written by a southern woman who pushes back on the usual northern/western/coastal take on the South.
Reading the articles made me think of how many times I find myself defending the South from people who “hate” it, despite the fact that many of those haters have spent little or no time there.
Technically, I’m from the South. But South Floridians don’t really think of themselves as southern. Southern people are those backwards, redneck, white supremacist, country bumpkins. South Florida is urban, suburban, diverse, Latino, Caribbean… Right?
Except that Florida is the South. You can find all of the southern stereotypes in Florida, even South Florida, if you know where to look. I mean I grew up in a suburb called Plantation for Pete’s sake. But you can also find pretty much everything else in Florida. I think maybe I thought Florida was the southern exception, but it isn’t. The South is much more complicated than movies, television, and pundits would have us believe.
Not every person who lives in the South is a white supremacist. Even if every white southerner was a white supremacist, not every person in the South is white. Damn near 40% of the state of Mississippi is black. Damn near 40% of the state of Texas is Latino. There are indigenous communities and immigrant communities. There are incredibly rich people and incredibly poor people – with all kinds of backgrounds.
I’ve run into a cafe full of Guatemalans in the middle of Arkansas. I’ve seen the former cronies of Papa Doc throwing their cash around in New Orleans. I’ve learned Spanish colonial history at a Seminole reservation. And I’ve watched an Asian family learn about John Brown at Harpers Ferry. All of it in the South.
When people talk about The South as though the only people that exist are the KKK, they dismiss so many people who live there. It is amazing to me that the same people who hold up the civil rights movement as the pinnacle of justice and exemplary non-violent action could turn right around and dismiss the very people who took part in it. MLK, Medgar Evers, Rosa Parks, Jo Ann Robinson, Claudette Colvin, Ella Baker – all from the South.
When people dismiss the South as being backwards and racist, they imply that where they are from isn’t. They are implying that it is only low class people who think like that, not them. It is a way for people to define racism as solely the kind of violent white supremacy you see in Mississippi burning – rather than the institutional discrimination and economic exploitation that is, and has always been, found in every state.
California and New York prisons are filled with POC that have been targeted by some of the worse drug laws and police departments in the country. The North and West have plenty of police brutality, housing discrimination, job discrimination, profiling, hate crimes… I’ve lived in Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, Orlando, Santa Cruz, and DC. Of all those places, the one where I saw the most discrimination and closed-mindedness was Santa Cruz, CA.
I liked both of the articles that inspired this post. I’m certainly not suggesting that the writer who criticized those horrible plantation tours was wrong. But we need to examine truthfully all the many layers of fuckedupedness, past and present, all over this country. It isn’t just a southern thing.