When you hear someone say “The South,” what do you normally think about? Biscuits and gravy? Sweet tea? Jesus? Hillbillies? When someone asks you about southern politics, what do you normally think about? Conservative ideologies? The Republican Party? Religion? Backwater hillbilly uneducated straight cisgender white men? Or do you think about the years and years of continued voter suppression, poverty, and de facto school segregation? The South—especially the Deep South—is always the butt of jokes from Northern, East Coast, or West Coast liberals after elections. A lot of people think of the South as the most embarrassing region of the country, and there are reasons to be embarrassed about the South.
As an Alabamian, I’ve had my fair share of moments. Alabama attempted to elect an alleged child molester to the U.S. Senate, and in the year of our lord 2020, Alabama replaced a former attorney who prosecuted two members of the Ku Klux Klan who bombed the 16th Street Baptist Church in Alabama, killing two young girls, with a failed football coach. What’s so funny about this situation is that social media had a lot to say about Alabama, and the rest of the South, during the 2020 election…and the 2016 election…and several senatorial, congressional, and gubernatorial elections. Non-southern liberals are always blaming the South whenever a Republican wins. Their excuses? We’re dumb, uneducated, racist, sexist, and all conservative hillbillies.
I’m a southerner—a Black queer nonreligious college-educated southerner; a southerner who voted for Bernie and Biden, a southerner who supports free education, universal healthcare, police and prison abolition, progressive economic policies, and a strong stance against climate change. And what I want to say, especially to those political commentators on news stations before, during, and after election week: if you ain’t from the South, keep your mouth shut about southern politics! It’s bad enough that southerners have to deal with the annoying stereotypes about our culture, but I draw the line at people who have never been to the South, especially the Deep South like Alabama, Mississippi, or Georgia, and having so much to say about our politics.
A lot of people were surprised that Georgia flipped blue since it had been a red state for presidential elections since 1992. People just assumed, based on voting patterns I guess, that most people who lived there were Republicans? But what if I told you that a major demographic of Georgia’s communities had been suffering from immense voter suppression? What if I told you voter suppression was why Stacey Abrams lost the gubernatorial race in 2018? Thanks to the efforts of southern Black women organizers like Stacey Abrams, Deborah Scott, Britney Whaley, Helen Butler, LaTosha Brown, Amber Bell, and Tamieka Atkins, approximately 800,000 people were registered to vote in the state of Georgia before the 2020 general election.
I use to reject my identity as a southerner, wanting to escape this place because of its racial discrimination and homophobia, but I was naïve. I thought the North was literally what I had read in slave narratives: a place of freedom and acceptance. Once I was able to visit the North, I realized that it was just as racist and ignorant as the South. People made assumptions about me: that I was stupid, that my accent was a sign of not being educated, that I was being treated like a slave in the South. Northerners were completely ignorant of the conditions in the South. They felt racism and other forms of discrimination were unique to the South. Northerners were colorblind. Their view of racism was the old white man who flew a confederate flag. They were liberals that advocated for racial justice but completely ignored the voter oppression people of color are suffering from in the South. They bullied Black southerners on social media to vote for their candidates. They hijacked Black Lives Matter protests and caused considerable amounts of vandalism—making Black people look bad. They call us stupid but ignore that several schools in the South suffer from de facto school segregation. They preach pronouns and label our home straight and cis, erasing queer southerners. They think we vote against our self-interests, choosing a life of poverty.
For all of the time that I’ve been speaking about southern politics, the advice from most people was: “if you’re a person of color, queer, disabled, non-religious, or a woman, you need to get out of the South.” I can’t count on my fingers how many times I’ve been told to “escape the South,” that the North was so much better for someone like me. For a long time, I wanted to “escape the South” and never return, but then I realized I’d be a hypocrite. I realized I’d be leaving behind a group of vulnerable communities. I realized that the South was never going to progress if people like me just left to move to New York, Vermont, or California. I also realized that not every person had the privilege to get up and move. I think Northerners forget that families in the South go on for generations and to expect communities to suddenly get up and leave “for their protection” is just ridiculous. Racism doesn’t magically stop at the Mason-Dixon Line.
Georgia wouldn’t have turned blue if all those southern Black voters had decided to escape the South and move to New York. What good would that have done Joe Biden if New York, an already blue state, got…bluer? But now that Georgia has turned blue, I’m hoping people will now see that these southern states are not just inherently red racist states, but instead states with systemic discrimination (i.e. voter suppression). Those southern Black women organizers did the Lord’s work by once again “saving America.” It might do Northern liberals good to stop thinking of these as red states beyond repair and more as states with voter suppression who need less stereotyping and more community organizing. The South ain’t a lost cause, and it’s worth continuing to change it; more so, we owe it to southerners whose voices are silenced by several systems of oppression.