I am writing this in response to the New York Times Article “No One Really Understands the South” op-ed. As a 20+ year veteran of the south, I have some thoughts. While the author talks quite a bit about the structure of the Democratic Party in the South, her answer leaves out the majority of the reason why any Southern stays in the South. Southern Hospitality, communitarian identities, and genuine connections with neighbors are a few reasons I stay in the South.
Most Northerners have this idea of the South that is very different than the way of the South. It’s this idea that we live in a town without running water, power lines, and cell phone lines. Yet, somehow Doug Jones got elected by GOTV efforts that included 15,000 phone calls. Ev’ry body got a phone, now.
While the author sticks to the political structure of the Democratic Party, and the haunting reality of being black in the South, it is not a full picture. Like many things in life, there are nuances and new history being written, monuments built, and identities being empowered.
The Democratic Party has no stronghold here in Alabama, yet it is capable of being a purple state. Georgia has created an effort to look at its changing demographics through nonprofit and census work to start an effort to turn that state blue. That is also possible.
It is without merit to say anything is impossible. And the South isn’t as backwards as one assumes. There are millennials with a passion for social justice, black women who are working corporate jobs, and white blue collars in rural Alabama working in factories. You and I, New Yorkers, are not living in different realities. My reality may include a neighbor’s Southern drawl and kind demeanor while you may have a cussing neighbor who shouts at her dog in the middle of the night. I don’t know, I don’t live there.
The reality of being black in the South is also the reality of being black up North. Racism is easier to spot down here because it’s not subtle. While up North, it may be possible to be racist and have no one know. The argument I’ve always gone with is Southerners live their racism, Northerners love the collective, hate the individual.
But, the reality of the South is one full of families, friends, neighbors, and colleagues who work tirelessly to help each other. People go out of their way for each other. No one is to busy to help a friend. I’m not saying we live in Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, but it’s a familiar world of slow paced small talk injected with college sports. Please see beyond the political and into the personal. If politics is about people, then it’s about more than living alongside people who agree with you but living alongside people who disagree with you but give you insight into their hearts and minds. Let’s do more of that.