Loving the South in 2017

First off, I apologize for my long tardiness in writing on the blog. The last few months have been a bit hectic with a variety of writing and research projects, but I’ll be doing regular updates on this blog for the foreseeable future. Recent events have inspired me to write the following post.

Being a native of the South wasn’t something I thought about until I came to graduate school at South Carolina. Until that point, I’d spent my life around Southerners. I grew up in Georgia. I went to college at Georgia Southern University. In college, I encountered people from all across the country and the world. But even then, I never felt a need to think about my “Southernness,” so to speak. Certainly, life in America never allowed me to escape thinking about being Black. But being a Southerner? It was something I never thought about for most of my life.

Being in a Ph.D. program at a SEC school has certainly changed things. Spending time around intelligent, kind individuals from across the country and the world on a daily basis–coupled with being someone who has decided to study the South’s history for a anne braden jesse jacksonliving–caused me to think deeper about what the South means to me. As it is, I’ve had to deal with a life of internalizing how much the South is “terrible” or “backward.” More often than not, these arguments are made by people who are, otherwise,folks I agree with on a wide range of political and cultural issues.

They really should know better.

As we wait for election results to come in from Alabama, in a race that has embodied some of the worst of American politics, I hope that the usual commentary about politics in the South takes the evening off. Such commentary includes:

  1. a few tablespoons of “Southerners (because when folks say Southerners they tend to mean just white, evangelical, Southerners) are hopelessly backward/stupid/right-wing;”
  2. mixed with one teaspoon of “These red states are a drain on the rest of the nation;”
  3. Add a dash of “why didn’t black voters do more (despite being the only voting bloc in the nation that is asked to carry a political party that, more often than not, barely acknowledges their existence 11 months out of the year);”
  4. Bake via the Hot Take Machine Known as Twitter;
  5. Allow to cool as everyone prepares their next round of takes for 2018.

But we shall have to deal with this commentary again. Despite the South being home to some of the great radicals of American history–Martin Luther King, Jr., Anne Braden, Modjeska Simkins, among others–“the South” has become virtually synonymous with right-wing conservatism. This isn’t a surprise. The region has always tilted right, and has been a hotbed of some of the worst of America’s political impulses. But we would do well to remember it has also been the home of some of the most hopeful political campaigns in history.

In recent years, the Reverend William Barber III and his “Moral Mondays” campaign in North Carolina has inspired many across the country. The movement is both a throwback to the Poor People’s Campaign of 1968 and a reminder of the many problems the South, and the nation, continue to face. In order to resolve these problems, we’ll need to change the South.

Despite the South’s problems, I love the region. The weather drives me nuts. Sometimes I lament our fanatical love for college sports. And I do worry that loving the South can slip into loving it uncritically–the last thing any of us should do.

But goodness, I love the region. I cannot love my family, my friends, and myself without doing so. And that love for the region means loving what it can, and should be.

So goes the South, so goes the nation. Radicals, progressives, liberals, and engaged moderates below the Mason-Dixon line continue to fight for the kind of South we know it can be. Tonight’s election is just one marker in that longer, twilight struggle. But it’s a long, grueling struggle. And it’s the reason I am proud to be a Southerner–because I know the people here. I know we are not a monolith. And I know this is a region worth making better.

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