Saturday, March 30, 2013

Will The South Ever Rise?

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Like some corny line from a cheesy black and white movie, an old white man dressed in period clothes raises his hands to the sky and bellows "The South shall rise again!" Then he gets shot in the head and dies. This should be the end of the story but strangely it's not. This battle cry, if you will, still persist to this day in the states making up the "Old Confederacy" and won't go the way of the wind, and yes all puns intended.

Southerners are a stubborn bunch. So stubborn, in fact, that a grudge is barely forgiven much less forgotten. And there's no deeper grudge to many in The South than the reminder of who was on the losing end of 'The War'. Now when I say 'the war' I don't mean Iraq or Vietnam or even the great world wars of last century. None of those wars are as deeply entrench in the psyche of the South like the greatest war of all, The Civil War (sometimes called "The War of Northern Aggression"). Yes my friends, even though it's been well over a century and a half, many have not let it go. Don't believe me? If you are in Atlanta or visiting, just take a little drive up Ga 400 toward the Appalachian foothills, and you will see the stars and bars flying proudly against the cobalt sky. Squint a little and I'm sure you will even see Scarlett O'Hara shaking a clinched fist to the sky.

With the re-election of an African-American President as well as the very real prospect of Gays and Lesbians being able to marry across the land, many a southerner are clutching their pearls and clinching their bibles. They have the paper church fans at the ready as they find themselves in a never ending fainting spell. But never to fear because there are always the Knights in shiny Camillas, I mean armor, to come to the rescue like the ultra conservative, yet steadily becoming irrelevant, Tea Party. Que the Dixie playing band and wave the Confederate Flag.

Yes, Southerners can be quite obstinate especially when it comes to change. The question is why is this? What makes the states that make up the South, especially those that make up the area known as The Deep South, so resistant to the changes of the times? Instead of progressing, attitudes in this region seem to be steadily stagnant or even regressive. In the area of Same-Sex Marriage, these attitudes are multi-cultural and in some cases more predominate in many African-American communities. One can point to the obvious aspect that it is the land of the Bible Belt. To say there's a church on almost every corner would not be considered a gross exaggeration, not even by today's standards.  So it's not exactly rocket science about the ideologies that are fueling resistance to same sex couples seeking the right to happy nuptials. It's not like it's the first time the Good Book was used to justify the legalized suppression of a group of people. Undoubtedly it will not be the last. However, there is something deeper at play here. The religious dogma and the beliefs within are not the root, but the reinforcement.

According to a recent article in the New York Times "How Opinion on Same-Sex Marriage is Changing and What it Means", Nate Silver tracks the attitudes of same-sex marriages over roughly an 18 year period. The overall pace of changing views in favor of Same-Sex Marriage has been steady throughout the years and there have been no significant jumps. In recent years however, those who are in favor of same-sex marriages have out paced those opposed to it. It is projected that by the year 2020, most of the country, even some southern states, will be well over the 50 percent margin in favor of it.  However, those states in the deep south like Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, South Carolina, Louisiana  and Arkansas will remain in the red zone below 50 percent.

Again, I have to say that the above example of Same-Sex Marriage is one of the most controversial issue of the day. Fifty plus years ago it was the Civil Rights Movement. Could it just simply be hatred and fear of the unknown, or is there something about the psychology of the people that came to conquer and settle the lands below the Mason-Dixon? Could it be the culture of intolerance, racism, classism, and all the other 'isms' associated with the political structure of the old south?  Or is this all the product of conjecture and is just another biased representation of the South as a whole?

I am a product of the South and am proud to be a southerner. Of course with being African-American, there is definitely a love-hate relationship with the land of my birth in terms of racial strife and the innumerable atrocities against mostly black, brown, and red people that were born out of it.  There are things I surely love about this region, the natural beauty, the mostly mild weather, the rich history. There's also the willingness of people to help their neighbors, the sense of community togetherness, the smiles and good mornings from strangers, the determination and resolve of the people to overcome hardships, all the things the novels and movies that glamorize the South actually got right.

These things may be changing with the raging urban sprawl and development that even hit the smaller towns, the fast paced bustle and rushed filled tendencies that the transplants better known as Yankees bring with them. Even with the change, these are the values I hope will survive and outlive the negative images and stereotypes that are so often indicative of the culture and are reflected in shows like Honey Boo Boo and Mud Loving Rednecks. I sincerely hope that the tendency of southerners to be immovable will play out in more constructive ways rather than the way of the expected negative and regressive mindset that has beset this region for almost two centuries. So yes, as a southerner, I too take up the battle cry that The South Shall Rise Again, but a better South, a more progressive and modern South, a genuine New South that respects the rights of everyone.

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