Saturday, November 30, 2013
Black and White isn't just a fashionable color scheme
One of the after effects of a large meal like Thanksgiving is the propensity to discuss those issues that would normally be avoided by those not on the edge of a food coma. Tryptophan apparently causes neural mis-firings as well as sleepiness. As usually happens when someone discovers I am from the South, they immediately christen me as the "voice of my people" and begin the volley of questions. I haven’t lived in the South for 11 years; apparently my accent is permanent. Of course I do talk to my sister about every other day and her combination of Southern and East Texas accents could cause Siri to sound like Ellie May Clampett; that may be why figurative magnolias burst forth and surround the words that I speak.
The conversational topic that was broached was racism. Quite naturally, they meant in the South. As I am used to this specificity, I broadened it to include, if we were forced to delve into the topic, racism everywhere. It seems odd to me that there is racism period. In this day and age, most everybody is bi-racial, even those who don’t look like they are. Take me for example. To the untrained eye, I look whiter than most Canadians. In my extreme preppy clothes, I could even be mistaken for someone from Connectichusetts. Until I open my mouth, that is. Then people automatically put me on a plantation with Scarlett, Rhett and the lot.
No one would believe that there is Native American blood running through my veins. Right along with the redneck blood, should that ever be considered a race. My father’s mother’s mother was some sort of Native American, no one can remember what so no casino money for us. However, if you looked at some of my relatives on the Thompson side you see there is something there that’s simply "not white”. My Dad’s brother, my Uncle JM, may he rest in peace, had the coloring and hair of our Native ancestors. He married my Aunt Barbara, who is some percentage Hispanic, so their children are very dark complexioned. I say that to say this, there are very few people who are “all white” so to be uptight about someone’s race or nationality is, well, silly. If you want to dislike them for their taste in clothing, music or mode of transport, be my guest. At least I can understand that; whether or not I agree is irrelevant.
I also find that most non-Southern Americans, and many members of the media, haven’t updated their opinion about Mississippi since the 1960s. I find it truly sad to think that much of the rest of the country still assumes that there are lynchings and protests and poor treatment of anyone “not white”. Of course these are the same people that have kept “Two and a Half Men” on the air looooooong after it stopped being funny, which was halfway through the first episode. If you like that show, I am also sad for you but in a much more judgmental fashion. I’m gonna pray for you, heathen.
What people need to realize, dear readers, is that while there might be people in the South who do not like someone because of the color of their skin, it is more likely that any actual hatred is related more to the color of their football jersey. Talk about throwing around some prejudice. If you want to see angry Southerners, just visit Facebook on college football Saturdays. It is brutal, y’all.
As I am one of the Southerners who left the South, it has fallen to me to try to explain the realities, having lived in “God’s Country” from birth through the age of 32. I have lived in many different locales in the last 11 years including Alaska, Ohio, New England and DC, and I have experienced stupidity and prejudice everywhere.
Por ejemplo (which is Spanish), Native Alaskans don’t like anyone that’s not from Alaska, including anyone who lives in Anchorage because “it’s NOT Alaska”. There’s even a town called Unalaska, which is actually in Alaska, which doesn’t make sense, but you try telling that to an Inuit. I dare you.
I can personally attest to blatant racism in Cleveland, OH; the tiny enclave of blue in one of the reddest states on the electoral map. You might think the blue is from Lake Erie, but you'd be wrong. Cleveland, while filled with great restaurants and plentiful shopping, smells like freshly mowed dog poop. Anyone who has ever pushed a lawn mower knows that smell; a subtle mix of heatstroke and indentured servitude. When I lived in Cleveland, there were areas of town I couldn’t frequent, including the famed BBQ Place, Hot Sauce Williams. My assistant, Valerie (hey girl!) told me she’d have to go get me the rib tip basket, which I allowed her to do but only on special occasions…like Wednesdays. It was the same for her. She wouldn’t have felt welcome should she want to have dinner in Little Italy which could have doubled as a break room for extras from The Sopranos, y’all. I was nervous but the food was too good to pass up.
I explained to my holiday companions that I am sure there are Southerners who are racist but they typically keep their mouth shut in public. And there are those whose dislike or distrust may run very near but still under the surface. But that’s both blacks and whites; it’s not exclusive. I can’t think off-hand of anyone I know that actually hates somebody. At most it’s an aversion to spending time with rather than hatred of any particular group of people. Southerners are ultimately too polite to outwardly display any negative emotion, not related to sporting events or alcohol consumption both pro and con.
And as per usual, the conversation always veers to the KKK, as if, again, I am the resident authority on all things Southern. There is a resident authority. Shelley Rushing Tomlinson is my fake cousin and the actual ‘Belle of All Things Southern’. Since she’s not here, let me just say that I love me some John Grisham, but I don’t know anywhere I’ve lived in the South where there is a KKK chapter as active as those in his books “A Time to Kill” and “Sycamore Row”. And I have lived in Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi and Alabama. I also lived in Texas and Oklahoma but only some people consider them Southern states, I suspect only because they’ve had so many Miss Americas.
I don’t personally know nor am I kin to anyone who is or has been active in the KKK. It’s not an actual club, like the Junior League. I mean, those who would have that much hate aren’t ones who tend to actually possess event planning skills. They couldn’t/wouldn’t have a bake sale or run a thrift shop. These are not the people you turn to when you need energetic assistance to implement your great idea. Those who I know that might be racist to the extent they would take action are not actually capable of keeping their focus on anything longer than it takes to smoke a Marlboro Light 100.
These people are theoretically powerless. They aren’t on Facebook, other than unknowingly starring in a photo montage of “People of Wal-Mart”. They are not computer literate. I daresay they are barely literate. The Southerners I know are part of the literate South. The South of Faulkner, Williams, Welty and, yes, Grisham. The arts and letters of the south don’t spell HATE. What they sometimes spell is not always fit to print but quite likely amuse while tailgating, sitting in a deer stand or floating down the river. I have done all three with varying degrees of enthusiasm.
I said much of this to my guests with my patented look which is a mixture of condescension and pity with a dash of Christian charity. I’ve been practicing, dear readers. And I did remind them that this new generation, the Millenials, seemed poised to be the first post-racial society. They don’t seem to be bothered by anything not displayed on their iPads or iPhones and even then it’s mostly met with duck lips and tongue wagging selfies. This latest trend lays squarely on the shoulders of Mr. Achy-Breaky Heart, father of Destiny Hope Cyrus. Yep, I did it. I called out Billy Ray. It's time to assign blame.
I just hope that the Millenials remain otherwise occupied with Kimye and skinny jeans and don’t ever feel compelled to actually listen to Uncle Bo Jimmy Jack and absorb the hatred that he may be spouting in the privacy of his 1966 Chevy truck up on blocks in the front yard because Lord help us all if someone that backward gets the skills to utilize an iAnything or figures out how Meetup works.
All we can do is pray hard and pass the Fritos, bean dip and everything from the left side of the Hardee’s menu. We’ll keep ‘em so full of grease and protein that if they ever get a mind to wreak havoc, the gout will keep them stationary. Gout hurts, y’all.
And I think I’ve said more than enough for now.