A few years ago, I heard comedian Blake Clark (of “Home Improvement and numerous Adam Sandler movies) talking about seeing the movie “Sling Blade” with his wife in Los Angeles. Clark is from Georgia and his wife is from Texas and they had a different response to the movie than their fellow theater-goers: like every other southerner who has seen it, they were laughing their butts off. The reason for this comes out in an exchange between Clark and his wife. Clark leaned over to her and whispered “I know people just like this”. His wife answered “Know people? Hell, I’m related to people like this!”
I’m reminded of this statement every time someone blasts people who aren’t as “progressive” as they are. I’ve always reacted when this happened, but the reactions have changed over time. Back in the days when I was a staunch conservative, it pissed me off. After my views have “evolved”, I cringed; even when I said those things myself. For a long time, I didn’t understand why it bothered me; after all,weren’t these people were backward-ass rednecks that needed to shown the light and brought into the 21st century? It turns out I was experiencing what’s known as “cognitive dissonance” (it doesn’t just afflict conservatives, you know).
Cognitive dissonance is “the feeling of discomfort when simultaneously holding two or more conflicting cognitions: ideas, beliefs, values or emotional reactions.” Reading Will D. Campbell’s “Brother to a Dragonfly” showed me why I felt this way. I talk about it in a post titled “The Tragedy of the Redneck Part I“. After describing a conversion moment Campbell had, I say a little about my own conversion: “I knew as soon as I finished it that I had read something important, but it took a day or so to process it before that I realized I am a redneck”.
Whatever you want to call them, rednecks, country folks, white trash, etc, these are good people. A bit misguided perhaps, but still good. They don’t just believe in the Gospel, they live it. Hospitality is a virtue that is still alive in the South. Southern people believe that assistance to poor people should be handled by individuals and not the government because they still do that. They are loyal; to a fault sometimes, but loyal nonetheless. I promise, a southerner will be the best friend you ever had.
But, Joel, you say, what about racism? What about the persecution of LGBT people? Yes, my people are not without faults. Like all humans, they tend to believe the worst about groups of people. But, not individuals. This idea is summed up by a saying about the southern attitude toward race: Southerners hate the race, but love the people. For example, my grandfather was incensed when Hank Aaron, a black man, broke Babe Ruth’s home run record. But, there are many stories of him going out of his way to help black folks he knew. I know that doesn’t make any sense, but neither does believing all southerners are racists because they’re from the South.
Since my conversion moment with Pastor Will, I have tried, with varying degrees of success, to keep in touch with my roots; to not “get above my raisin’ ” as it were. Most of all, to remember that not only am I related to people like that, I am people like that.