The Two Faces of the South

Before I say anything else, I want to profess my love of the region I’ve lived in all my life. It has formed me, nurtured me and helped make me the man I am today. In many ways, the southeastern United States is a world unto itself and there are many good things here. Family is important, along with hospitality, tradition and honor. And, then there’s history. The scholar Richard Weaver once said “The South is a region that history has happened to”. But, William Faulkner best described the southern obsession for history when he stated “The past is never dead.  It’s not even past.” If you grew up in the south in as late as the 70’s, you were taught that ladies didn’t open their own doors, you knew that visitors were always invited to stay for dinner, that hard work built character and that a man’s word was his bond. If a neighbor was in need, your family shared whatever they could spare. Saying the wrong words in front of your mother would get your mouth washed out with soap. Those words weren’t limited to curse words either; calling someone a dummy could earn you a mouthful of suds. You went to church on every Sunday, sat in the pew with your family and learned about the Golden Rule and the Good Samaritan. And, you tried to apply those things in your everyday life. That’s the South I like to remember; the one where chicken was always fried and “Bless your heart” could express empathy or irritation. Unfortunately, that’s not the whole story.

If you grew up down here in the 60’s and 70’s, you were well aware that there were two South’s. There was the white one, with sweet tea and big front porches. And, there was the “other” one, the black one. I’m sure black folks in the south had their “sweet tea and fried chicken” moments, but they were always overshadowed by the fact that they were second-class citizens. Jim Crow laws passed around the turn of the century disenfranchised them. They didn’t get the same kind of jobs that white folks did. Not appearing “uppity” was a constant concern, because “uppity n-ggers” were dealt with ruthlessly. There was more than one county line in North Carolina with a sign advising that the reader was entering “Klan country”. The 50’s and 60’s saw the beginning of change in the south, however. Jim Crow was slowly dismantled as schools were integrated, black Americans regained their right to vote and equal opportunity programs ensured they got good jobs at decent pay. It began to seem that the south was finally going to be that idealized place we white folks like to remember.

Alas, it wasn’t to be. For some reason, human beings can’t seem to be happy unless they’re shitting on someone and we began looking for another group to dump on. We found them in the LGBT community. As of now, 31 states have constitutional amendments that ban same-sex marriage; 12 of them are in the south (by “south” I mean the states of the old Confederacy). Of those 12 states, all but two ban any type of union by same-sex couples. In the last month, we have heard pastors advocating violence against effeminate sons, placing gay people in concentration camps and even state-sanctioned execution for homosexual behavior. So far, we’re not seeing lynch mobs or Klan action against “agitators”, but I’m wondering if such things are that far off.

If you’re wondering about my point here, it’s this: you should always remember when you start with the “Moonlight and Magnolias” bullshit, there’s someone else whose memories aren’t as fond as yours. And, now there’s a new generation who will have to deal with the same garbage.