Two days ago, the New York Times published a story entitled "The South:For Some, Uncertainty Starts at Racial Identity." The short article features interviews with six Southerners. Now, I use the term interview very loosely because several were done in the parking lots of Wal-mart and Kroger and I'm not sure how in-depth one can get standing next the grocery cart bin. Those interviewed said despicably racist things about Barack Obama and his candidacy and the author of the article used those statements to make assumptions about all Southern voters.
I waited to write about this article because I hoped some of my anger would dissipate. It hasn't. I am still furious.
Now, let me be clear. There are racist people in the South. To say the South has a long, complicated racial history is a bit like saying the Grand Canyon is a hole in Arizona. However, I am extraordinarily tired of people from other regions of the country acting like we have a monopoly on racism. There are racists in every, single state in this country. Racism is institutionalized and it's pervasive. However, that is not the conversation people want to have. It's so much easier to march down to Mississippi, find the first redneck in a baseball hat, and sit in judgement on the racist South. Everybody feels superior to the poor, backwards South and nobody is forced to examine the real complexity of the issue.
While we're at it, I'd like to clear something else up. Not everybody in the South is a racist! I realize this might come as a shock, especially if you partake mass media from time to time, but it's true. Southerners are just as complex as any other group and we are not all the same. Unfortunately, Southerners are one of the few, remaining groups it completely acceptable to stereotype. What if the tables were turned in this article? What if I marched into a predominantly Asian or gay or feel-in-the-blank neighborhood, quoted six people as saying the most stereotypically ridiculous remarks, then made assumptions about the entire group? And made them without quoting a single poll, study, or historical example? How would that go over? I'm guessing not very well.
Of course, the source of the article is another source of the problem. Not to sound like a Pace Salsa commercial, but New York City! Are you kidding me? There is already a lot of animosity between Southerners and what they see as the Eastern elite who look down on them. Needless to say, articles like this don't help.
I'm not asking for pity. I know people don't have a lot of patience for white girls complaining about stereotypes. However, the South is my home and I love it. It's a fierce love based not on delusions about it's perfection or superiority, but on honest respect for its history and what I believe it has to offer. And I do not take kindly to what I see as cheap and easy exploitation of it for a story.