Friday, April 11, 2014

Southern Discomfort

I just rented 12 years a Slave.  I purposely didn’t see it in the theater, knowing it would be much too intense for me on a large screen.  I watched it at home, in small chunks, and left the room for many scences.

I am proud to say the Solomon Northrup’s story begins in the late 1830s as a respected, free man in a town near where I live.  It is where I spend a good deal of my summers.  It is only when Solomon is transported to the south that he is treated inhumanely.  

And this started me thinking.  Almost every story of slavery in the south shows not just the injustice of free labor.  No, there is always the dominant white people (men and women)  engaging in torture - rape, whippings, hanging, and often placing slaves in intolerable conditions.   And this by people who would quote the Bible as their justification.

I openly acknowledge my own personal bias against the south.   When Daphne and I were attacked it was by men with southern accents.  They were quite vocal about how our lesbian relationship was an abomination and sinful, while Daphne’s black skin gave them license to torture her.  Lesbians and blacks were sinful according to them, but apparently rape and sadistic torture were not.  

I know of very few people, driving through the south with New York license plates, who have not been stopped and hassled for some bogus reason.    A friend’s son spent one semester at Wake Forest before returning home because he couldn’t/wouldn’t tolerate the open racism by his dorm mates there.  Any person I know who has gone south to work, has always come back.  They are shocked by the open bigotry against blacks and gays.  And while we have often taken winter vacations to the warm southern climate, it has always been gay friendly tourist places, filled with other “snowbirds” from the north.   There is safety in numbers.

I am not saying that all racists and homophobes live in the south nor am I saying that every southern person is a racist or homophobe.  I am painfully aware that there are people everywhere who, for whatever reason, sadistically hurt people and/or animals and hate crimes occur everywhere.   I’m sure you can pick up a newspaper anywhere and find these stories.  But when these incidents happen, the horrified community usually comes together and punishes the wrongdoer.  There is some response and dangerous and sick people are removed from society.   Not necessarily so in the south.

Fast forward from the Civil War, 100 years to the civil rights movement.  Again, horrific southern behavior toward blacks.  I remember watching The Butler and the scene where young black people sat at a lunch counter and white Southerners came and taunted them, spit on them and finally began physical violence.  Cruel behavior against blacks was acceptable.  And was encouraged.  How did an entire region not only turn a blind eye but accept such behavior?  How could anybody find this acceptable?  I find it very scary.  Like Nazi Germany scary.   Yet unlike the Holocaust,  Southern racism has lasted generation after generation after generation.  Oh yes, you've got to be carefully taught.  

For a while I corresponded with  woman from the south.  She considered herself quite the liberal, progressive person.  Yet most of her views and opinions that she thought were so very progressive are the viewpoints of the average person where I live.  And even with her self given label “socialist for Jesus”,  gay/black/poor micro aggressions always leaked out of her.   She was white, straight, educated and religious and she never failed to let me know how superior she was.  I don’t think she ever realized it.  It was just her way of being in this world.

Last year I drove through North Carolina and wrote a blog post about the bumper stickers I saw. Incredibly racist and homophobic sentiments were openly displayed.  

Gay rights? Gays have the right to die. (with bible verse I couldn’t read)

If I had known this I would have picked my own cotton (along with a picture of the Confederate flag)

I learned everything I need to know about evolution from the Holocaust

and on one truck -

The Bro and his Ho have got to go
Don’t Re-Nig in 2012

I don’t know - where I come from those bumper stickers, and possibly those vehicles, would have been removed.  My daughter recently came back from Florida, very upset with the number of confederate flags openly displayed.  “Aren't people upset by that?” she asked.  I ask myself the same question but have no answers.  I find it hard to believe that the majority of southerners still carry such bias, yet where is the outrage?  Where is the push back?

12 years a Slave has gotten under my skin.   I can't comprehend how anyone thought the mistreatment of slaves was an appropriate practice.  I cannot even stomach watching the recreated images on a screen. I can't imagine witnessing it in person.  I do not understand how a human could treat another living being the way these slaves were systematically treated.   Or watch it happen. And with same mistreatment, and acceptance of such mistreatment continuing long into the 1960s and into today.  That so many southerners seem to accept the racism and confederate flags and racist/homophobic bumper stickers, just totally escapes me.  Perhaps they are so close to it they don’t even see it?   Is it a cultural thing I'm missing?  I simply don’t understand how an entire region, and a highly religious region at that, could continue to condone and encourage these attitudes.

Hank Aaron was recently quoted as saying “ The difference is that back then they wore hoods.  Now they wear neckties and starched shirts.”   

I find this very scary.

I am proud to say the Solomon Northrup’s story begins as a respected, free man in a town near where I live.   I wouldn't want to live, or raise my children, in a place where it was any other way.  


  1. Religious people have historically used the Bible (and religion) to beat the shit out of other people so they can feel superior. Yet it does seem that people who live in the Bible belt have the biggest, deadliest Bibles of all.
    I agree with all your points, which is why you don't see many black or gay people moving south. I'll take the snow and cold over the hate and fear any day.

    1. Although I did just read that black folk are moving south. I am hope that is a sign that things are finally changing.

  2. This is one of my biggest objections to organized religion. It is frequently interpreted as license to hate and discriminate. To promote 'otherness'.

    I wouldn't live in the south for anything. Yes, you can find racism, homophobia, hatred and contempt everywhere, but here in the west, it is not as overt. I'm not even interested in visiting the south, in fact, the idea frightens me. I don't want to play straight in order to get by.

    1. It's funny, when I was involved with religion I didn't see it. Now that I've left religion it has become crystal clear to me. Which I suppose is the same as the good people of the south don't see it, but people from other areas all pretty much perceive the south the same way.

      There are some really nice, and gay friendly places for us northerners to escape to when winter becomes too much. But I would never want to live there either.

  3. I've lived most of my life in the South and never heard the n word. But I made sure the person who used it knew how wrong it is. There is no reason for Bible thumpers except that a book can be used for menace when it contains prejudices of the people who wrote it. I'm committed to living beyond that kind of hateful Book worship. The pain people cause. Most people are ignorant of their own prejudices until they step back and get some education. It is too slow for me. I think it's ridiculous that anyone needs a confederate flag except in a Civil War museum. Once I tried to break up a fight where two African American young men were beating a Hispanic young man for wearing a Confederate flag patch on his jacket. We have so much institutionalized racism that has not been dealt with everywhere. I rejoice every time I see a mixed race couple because it gives me hope. Just a few random thoughts to add. So tired I hope they make sense.

    1. Makes sense to me. It is one of the things I am really interested in - when people are ignorant of their own prejudices. The southern woman I corresponded with would constantly use bad gay stereotypes and insulting labels and got really mad at me for pointing them out to her. I don't think she wanted to be shown that she was just as biased as the people she would criticize for their bias. It's an interesting phenomena.

  4. I want to see it, but can't, not for awile (longer). It all feels so very close to home, still. Likely, for the rest of my lifetime.

    My ex is from Mississippi.I stopped going "home" with him a few years before we split up. The toxicity rose up out of the dirt and I just couldn't have my (our) children become moe exposed.

    My first female ex is from Tennessee. . . ugh...except for her. ;-)

    1. It is a very tough movie to watch. It is still eating at me, and I didn't actually 'watch' most of it. I just can't understand how people can be that cruel. Where does all that cruelty come from? I think this is a question I need an answer for, but will probably never get one.

  5. The south has the highest divorce rates in the nation.

    They have the highest murder and execution rates and the most gun deaths.

    They rank lowest in education..

    Life expectancy is lower and death rates higher.

    They have the weakest environmental regulatory policies.

    They have the highest teen pregnancy rate in the country.

    Southern states also have the highest religious attendance figures in the nation.

    You do the math.

    1. Well correlation in not necessarily causation but I do think that an awful lot of people use religion as their excuse to hate. But the question for me is, why do they want to hate?

    2. I think there is a strong correlation between people who love to tell other people how to live (religious and obnoxious people) and how poorly those same people live their own lives. The word hypocrisy comes to mind.

  6. To manipulate people, you need to make them feel superior to others. You need to have a definite "other" class that you can name as less than human. It can be based on religion, race, sexuality, what ever. You just have to have a group that's not the majority and that can be categorized as not human. Or sinners. Sinners also works.

    Lessons learned from the Inquisition.

    We're still in the Dark Ages.

    1. And this is what I am so interested in. Why do people need to feel superior to someone else? Or more to the point, why do they need to hold someone else down to feel their own success? Why do people need to say their religion, job, income, skin color, sexuality, etc. is better than someone else's? What are people so afraid of?

  7. I was born and bred in the south and I am not proud of much of its history. But I do think it has gotten better. There are many places in the south that are fully and happily integrated and many black leaders of cities and towns. Is there still racism? Yes. But I just read that Portland, Oregon was the racist city in the country.

    1. I really hope that you're right - that things are getting better. Still as the blacks and gays rise up a little on the ladder, I wonder who will be the next group to be stomped on. We just don't seem to learn.