By Preston King
Special to AfriGeneas
The South has a penchant for dogma and excess. It is an inclination that needs amending. The region has made much progress, but, in the end, perhaps, only under duress. We are right to be sensitive to the large, long-term failure reflected in the region’s history. To be blunt, recall the obvious:– (a) unalloyed defense of slavery up to 1865; (b) an unnecessary Civil War guaranteed by the South’s unprovoked attack on Fort Sumter in 1861; (c) the sustained demagoguery and lynching throughout the segregationist decades up to and through WWII; (d) root and branch opposition to desegregation up through the 1960s; (e) the present craze for so-called ‘conservatism’ and its attendant nonsense – vaunting a hyper-minimalist, no-tax, night-watchman state (only worthy of the nineteenth century). Is there really any need for the South to wallow in the notion that capitalism is all-good just because it isn’t all-bad? Why does this region have to go ott in almost everything?
The South should have the best schools and universities in the country. But, typically, it has the worst. The problem is that Southern leadership, whether tub-thumping or lip-biting, is all invective. It has never grown up. It has never become serious. And it attracts acolytes of like mind. If any quack has medicine to sell, he will sell it best in the South. Why is Rush Limbaugh, a mental astigmatic of self-absorbed intelligence, so well received down here? Why is airtime almost entirely made over in our region to crass ideologues like Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, Neal Boortz and their ilk? Why was Nixon’s Southern strategy so enormously successful among us? Why was the voodoo economics of Reagan received here as holy writ? We are not stupider than other people. But we work very hard at giving that impression.
Is this a white/black thing? The whites have tended to have all the power, yes. But it is bigger than that. For the fact remains, like it or not, that black and white have always been tightly integrated from a biological and genetic perspective. However absurd white leadership has been, it remains that virtually no Southern black – whatever his or her appearance – is without some genetic link to that side of the bed. So we have to shift attention to the head. Or to what fills it. And that is to a way of thinking. Which is to say, we don’t seem to think a lot. Put another way, we tend to memorize things, without thinking through them. That is the problem. We are the land of received wisdom, all revolving round great fear of The Other, and great love only of that we know (or think we know).
This mental astigmatism is reflected in this election, and the immense hostility Southern whites in particular have directed towards the Obama candidacy. He is said to be ‘dangerous’, a ‘terrorist’, a Muslim, a non-citizen, an extremist, ‘wet behind the ears’, a ‘liberal’, even worse a ‘socialist’, ‘arrogant’, getting above himself, an ‘elitist’, etc etc. It is quite clear that Obama is a perverse delight to the ‘mind of the South’. He is the automatic other, who wishes to ‘spread the wealth around’, and to destroy ‘our way of life’. In all this the South remains true to its history. But wouldn’t it be good, just for once, to get ahead of history, and not (yet again) be kicked in the butt by it?