As most of you know, I come from a southern heritage. None moreso than the branch of my family that comes from the north. How my grandmother ended up in the south is a long story, but once there, the last thing she wanted to be was carpetbaggers, so she married quickly and embraced the southern identity.
When Mom was 16, she had a brother who was 14 and in a terrible accident. He needed blood. Everybody warned my grandmother not to let them give her son n*****’s blood. Told this one too many times, she screamed back that she didn’t care whose blood it was and she didn’t care if it turned her son into a n*****, as long as he lived. Mom remembers this, of all the things to remember when her brother was dying, because she didn’t understand what her mother was talking about. All of her life, she had been taught differently.
You’d have to know my mother, especially when she’s telling stories in an inebriated state, that this story was not a tribute to political correctness. This was not a story where Mom learned a valuable lesson and became progressive on racial issues. She didn’t, and is not, so progressive. She is a child who was raised in the south in the 1950’s.
She will vote for Anybody But Obama. Between 1976 and 1980, she was flipped by the Southern Strategy. She has views on a lot of things that put me on edge. She has close friends who are black, and neither emphasizes or conceals this fact. For a little while, she thought Herman Cain was the bomb. She thought it was neat that (African-American) Tim Scott beat Strom Thurmond’s son in SC CD1.
When I brought home a date of Egyptian extraction, she freaked out and asked me why I hadn’t warned her about it. The thought never occurred to me. When my brother married a girl of Middle Eastern descent, she was excited about what her grandchildren might look like. It was the upside of a marriage that she did not approve of — for reasons that genuinely had nothing to do with race.
We talk about southern racism some times as though it is a thing. It is many things. Many complicated things. Different things to different people. It’s usually more complex than a simple hatred, disdain, or a view of racial supremacy. There’s a desire not to be racist, and yet a stubborn determination not to be not racist. (This is, of course, leaving aside the natural racism that resides within us all.)
This isn’t an apology to attitudes that need to be condemned or corrected. Rather, it’s a concern that the misdiagnosis itself contributes to the problem. I come at this as a native southerner that detests these attitudes and, in a way, feels them more sharply than many because they reflect on me. To varying degrees, I have family and loved ones that are so infected by it. The struggle between southern history, my own roots in the south, and a desire for a different and better society and nature, is one that occurs at ground zero in my mind.