I’ve been debating whether or not to write about politics on here. That’s remarkable for me, because it feels like all I do these days is talk about politics. I’m not drinking at the moment and the world we live in right now is so dark sometimes I can’t see what kind of place the next generation will inherit, if they inherit anything at all. And every time I open my mouth I piss somebody off.
I mentioned this before, but as a child I was always obsessively political. My parents were, in good Southern tradition, yellow dog democrats, the party of the working man, even though all them politicians are crooked. They were largely uninterested, and my mom still believes that the political world has been shitty before and it’ll be shitty again and we can’t let it personally destroy us. To an extent I have to say she might not be wrong, but not because right now isn’t the worst political period in decades, but because I think it’s so dark I can’t see through it, much less change it. And I remember ostracizing myself because poor people seemed to only care about dead babies and queers, two events that would literally never effect their lives, and rich people only cared about getting richer, regardless of how their labor force was struggling. But I guess I can’t keep my mouth shut when the city I might potentially move to in a year is overrun with white supremacists.
A relative confirmed that the Klan rally I mentioned in The Prologue actually happened. It was 2006. Not 1943 or the tumultuous 1980s—2006. It happened and it barely made the news. Maybe because nobody gave a shit if a bunch of racists in a town of less than six thousand people got together and was racist together. Our town was only 9% black, after all. But if we were being honest with ourselves they were, in fact, hating black people, but their primary concern was the tremendous influx of Hispanic immigrants. According to the 2010 census, my hometown is 36% Hispanic, and that’s probably only counting documented immigrants, which is a 125% increase from 2000. With such a huge influx in such a short period of time, the white natives felt the real and tangible fear of “losing jobs” to immigrants in a town where nearly 40% of the population lives well below the poverty line. This fear was best described by Brother Billy, a member of the Klan that marched on Franklin County that day, though the Times Daily paraphrased his comment that, “America is being invaded by a group of people who are taking jobs and taking over America illegally.”
I wish so dearly that I could inform them that the immigrants weren’t the problem, and they weren’t taking anybody’s jobs. They are cogs in the machinery of the New South Slave System, where rich white business people purposefully encouraged illegal immigration to decrease their labor costs. But I guess it has always been easier to blame the brown person before yourself, rather than the city that passed legislation to grant undocumented immigrants amnesty in the same year.
Charlottesville, Virginia stands at a critical place in national geography. The city is a little over two hours away from D.C., and while the population sits at a modest 47,000, it is by no means a rural, country town. I’m sure you’ve all read about the horrific atrocity that took place yesterday, and I don’t need to rehash the details. Some persecuted white boy that lived with his mama drove into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing one and injuring plenty. And I won’t try to offer a reason for why it happened, what we can do to change it, and how we will move past this and people will stop hating so much. Those questions are above my pay grade. What I can say is that this problem clearly isn’t new, but seems to be making headlines now more than the recent past precisely because we’re in an administration that condones it and provides fodder for those white people’s fears. During the Klan rally in Franklin County in 2006, the Brothers, as I think they’re all called, handed out flyers to teenagers and invited them to a cross burning out in Vina later that day. It would be remiss to not point out that those teenagers are now in their late twenties.
I’ve tried to rationalize why conservatism has grasped the South by its cojones since Reagan. I’ve tried and failed to make sense of why the poor people, on Medicare and living in FHA housing, believe that Trump and the GOP are their salvation. On a surface level I do understand how a cop-loving rich man, two traits no self-respecting redneck would ever before approve of, became the leader of the free world. But I’ve also shouted to the top of my bourbon infused lungs at the insufferable milieu of intellectual, kale-drinking, yoga-going East Coast Liberals. I’ve tried to make y’all understand why it is that your pleas against discrimination toward non-binary genderqueer heteromantic identities and condemnation against ableist rhetorical microagressions are all falling on deaf ears. Trump’s camp masterfully knew how to appeal to the white working class, living in poverty, that cares about dead babies and just want their goddamn jobs back, and there are a lot more of those willing to vote white people than there are educated and pissed off young people willing to protest. I don’t like it. I never will. But until we, as liberals, learn to speak the fractured, pithy, buzzword-laden language of the poor man, we will be living in a world where Trump, and Charlottesville, and the Klan, happens.
I’m going to leave you with a quote from William Faulkner’s 1954 essay called “Mississippi,” if only to show you the self-aware duality, the pride and shame, of being a Southerner:
“Home again, his native land; he was born of it and his bones will sleep in it; loving it while hating some of it…But most of all he hated the intolerance and injustice: the lynching of Negroes not for the crimes they committed but because their skins were black… the inequality: the poor schools they had then when they had any, the hovels they had to live in unless they wanted to live outdoors: who could worship the white man’s God by not in the white man’s church; pay taxes in the white man’s courthouse but couldn’t vote in it or for it; working by the white man’s clock but having to take his pay by the white man’s counting…”
Hope I didn’t piss y’all off too much. Next week I’ll be posting a piece of Alabama folklore, and maybe delve into the conflicted feelings I got on This American Life’s S-Town Podcast. Please comment, as I suspect this post will generate some discussion, but also subscribe by email below to keep up with where I’m going, if you’re into that kind of thing. If you got strong words that you don’t want to share (I’m scoffing even thinking somebody would feel that way in this climate), feel free to email me at email@example.com