I live in New Orleans, a place that is remarkably liberal, diverse, and tolerant. I’m in a liberal arts program at a liberal school. I live in a neighborhood dominated by New Yorkers, Seattleites, and Ohioans.
In my liberal bubble, I’ve forgotten how to talk to talk to people in the opposite party. Hell, I’ve forgotten how to associate with religious, non-college educated, regular fucking folk. But I’m not alone—nearly half of all liberals don’t associate with people in the opposite party.
I’m not sure that I could. I’ve decided to opt out of Thanksgiving this year because I struggle to be around my extended family on a good day, much less in the worst political climate I’ve been witness to. I just don’t know that the margarita I can now purchase at the Mexican restaurant in my now wet hometown would soothe my blood pressure (does liquor even do that?). I just can’t stomach hating on “illegals” while slurping down the biggest gift South America ever undeservingly gave to us.
This is the central issue: I cannot detangle contemporary conservatism from morality. Last week, white supremacist returned to Charlottesville brandishing torches and hateful rhetoric, and the Vice President staged a counter-protest at an NFL game to occupy the media that barely paid attention to Nazis roaming our streets yet again. Conservatism is defending it with their silence. In this forsaken planet, silence is complicity.
In my self-created liberal bubble, I have fashioned myself a group of people that mostly think the way I do without my background in the South. My friends are from the South, but the urban enclaves of Nashville and New Orleans that don’t pose that much of an opposition to their beliefs. They’ve never politely and quietly sat in a room full of people spewing hateful language and the moral antithesis of everything they believe in. I’ve had to do that since birth, though I’m terrible at it, for people in my own family and people that I’m supposed to love unconditionally. Which means I have to understand where they’re coming from, even if I came from the same place and don’t believe a goddamn word coming out of their mouths.
So when someone imitates a Trump supporter, they don a fictitious, imagined Tennessee-twanged accent. They equate ignorance with conservatism and imagine a South that doesn’t exist: a mythical land of middle-aged white men in MAGA hats and a gun rack on their trucks. And I don’t want to claim that those people don’t exist. They surely do. But college-educated people of all races, working class people of color, rowdy-ass women, and queer people all along the LGBTQA+ spectrum inhabit the South. I can’t believe I have to tell liberals to stop erasing marginalized people, but here we are.
So I hope you’ve noticed a tension in what I just said. I just said, “I can barely stand my people [from the South]” and “the South is diverse and not a monolith.” But let me give you an example of how this tension actually functions in everyday reality:
This week, I traveled from New Orleans to Florence, Alabama. After a day in Alabama, I drove to Nashville and then Knoxville the next day, and back to Nashville. On my way to Knoxville, I saw NRA bumper stickers, billboards predicting our impending Judgment Day and Damnation, pro-life state-issued license plates with babies on them, and “Lock Her Up” drawn on the back of a dirty semi-truck. I drove past the God-awful Nathan Bedford Forrest statue driving into Nashville, and front yards littered with Roy Moore signs In Alabama.
But I was driving to Knoxville to see Trae Crowder, Corey Forrester, and Drew Morgan put on a sold-out show at the Bijou Theater, the boys who serve as the loudest voice of the Redneck Liberal party I am so fond of (with a review of their just-released-in-paperback Liberal Redneck Manifesto: Dragging Dixie Out of the Dark coming soon).
In Alabama, I drank bourbon at a new hipster bar with one of my oldest buddies, a tattooed queer DACA recipient that does boylesque shows in Florence’s thriving LGBTQA+ burlesque community. I listened to the Drive-By Truckers’ Dirty South and Decoration Day for most of those long drives. I saw signs in Hattiesburg, Mississippi for Big Freedia’s performance. The Bitter Southerner just published an amazing piece on Knoxville’s avant-garde Big Ears Festival. And when I called my grandmother to talk, we talked about all the good restaurants in town with not a single breath about politics.
I think what I’ve come to understand the clearest about my home is beyond the false perception of the South as a monolith. The South is hurting. The South has been left to stagnate in institutions that prevent any and all forms of cultural ideological progress. That’s a bold ass statement because it certainly isn’t applicable to a large portion of people that live here, including me, a lot of my family, and definitely my friends. But I think about how many times we prayed in school, how controversial evolution was to teach, how I learned about the War Between the States and never heard the words “bigotry” and “racism” in the church I was forced to go to. Public schools, churches, and industry are the only institutions capable of changing the South, no matter how hard we fight in culture. If The Southern Baptist Convention and state school boards band together to institutionally change what they’re teaching, and immigration reform actually happens without the term “illegals,” and the NRA’s religion is disbanded as a hate group, we might actually reach the people that desperately need to be reached. Am I in any way saying protests and cultural changes won’t work? Absolutely not.
But I’m tired. My voice hurts. Artists, activists, and non-profit groups cannot be held accountable for inspiring long overdue systemic change among people living in double-digit unemployment, embarrassing school systems, and churches that spew hate from the pulpit. Why does Fox News speak to the middle-aged white Southerner? Because they’re scared and those pundits know how to speak to their fears in ways that I don’t know my liberals ever will. Conservative ideology is rooted in rurality. Liberalism is rooted in progress. A lot of the subversive ideas that match those categories are diametrically opposed. Rural America is terrified of losing more of their already dwindling jobs—so conservatism tells them that illegals are taking those jobs, not shady ass big-businessmen. They’re scared of losing their sport and useless home security system—conservatism tells them that liberals want to take their guns away. They’re afraid of having their religion and cultural capstone lose significance in modernity—conservatism tells them they’re persecuted and Sharia law is coming for them.
Liberalism hasn’t been speaking to those fears directly, and until we do, rural America will continue to listen to the people they’re told care about them.
And the marginalized people that live in the South will continue to feel neglected by each side of the political spectrum, staying silent when we need those voices the most.
Sorry I didn’t post this weekend. Traveling and midterms are bitches. Make sure to subscribe by email below and email me if you want at firstname.lastname@example.org.