23 July 2007

Love for the South

Granted it’s been less than two years since I arrived, and the only places I’ve lived are New Orleans and Gulfport, and I have heard “white” politicians say things in public here that they’d be loathe to whisper in private most places I’ve lived, and for most of my stay I’ve been blessed to park above the poverty line; but at this point I’d have to say the South is not nearly the hell hole I expected it to be. I know that if I lived in a rural area or on welfare chances are good I’d file a very different report…

For a long time I was afraid to come down here after all the blatant and implied caveats I heard growing up in Indiana. I just knew, as dark as my skin was and with so little “common sense” (my mother’s frequent criticism), venturing into Dixie would have been tantamount to asking to die young. So I stayed away. And, as much as possible, looked the other way; horrible things happened to black people in the South and I felt guilty sometimes about the relative privilege and security I enjoyed as a resident of the North.

I suspect if I’d known there was some place in the States where people still use butter and sugar and smoke cigarettes without apology, where people speak to each other in passing even if they don’t know you, where you don’t have to have a cell phone and voicemail to actively participate in community life, where the posted speed limit in school zones is actually observed, and where hardly anybody is in a hurry to do anything, I’d have made my way southward a long time ago.

It’s not Paradise here. I have a few complaints I could make if it would do any good. But the whole thing about race relations? Well, the grossly exaggerated propaganda I heard prior to coming does not square up with my experience. Specifically, I’m relishing how “white” people here seem to take my blackness for granted. Like they’ve been thinking whatever they think about black folk for a long time. As compared to Northerners who seem to be trying so hard to either recover from or mask their racism. Like they have something to prove to themselves or to me and it’s going to take a long time in either case.

Except for a few times among Unitarian Universalists (a group/movement notoriously and perennially unsettled about racial identity), I’ve been more comfortable and unstressed and un-self-conscious about being “colored” than ever before in my life. In fact, I’m more comfortable and unstressed and un-self-conscious generally since coming here.

Now if I can just develop a social network of folks who like to read and some artists and a few sex perverts and maybe find some men to date…

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