Dear American South, I Am So Sick Of Your Shit.

posted March 25, 2016

About 20 years ago I was pulled over in my home town of Knoxville, Tennessee with a broken headlight. The officer asked me how long it had been out. “That week,” I told him, and that I planned on replacing it soon. He was friendly, told me to make sure I did, then asked to see my license. At the time I lived in New York.

“You know you’re supposed to get a Tennessee license within 90 days of moving here.”

“Oh, I’m not moving back here. I’m returning to New York in a couple weeks.”

His eyes narrowed, his friendly expression turned into a scowl, and he pressed himself so far into my window I had to lean back in my seat.

“You got a problem with Tennessee boy?”

I was so shocked and intimidated by his question I couldn’t answer. He told me to “sit tight” and walked back to his patrol car. I didn’t just get a ticket. I got a summons. He told me in 6 weeks I would be required to appear and demonstrate that I had a functioning headlight. When I reminded him that I’d be back in New York by then he said, “that’s not my problem, boy.”

People think I’m joking when I talk about the South like this

There is nothing unusual about this experience. I have dozens of similar stories. This isn’t even the worst one. I also have friends who still live in the South who are wonderful people. My parents and sister both live there and are wonderful people. My stepmother, stepsister, stepbrother-in-law, stepbrother, their kids, are all wonderful people. The South has tons of wonderful people! Really!

The reason I left, and could never live there again, is that the ignorant and hateful people are more numerous than anywhere else I’ve been. Maybe they’re not more numerous, but they’re definitely more vocal, and allowed to pass discriminatory laws that make life miserable for anyone who’s non-white or non-Christian.

I’ve seen plenty of ignorance in other places. It’s not even exclusively American. I had a conversation with 2 Scottish mailmen in Edinburgh about Shakespeare that was really nice right up until one of them asked me, “But aren’t there a lot of blacks in the United States?” like he was wondering about frequent flooding or some other natural disaster.

The difference in the South is that many are proud of their ignorance

I know people in the south who brag about not reading. I’m dead serious. They complain about having had to read so much in college and are now relieved they never have to open a book again. Many are conservative Christians, which is even stranger, because they haven’t even read the Bible. They’ve had it read to them, in bite-size Sunday pieces, they boast of living by it, but if you want to discuss specific passages, they can’t do it. They only know what they are taught, and that those teachings entitle them to hate people.

Why are you writing this?

Despite all this I’m proud to be Southern. The culture of food, music, the support of small towns and businesses. Not to mention the scenery. The American south is beautiful. There’s so much to love about it, but now that you mention it, Yes, I do have a problem with the South.

Although my family and friends there are not the ones passing Anti-LGBT laws or outlawing yoga (Seriously?! Yoga?!) many of them are raising a generation of children. Because of the vocal, legislated bigotry and ignorance I have to worry about my niece growing up around people who will likely teach her that I’m evil because some of my friends are gay, and that I will burn in hell for supporting their rights and those of other non-white, non-Christian Americans. I love my niece a lot, but how much is she going to love me when someone explains to her I’m a horrible person because I don’t believe in God?

Anyone in the South can change

If you’re Southern and white, there are racists in your family tree. It’s a given. Maybe it’s you, maybe it’s living relatives, or maybe like me you have to go back a couple generations. It doesn’t make you a bad person. It doesn’t necessarily make the racists bad people. I heard my grandparents use the N-word in the same way someone would describe a type of furniture. As in, “This is a dining room table. That is an N-word.” It wasn’t hateful, it was ignorant. Because of my parents, when I heard my own family use the word, I knew it was wrong. I also knew my grandparents weren’t hateful. They were hardworking, loving care givers to me and my sister. They never hit us, they fed us well, they were good people.

Their racism was common and passive. They weren’t out lynching people. They had virtually no contact with minorities. And that was the problem. That is the problem currently. When it comes to homosexuality, the transgendered, other religions, there is a complete lack of exposure, lack of experience, and lack of empathy. So much of the South is run by insular, white Christians who regard everyone else as “the other.” They don’t know anything about Muslims, other than what Trump and Fox News tells them, and they’re afraid in their ignorance.

The problem is their ignorance means that decades after the Civil Rights Movement many Southerners are actively or passively letting horrible things happen.

If you’re a Southern person who supports legislation which prevents the rights of others, or thinks gays or Muslims or pit bull owners should not share equal protection under the law, there’s a problem. Your freedom does not include the right to limit the freedom of those who believe differently than you.

I may not agree with you about evolution, the age of the earth, the importance of reading, the strength of diversity, or what happens when we stop breathing, but I’m not coming after your Chick-fil-A, or your God, or your guns. In short, I don’t hate you. I’m not trying to harm you or your beliefs by protecting my own. I just want you to let everyone who disagrees with you live in peace. The South is a really big place, and a really great place. There’s plenty of room for everyone.

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