The Promised Land

27 Jun

If there is one thing that is true about me, it’s that I love my father. So much. Every writer has one person who acts as her audience of one and my father is that audience.He would horse whip me if he ever read half of what I’ve written and that’s okay. There are days I feel like every good decision I make is for him.

My father was born in the American South. He was raised in poverty and educated in a failing, broken school system where corporal punishment and institutionalized racism were the status quo. He left Mississippi when he was a very young man and has lived a life that would make my hair curl. And though he came North and fell in love with my crazy Yankee mama, my family’s culture is largely Southern. The way we talk, the foods we eat, and many of our traditions come straight from his upbringing in Mississippi. And, you guys, I would not have it any other way.

To say that I cannot extricate my political feelings about the American South from my feelings for my father and my familial culture is…putting it very lightly.

There is a lot wrong with the American South, to an extent that I cannot imagine. And I’ve lived there. My pediatrician had racially divided waiting rooms. My older sister’s private school had two bus systems – one for white kids and one for black kids – in the early 1980s. That ish is effed, you know? The poverty that exists in rural Southern states is…astounding. My father says, and I believe him, that there are areas where slavery still exists – one way or another. There are studies and polls – trust me, I read them – where X amount of people in any given Southern state don’t believe in interracial marriage or gay marriage or having a mixed race President. It embarrasses me and breaks my half-Yankee heart. Where I grew up, the banks were closed to celebrate the birth of Jefferson Davis. For those of you not playing War of Northern Aggression at home, Jefferson Davis was the President of the Confederacy. Yeah. There is a lot deeply wrong with this region.

But even for all of this, I cannot turn my back on this part of the country. And it’s not just about grits and rocking chairs on porches. I am not a stupid person,even if I am sentimental. I have an old, distant friend who hates the South with a fervor that I usually reserve for war criminals and my ex-husband. And he says, fuck it. Leave them be, let them be their own shitty country. It can’t be fixed and he can’t be bothered. Which is fine, since he has never been further South than Chicago. For what it’s worth (nothing), I have seen more Confederate flags in Michigan than I saw in Mississippi. There are bad, sick people everywhere.

I am so hesitant to turn my back on the South, out of love and also out of…fear. When you leave sick people alone, they get worse. This a sickness created and perpetuated by poverty, racism, isolation, and perverse tradition. If you let them be – the people responding to the polls saying interracial marriage is wrong and buying the Confederate flags and doing all manner of awful things – it’s giving in. To them and the children they will raise to be exactly like them. It’s also a big Fuck You to the people who happen to live in the South who also happen to be normal, sane people working hard, raising families. You know, people like you.

I don’t know what kind of outreach you do in this situation. I have exactly zero answers. I know the ills of the South cannot be masked with pecan pie and pork belly, or even my sweet father. I also know that now is not the time to step away and feel smug.

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