Interesting article which discusses the differences between black folks living in the South and those from other places. I am not sure the author’s reasoning is correct but it is worth evaluating and discussing…
Blacks in the South, Carlton told me, are submissive. He was a young African-American man from Kansas City. We were sitting in a classroom in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. A teacher friend of mine had asked me to mentor him and another of her high school students.
Blacks in the South are submissive.
It rolled off his tongue, not as indictment, but as description.
His family sent him “down South” for that very reason, to get him away from, Carlton said, the kind of black people who stand up for themselves and firmly against injustice—personal and otherwise—the kind of black people he had been getting in trouble with as they fought back … against whatever it was they were fighting, something he couldn’t quite explain.
Being among submissive blacks, there would be none of the fighting and mischief that had his mother worried about how long he would live, because Southern blacks don’t fight, don’t question authority, unthinkingly fall in line—the kind of environment he needed.
The proof was all around us.
Never mind the rich history of the Civil Rights movement, born in the South and carried out by men and women so fearless they were willing to be lynched. What caught Carlton’s attention were Confederate flags in store windows, hanging from front poles in people’s yards, on bumper stickers and T-shirts, and gated communities developers named after pretend plantations, hoping to invoke the image of Southern elegance portrayed in Gone with the Wind.
No way that kind of thing would be allowed where he was from, Carlton reasoned. There would be rioting in the streets. (Notice how black South Carolinians have been praised for not rioting after a white North Charleston cop shot a fleeing black man in the back or when nine black people were targeted for death in a church.) The Southern blacks he saw—people like me—seemed too content, too happy, too accepting of the unacceptable.
Listening to him, I felt like Hattie McDaniel, which was fitting, given that I have driven by a restaurant named Mammy’s so frequently it had become part of the landscape, no longer a point of reflection. The sight of it, or riding down roads named for Confederate heroes, no longer left me wondering how much my state’s reverence for a war it started to keep people like me in chains a century and a half ago helped perpetuate 21st-century racial disparities.
That conversation with Carlton was a little more than a decade ago. The memory of that day came flashing back as I watched commentators throughout the country wax poetic with righteous anger about the Confederate flag flying on State House grounds in the capitol of my native state and their clear, unapologetic calls to “bring it down.”
I was ashamed, began wondering if Carlton was right because I knew that in some ways black people and white people in South Carolina had for years done what President Barack Obama warned against during his eulogy for the “Charleston Nine” killed at Emanuel AME—slipped “into comfortable silence.”
Despite the headlines and rhetoric dripping from the lips of Southern politicians so white-hot they make national news and late-night comedians drool, a comfortable silence has been a more accurate description of everyday black life in my part of the South than constant, overt racial unrest.
And that’s why it took the massacre of nine black people in a church once burned down by slavery supporters to make the Confederate flag an issue politicians have to grapple with today.
I was raised about 45 miles from where Dylann Roof allegedly sat in a Bible study for an hour before shooting the people he reportedly hesitated to kill because they had been so nice to him. My childhood included many trips to Charleston, including to Emanuel AME during the summer of 1990 on the day the Ku Klux Klan held a rally a five-minute walk from the church.
I grew up in an under-funded, rural high school that remained segregated for four decades after Brown v. Board of Education, and was taught by a white high school teacher who forbade us from writing about Malcolm X for Black History Month.
I rushed to the TV like many people I grew up with to watch “The Dukes of Hazzard.” I cheered for Daisy and Uncle Jesse against Jefferson “Boss Hog” Davis, and with Bo and Luke Duke in an orange Dodge Charger with the Confederate flag on the roof and named after the most revered Confederate soldier of them all, Gen. Robert E. Lee.
By the time that show ended its six-year run in 1985, the Confederate flag had been flying above the South Carolina State House dome for almost a quarter of a century, placed there in 1962 in defiance of the burgeoning civil rights movement. As it was flying at our capitol to celebrate men who fought to implement a permanent form of black enslavement, we were celebrating it in our homes in the form of the good-natured Duke boys.
By night, for at least an hour every week, we were immersed in the kind of sanitized version of the ugliest period of our past that was codified by Gone with the Wind. By day, we were taught in public schools from a history book written by the daughter of a Confederate soldier that included descriptions of happy slaves and a sympathetic Klan.
We had (and have) friends who revere the flag and told us they were protecting their heritage and honoring the sacrifice their ancestors made to protect the state from an invading army.
They never stopped reminding us of the horrors inflicted upon the South during General Sherman’s infamous march during the Civil War.
Their lines are so well-rehearsed, I can’t tell if they are sincere or a knee-jerk reaction to any criticism of the South.
“There were slave owners who fought for the North, too.”
“Did you know there were black slave owners?”
“Most white Confederate soldiers were too poor to own slaves.”
“That war had nothing to do with slavery; they invaded our homeland and we had to protect it. That’s why Lincoln will never represent me.”
“Thousands of black people fought for the South.”
“How I wish the South would have freed all the slaves, then fought the war.” (…More…)
Interesting viewpoint. Raises a question as to how much this “Southern mentality” may have affected MLK’s strategy of non-violence, if at all. It also raises some question of how the “New South”, particularly those regions into which have gained black population from the North in the Reverse Great Migration of the last two decades as manufacturing has crumbled in the North will fit into this “polite society”. Texas and Georgia are probably the next two states in the once “solid South” to go blue, changing the political dynamic.
Issac Bailey (the author of this article) is a columnist at the Sun News in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. He’s the author of Proud. Black. Southern. (But I Still Don’t Eat Watermelon in front of White People). He was a 2014 Neiman Fellow.