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Southern Problems

[ 274 ] January 29, 2013 |

George Packer’s comments on the terribleness of Southern politics has inspired a number of responses, most notably from Gary Wills.

These discussions frustrate me though for a number of reasons. First, the South is equated with reactionary white people in both articles. The reality is much more complex. Second, it ignores the fact that 35-40% of the South votes for Democrats and that many of these people are extremely liberal (and not just African-Americans). Third, it holds Southern culture to be entirely negative.

No one has to tell me how the politics of white supremacy has damaged this nation. But let’s be bloody well clear, this is not a Southern problem. It is perhaps a greater problem in the South than other parts of the country. Still, my reading of American history remembers the Detroit Hate Strike of 1943. It remembers the Boston busing protests of the 1970s. It remembers the Zoot Suit Riots. It remembers the lynching of Malcolm X’s father. It remembers the housing campaign conducted by Martin Luther King in Chicago in 1966, when King said he never felt so much hate.

And my understanding of the present is informed by white supremacy in Idaho, by Michigan-native Timothy McVeigh, by Paul Ryan and Steve King and Sam Brownback and any number of awful northern politicians.

My understanding of both past and present is also informed by the reality of poverty in the South, both black and white, and how capitalism played the races off against each other. If this failed, and the races aligned too closely, then you saw the real backlash, in Wilmington at the end of the 19th century, in the killings of Populist organizers, in the backlash against Operation Dixie.

This stereotyping is why I’m not comfortable with American elites like Packer and Wills talking about the South. Even if, like Wills, they have southern roots, they ignore the basic fact that racism and right-wing politics are national problems. Yes, they might be 20% worse in the South for reasons of the slave legacy, capitalist playing of the races of each other, etc. But none of these problems are southern problems. They are national problems and until we think of them as such, we are going to do more work in stereotyping the South than solving said problems.

Also, the title of this post is totally stolen from my friend Andy Bowen’s DC-based band. Check them out.


Comments (274)

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  1. Northern Educated Liberal says:

    Why doesn’t your friend’s group have a song called “Got sis’ pregnant ‘gain”

  2. Chet Murthy says:

    As someone who grew up in a small town in Texas and is brown, and then spent most of his adult life in the Northeast (small town and big city) and now California (big city), I have difficulty with your position, Erik. There -is- a distinct and virulent racism in the South, that no amount of pointing at crazies in the North can diminish. And it ain’t there in the North, even in (say) upstate New York. Hell, I wasn’t even -born- in the US, and it was clear to me that my brown skin marked me as inferior and untrusted in a way that I have seen only rarely in the North.

    Let me put it this way: only in Texas will good ol’ boys chain a black man to the bumper of a truck and then take off down the road. Only in Texas. Only in Texas will your -friends- call you a “wetback”. Your -friends-. Imagine your enemies. Gary’s right about Southern culture.

    Oh and of course there are lots of really liberal people in the South. Funny how that doesn’t prevent celebration of Treason in Defense of Slavery.

    Sorry, man.

    It’s the -culture-. There are nice people who surmount their culture, and become real Americans. The rest … lordy.

    • arguingwithsignposts says:

      I agree with this assessment as someone who grew up in Texas and remembers the James Bird lynching episode vividly, not to mention the mention of the Ku Klux Klan in Vidor, and the confederate memorabilia store near my house in South Carolina – growing by leaps and bounds in the 21st century!

      This post is the geographical equivalent of “Both Sides Do It.”

      • Erik Loomis says:

        “This post is the geographical equivalent of “Both Sides Do It.””

        Oh stop it.

        This post is about taking racial problems and inequality seriously in the entire nation and not allowing northerners and westerners to sweep the inequality of their own states and regions under the rug by pointing and laughing at the South.

        • Chet Murthy says:

          Actually, Erik, I think he’s more right than he is wrong. In the South, for instance, a black or brown man dating a white woman is in literal danger of his life. That’s not the case hardly anywhere in the North. I was never brave enough to bike along the roads in Texas. Too dangerous for a brown man to do that alone. Every black and brown man I’ve spoken with from Texas has their own stories. I’m sure women do, too, but that’s probably more harrowing than I wanna venture into ….

          Racism in other parts of the country is more …. sophisticated. In the South, it’s plain and simple: step out of line and you can be killed like an animal. That was very clear, growing up.

          And just to be clear, it was clear to me, even though I was a child of an upper-middle-class family. This wasn’t about class — far, far from it.

          • Erik Loomis says:

            I’ve lived in Texas, Tennessee, and Georgia. I’m not underestimating racial animosity. And black men dating white women are far more normal in many small Southern towns that not. Most (not all) of the people who are really outraged by interracial sex are old. And when was the last time a black man paid for his life for dating a white woman?

            Again, that’s not saying real racism doesn’t exist. But let’s ground this in the changing reality of these places.

            • Anonymous says:

              From Pew:

              Compared with all newlyweds, white-Hispanic and white-Asian newlyweds are more likely to live in the Western states (37% and 43%, respectively). Yet intermarried white/black newlyweds are more likely to call the Southern states home: Over half of the white/back couples live in the South, while only about one-in-six (16%) of them live in Western states.

              • Woodrowfan says:

                but how much of that is influenced by the large African-American population in the south?

                • Anonymous says:

                  Of course – to get a significant amount of interracial dating and marriage, you actually have to have significant populations of the races in question. For that reason, I expect to see more black/white couples in South Carolina than in Maine.

                  But the cite was more in response to the suggestion above that most interracial couples in the South are in mortal danger – which simply isn’t even close to being true.

                • DrDick says:

                  They are relatively common here in my Montana college town, but that is mostly because there are not many black women here and those athletes got to have girlfriends.

                • Chet Manly says:

                  This. 55% of the US black population lives in the South while only 10% live in the West.

                  The Western states have 1/6th of white/black couples despite only having 1/10th of the black population.

                  Racism is a national problem, but it’s nowhere near the same level in the Midwest and West that it is in the South.

                  Also, in my totally unsubstantiated opinion the Northeast has nothing to brag about and has more institutional racism of the stop-and-frisk variety than any region in the country.

            • TT says:

              I spend a great deal of time in rural Central Virginia (the Piedmont) and have seen a great many interracial couples over the years. What’s interesting to me, though, is that virtually all of the couples I’ve encountered are black male/white female. You hardly every see white male/black female couples. That changes the closer you get to DC and its expansive suburbs in Virginia and Maryland.

            • Jeffrey Beaumont says:

              Yes, having lived in various places in the south, I know of no where that interracial couples are in actual danger. In fact in my home town in NC there was a rather remarkable period when dating black guys was something all the popular girls did.

            • Bobby Thomson says:

              Spoken like a white guy who doesn’t live in the South.

            • DN says:

              This is so a both sides do it post. I lived in f’ing Austin for two years. My non- white wife came twice and said I’m on my own. And I lived in Springfield when I was planting trees and you are FOS if you think it is anything like the South.

              • RhZ says:

                At the same time, Erik is right: the situation is more complex. I agree that Ohio compared to Kentucky is revealing. But Erik is arguing that this doesn’t allow Ohio to not worry about its own brand of entrenched racism.

                I remember that Indiana was by far the leader at the turn of last century in lynchings. And Idaho has a white supremacy problem much worse (I presume) than many parts of the south.

                Indeed, the statement that 55% of black Americans live in the south would seem to be central to Erik’s argument.

                • Karate Bearfighter says:

                  I appreciate your point — and Erik’s — that Southern racism does not excuse Northern Racism, but this kind of claim:

                  I remember that Indiana was by far the leader at the turn of last century in lynchings.

                  Is simply not true.

                  Those stats are for the period of 1882-1968.

                  I don’t agree that talking about the “Southern Problem” is simply a way to sweep Northern and Western inequality and racism under the rug. There is a problem of a different order of magnitude in the South, and non-Southerners should be able to comment on the beam in their neighbor’s eye without addressing the mote in their own.

            • The Pale Scot says:

              It’s about the statistical mean Eric; The first time I visited my parents at their retiree house in FL I met a gent at the liquor store who was wearing a shirt with something to the effect of “all n****** must die. He didn’t seem particularly paranoid wearing it. If it was in my NJ hometown, I don’t think he’d make it down the block, and there’d be plenty Irish, Italian and Polish doing the beating.

          • Adam says:

            Not to be an ass, but does this count as “sophisticated”:


            I’ve always thought it was in part a function of opportunity. Large parts of the North traditionally had few racial minorities, and even in areas that did, the races were often physically very separated. One of the things that has always struck me about Northern vs. Southern cities is how isolated minorities tended to be in Northern cities, on total opposite sides of the city, whereas in Southern cities, neighborhoods may not be mixed, but racial enclaves tend to abut one another (feel like I saw some study linked on Slate or Eschaton showing different cities racial mixture recently that seemed to prove this). The poverty of the South I think had a lot to do with this.

            To the extent you have areas of the country that previously were near 100% white (Iowa, Appalachia) or seeing a sharp increase in a previously very small racial group (Latinos in the South, South Asians in various places), I think you will see an increase in racial violence. Historically this seems to be true as well.

            Finally a personal note. Grew up in Texas (granted, Austin). To this day, the only time I have ever heard a white person call a black person the n-word in public was on the streets of New York City. Not saying I never heard it in private. Just the only time I have seen a white person say it to a black person’s face.

            • DN says:

              That is just so … Unlikely. I only lived in Austin for two years and I saw that happen more than a couple times. And I’m talking 6th with college boys. I just don’t believe you.

              • Karen says:

                If you were attending UT, remember that most students aren’t from Austin and don’t stay here after graduation. I would be really surprised if anyone who actually lived and worked here among adults had a similar experience.

            • carousel says:

              When I lived in Austin for much of the 90s,
              non-whites referred to the Broken Spoke by another name and they were not keen on heading to Lockhart for bbq or spending the day at Lake Travis. Plus everyone goes out of their way to mispronounce any location with a Spanish name. Being better than the rest of Texas is a pretty low bar.

            • ajay says:

              Large parts of the North traditionally had few racial minorities, and even in areas that did, the races were often physically very separated. One of the things that has always struck me about Northern vs. Southern cities is how isolated minorities tended to be in Northern cities, on total opposite sides of the city, whereas in Southern cities, neighborhoods may not be mixed, but racial enclaves tend to abut one another

              How does that work, then? So, in the South, you have a black neighbourhood right next door to a white neighbourhood. OK. But in the North, you have the black neighbourhood on one side of the city, the white neighbourhood on the other, and… who’s in between?

              • spencer says:

                Poles, Greeks, Mexicans, Chaldeans … remember, the definition of “white” has been very fluid in this country for a long time, which is relevant if you’re talking about historical trends.

              • Adam says:

                Not who, what. Commercial and industrial districts, railroads, highways, airports, superfund sites.

                Found what I was thinking of:

                Not sure if it is as obvious as I remember, but looking at places like Chicago (North Side and South Side, separated by the Loop) or New York compared to Atlanta or Baton Rouge, there a) seems to be less bleed over between neighborhoods and b) distinct white lines, usually highways, separating these neighborhoods.

          • DrDick says:

            There are neighborhoods in Chicago where the best a black man can expect is to be sent to the hospital from a beating if he is caught there. I grew up in Oklahoma under Jim Crow and segregation and heard the N-word on nearly a daily basis for the first 35 years and I was shocked by the level of racism when I moved to Chicago. Racism is an American problem. It manifests itself in different ways in different places and is worse in some areas (not whole regions or even states) than others, but it is a national problem.

            • brewmn says:

              There are neighborhoods in Chicago where the best a black man can expect is to be sent to the hospital from a beating if he is caught there.

              I grew up in Oklahoma under Jim Crow and segregation and heard the N-word on nearly a daily basis for the first 35 years and I was shocked by the level of racism when I moved to Chicago.

              Having lived in Chicago for thirty years, I’m calling bullshit on this. Unless you’ve spent your entire time here in two or three sub-neighborhoods (comprising a total of maybe thirty square blocks), this is as much an overstatement as anything Loomis is criticizing Packer for.

              None of which makes Chicago a racially enlightened city. Catch a ride on the subway at evening rush hour and you’ll quickly notice that all people of one complexion go home in the same direction, and those of a different complexion head home in the opposite direction,

              But Chicago does not have nearly the overt racial animosity and racially motivated violence that your comment asserts. And it hasn’t for decades.

              • DrDick says:

                I lived in Wrigleyville, but I was referring to Beverly and Bridgeport and I lived there for 12 years. My information comes from residents of those neighborhoods.

                • Anonymous says:

                  I would have guessed you werer referring to Bridgeport and Canaryville. Beverly’s pretty integrated (i.e., mostly black) at this point.

          • Theron says:

            Depends. In fact, deeply rural areas and military towns (basically, places where both white and blacks are poor) interracial relations are more common than you might think.

          • spencer says:

            That’s not the case hardly anywhere in the North.

            All due respect, but that’s crap. That would have gotten you in serious trouble when I lived in metro Detroit and in the Boston area. I live in the south now, and the only real difference is that people are more open about their racism here.

        • Philip says:

          But no one here is saying the North is perfect, just that it’s much less bad than the South. We point and laugh at the Republicans because they’re so terrible. That doesn’t mean that we think the Democrats are great, obviously, just that we don’t think they are so astonishingly awful, and we’d rather a government that works badly to a government that’s ground to a halt.

        • John says:

          Of course we should take racial inequality seriously everywhere. Anyone who thinks racism isn’t a problem in the north should take a look at a little thing called “any major daily newspaper’s comments section.”

          On the other hand, I do think that there are a number of very distinct southern pathologies that should not be confused with the general problems of racism and inequality that are found in other parts of the country.

        • Zoltar the Magnificent says:

          Other areas of the country have their own political pathologies, but I think that there is something unique about the south, not just the racial animus but also the religion and the vulnerability to right-wing populism. Obviously the Midwest (once contested between the slave and free state sides) has many of the same problems and Oregon here imported Southern problems after the civil war, but once you get into places like the Northeast the racial animus doesn’t seem to be intertwined with Protestant religion in the same way. Racism/segregation was definitely one of Boston’s problems when I lived there 20 years ago, but I don’t think it was Falwell’s followers at fault. Do the Chicago racists who gave King so much grief have their own church, as Southern racists had the Southern Baptists in the old days? Geraldine Ferraro I believe is a Catholic, but her church doesn’t subscribe to her racial views.

          Also your old post on the 1943 hate strike strongly suggests Southern white migrants were heavily involved at the shop level, so unless I’m misreading it badly you implicitly accepted this view of the South at that time.

          • Erik Loomis says:

            Southern whites were part of the issue. But already racist northern whites gladly and readily accepted the racial ideology of the South.

            • DrDick says:

              Exactly. Even Lincoln, while he opposed slavery, did not think blacks and whites could live together.

            • rm says:

              I think Zoltar is on to something. I agree with Erik’s comment (white, Northern, married and live and work in the South, teacher) but there is a difference in the racism of the South and the rest of the country — racism in the South historically was righteous and religious. Nothing is worse than someone who feels his hatred is ordained by God — Frederick Douglass observed that. The question is whether it’s still true. I’m astonished at how persistent some cultural beliefs can be.

  3. Oscar Goldman says:

    Is it still okay to fucking hate “Sweet Home Alabama”?

    • Bill Murray says:

      I think it depends if your conscience bothers you, tell me true

    • Brother Flaming Sword of Moderation says:

      It is mandatory to hate that song. Fucking paean to George Fucking Wallace, and a dis to Niel Young on top? Fuck that noise.

    • arguingwithsignposts says:

      We have always been at war with “Sweet Home Alabama.”

    • Clark says:

      Sure, but you should listen to Skynyrd’s pro gun control (Saturday Night Special) and generally left-populist (Things Goin’ On) songs.

      • Oscar Goldman says:

        But not their pro not getting shot at the Jug while hitting on Linda Lou songs?

      • rea says:

        Have you ever lived down in the ghetto?
        Have you ever felt the cold wind blow?
        If you don’t know what I mean,
        Won’t you stand up and scream?
        ‘Cause there’s things goin’ on that you don’t know.
        Let it roll.

        Too many lives they’ve spent across the ocean.
        Too much money been spent upon the moon.
        Well, until they make it right
        I hope they never sleep at night
        They better make some changes
        And do it soon.
        Do it good.
        Do it now.

        They’re goin ruin the air we breathe
        Lord have mercy.
        They’re gonna ruin us all, by and by.
        I’m telling you all beware
        I don’t think they really care
        I think they just sit up there
        And just get high.

    • George Patterson Wallace Hood says:

      Fuck Skynard, and fuck Drive-by Truckers for defending that garbage. The latter is the same band that sums up southern race relations “back in the day” (one assumes, before civil rights) thusly: “Before black and white went and chose up sides and gave a little bit of both their way.” Oh, black and white *chose up sides*?! Not that “black” was threatened with extermination by “white” for the crime of existing as autonomous human beings? No, they “chose up sides.” Like it or not, the DBT crew are either pining for white supremacy or unable to truly confront it. Underscoring the “complexity” of George Wallace is really just a lame attempt at white apology in their hands. OK, so it’s better than the Nashville bullshit machine, I’ll grant. But if you are looking for good southern music that deals honestly with these issues, why not just go for an Outkast album?

      • John says:

        I do think that Drive-by Truckers aren’t willing to fully confront the ugliness of southern history, both in lines you quote and ones like “Ya know racism is a worldwide problem and it’s been since the beginning of recorded history… and it ain’t just white and black… But thanks to George Wallace, it’s always a little more convenient to play it with a Southern accent.”

        There’s certainly a lot of apologia there, and unwillingness to confront the real reason why we “play it with a Southern accent.” That being said, I don’t think it’s at all fair to say that they are pining for white supremacy. And I don’t think Hood’s discussion of Wallace, in particular, is that bad – I think it’s reasonable to say that Wallace’s real sin was political opportunism more than deeply felt racism.

        • John says:

          I’d also add with respect to Skynyrd, specifically, that I don’t know enough to really judge the issues independently, but it’s certainly true as far as I know, that they were actually big Neil Young fans. The mention of George Wallace in the song also goes rather out of its way to not personally endorse him. “In Birmingham they love the Governor.” A true enough fact.

          • The Pale Scot says:

            Also, skynyrd’s song Saturday Night Special, some cuts on their First and Last album and other early recording do show pretty liberal outlook.

            Such as:

            Things Goin’ On
            Lend a helping hand

            And as was said up post, the divide gets thinner the poorer you get, and skynyrd grew poor. Think Curtis Loew.

          • Richard says:

            Plus you hear “boo, boo, boo” in the background after the Governor line.

          • witless chum says:

            The actual verse is:

            In Birmingham they love the governor
            Now we all did what we could do
            Now Watergate does not bother me
            Does your conscience bother you?
            Tell the truth

            I’m not sure I understand exactly what they mean by that, I’d say it means, we don’t like Jim Crow or Klanery and we’re against that, but you’ve got some baggage of your own, ie Tricky Dick, so maybe ease up on lecturing us about it.

            I’m not sure that’s what they’re saying, but the idea that it adds up to “Yay George Wallace” is total bullshit.

      • socraticsilence says:

        Wallace actually is a complex figure though- a more in depth look at the man makes his political racism far more egregious given that it likely never reflected his true feelings on the issue- he did then Jan Brewer is doing now– feigned racism in order to play into a particular strain of populism.

  4. JL says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you.

    I grew up in the South. I’m a left-liberal activist in the Northeast. There are way too many Northeastern liberals who are WAY too happy to sit around congratulating themselves for being so much better than Southerners, while being completely ignorant of some of the problems that we have closer to home in the Northeast (and that I run into as an activist). It’s usually pretty classist too…they aren’t just sneering at Southerners for perceived political beliefs, but for accent and class markers.

    Meanwhile, I went to Creating Change (the huge annual LBGT movement conference) last week, which was in Atlanta this year, and I got to hear about the work of a wonderful Southern leftist group called Southerners on New Ground, and listen to stories of community victories organizing against police brutality in Atlanta and New Orleans, and talk to a whole lot of liberal and radical Southern activists (including many who are white).

    • The people up here who are the most willing push racist and nativist bigotry push anti-Southern bigotry, too.

      You’d think that, say, Dennis and Callahan would feel some sort of kinship with – let’s call them “cultural traditionalists from the South” – but they make fun of Southerners just like they make fun of black people.

      • efgoldman says:

        …but they make fun of Southerners just like they make fun of black people.

        As mrs efgoldman says: “They’re not prejudiced, they hate everybody.”
        Their buddy Howie Carr, also too.

    • Origami Isopod says:

      Christ, yeah, the Northeast is disgustingly classist, and I say that as a very rooted native.

  5. Marc says:

    I grew up in Texas. There really is a distinct set of pathologies in the South, and it’s coupled with belligerent ignorance in the predominant white culture.

    It’s as if the Germans decided to double down on nationalism after the Second World War instead of trying to sort out what went terribly wrong. Or that they developed an elaborate set of excuses where they were the real victims, and this rationalization became the universally accepted set of cultural behaviors, complete with holidays and flags.

    • timb says:

      after reading the comments (and noting no one posted the recent study which showed that over of Mississippi whites continue to believe inter-racial marriage should be illegal), the one thing in common with “the South is really terrible” are all from Texas.

      Is it possible Texas really is the worst place on Earth (like I’ve been claiming)?

      • DrDick says:

        Speaking as a native Okie, I can assure you that Texas really is Hell on Earth.

      • DocAmazing says:

        Remember the post-bellum “GTT” signs? They apparently are showing their effect now.

      • Zoltar the Magnificent says:

        Try Boston. Not much less racist, but a damn sight less polite about it.

        • Marc says:

          I’m black and was born, grew up, and lived in the Boston area 60s through 80s. During that time, I never set foot in Charlestown, East, or South Boston. It was just understood that you did not do that, unless you were looking for a beating or wanted your car trashed. One of the main reasons I left is that it was often difficult to convince someone to rent an apartment to a college educated black kid with a decent paying professional job in Boston or even Cambridge.

          Much of the local attitude has changed in recent years, I’ve even been to South Boston ;^)

      • Theron says:

        My parents left Texas when I was six. Thankfully, they took me with them. :) That said, it depends on where you are. The suburbs of DFW and Houston dominate state politics, sadly, along with the whiter rural counties, but some of the other parts of TX are very different. Everyone knows about Austin, but there are also the border counties, San Antonio, and the like.

        • DrDick says:

          As much as I like to abuse Texas, it is far from monolithic. There is a lot of variation in the state, depending on where you are. Austin is awesome, Houston and Amarillo (or El Paso) suck in the worst possible way,

          • Origami Isopod says:

            Huh. Never been, but I’ve heard from Texans that Houston is actually quite diverse, with a lesbian mayor… whereas Austin is pretty darn white and not always clued in to nuances of racism.

    • Having grown up in the UK, I now live just South of Dallas. Texas is really, like much of the rest of the USA, suffering from the classic city vs. countryside dichotomy. Here where I live, many of the residents are not even from Texas – Dallas was a magnet for people from all over the USA. 120 miles South of here, Austin is a hotbed of Libruls. Apart from a surfeit of pious religiosity, this area of Texas is really not that bad. Hell, they even elected Democrats at the last election, at least at local level.
      However, you go more than 75 miles into the country from here, and you are in truly rural Texas – the sorts of towns that elect Louie Gohmert and other weird and wacky TX representatives. These are the sort of towns where the most popular yard sign at the last election was “Let’s vote for the real American”. Yet many of those small towns are dying on their feet, and the old saying that the best street in the town is the road out is sadly true in a lot of cases. Anybody with any get up and go has got up and gone, and the towns are hollow relics, reminders of the agrarian past and the reality of the more urbanized modern USA. These are the towns where the politics of resentment fester, fuelled by church sermons and talk radio. I can tell people from these towns, because their political discussion is comprised almost exclusively of slogans culled from those two sources.
      I think that too much is made of the North-South dichotomy. The real dichotomy, based on my experience in Texas, is between urban and rural areas.

  6. Still, my reading of American history remembers the Detroit Hate Strike of 1943. It remembers the Boston busing protests of the 1970s.

    Reading aside, my life experience of American history remembers the busing wars. At times it seems like everyone forgot about it. School boards all across the northern industrial states were spending themselves broke fighting every single court order. People were out of their minds with rage, even if they lived in district that were not subject to any of the desegregation lawsuits. Federal judges were constantly getting death threats. It was crazy.

    And apart from any public events, I remember the racist shit my relatives, neighbors, co-workers said (some still say) about people of color whom they have never met.

    But while the racism that infects our political culture is not limited to the former Confederacy, it is only in those states where it dominates, wins, and seems to be accepted as part of the scenery.

    • Screwed up. First paragraph should indicate that it is a quote from the post. Sorry.

    • Chet Murthy says:


      But while the racism that infects our political culture is not limited to the former Confederacy, it is only in those states where it dominates, wins, and seems to be accepted as part of the scenery.

      Jasper, TX. James E. Byrd. 1998.

      • Erik Loomis says:

        15 years ago is no short time.

        No long time either.

        But long enough that more recent references would be useful.

      • DrDick says:

        Ever been to Detroit? Ever hear about the wall at 8 Mile?

      • socraticsilence says:

        Several things- First if Byrd was “an accepted part of the scenery” those responsible wouldn’t have been sentenced to death. Secondly, using a single incident no matter how horrible to stigmatize an entire region is a huge mistake. The South has problem’s its overly religious, its poorer and less developed etc (and yes all of these feed into each other) but its not alone in its hate crimes- Does the Mountain West hate gay people (Matthew Shepard), is the Pacific Northwest a hotbed of white supremacy (see Neiwert’s work on the subject)- or do we recognize these as relatively isolated incidents (the latter does detail a movement but I would argue its not endemic to the region but rather moved there due to open spaces).

        • spencer says:

          Yeah, this is exactly why I have a problem with people drawing broad regional conclusions from one high-profile atrocity.

          Racism is a nationwide problem that, due to historical differences, manifests itself differently in the South. It really is as simple as that. I would recommend people read “Sundown Towns” by James Loewen for a very in-depth look at the history of Northern and Western racism – notably, places like Pekin, IL and Granite City, IL.

    • Josh G. says:

      I didn’t live through the busing wars, but I’ve read enough about them to have formed a fairly coherent opinion on the subject.

      The real folly of busing in Boston was that the whole case took place after Milliken v. Bradley was decided by the Supreme Court. Garrity should have been wise enough to realize that Milliken was basically the death knell for busing, as it allowed affluent whites to simply move to the suburbs and leave its jurisdiction. Instead, he went ahead with what was rightly described as “a Harvard plan for the working-class man”, and essentially pitted working-class blacks and whites against one another in a situation that satisfied no one. Charles Glenn’s proposal for extensive cross-busing between South Boston and Roxbury served no legitimate educational aims – from an academic perspective, both schools were undistinguished at best. But it was deliberately intended to be punitive to South Boston, which Glenn described as “an ugly institution”. It may indeed have been, but why anyone expected this inflammatory plan to work out well was a mystery. Had Milliken been decided the other way, and had both white and African-American Bostonians been incorporated into a busing plan that included the nearby wealthy suburbs, then both integration and quality education might have received a boost. As it was, the opposition to busing was indeed driven by a great deal of illegitimate racism, but also by a significant amount of legitimate class anger.

      • Origami Isopod says:

        I agree with this comment. J. Anthony Lukas’ Common Ground goes into the class issues fairly well.

      • DrDick says:

        Pitting working-class blacks and whites against one another goes back to the early 20th century and was a favorite ploy of employers trying to bust unions. It is also a central strategy deployed by Southern elites.

      • Marc says:

        As mentioned above, I grew up in the Boston area before and during the busing crisis. Serious racial tensions (making large areas of Boston essentially off-limits to blacks, even during daylight hours) existed long before busing, the widespread protests and violence simply brought it to the attention of a larger community that had chosen until then to politely ignore its existence…

    • Theron says:

      A grade school student in the rural South in the 70s, I could not understand the busing wars. Huh? School was many miles away, my bus ride was an hour or so, of course we used buses. It took a while to dawn on me that urban families saw busing differently.

      • PSP says:

        As an elementary school student in rural Massachusetts (about 110 miles west of Boston,) I had the exact same confusion. Frankly, I still don’t get the whole fuss.

  7. commie atheist says:

    Frankly I don’t see anything like the stereotyping you describe in Packer’s piece. Seems pretty evenhanded, gives praise where due, and points out the obvious fact that the GOP is totally beholden to its anti-science, anti-progress base.

  8. Tom says:

    We also need to stop talking about “the South” as some sort of homogenous region. Southwest Texas is different from Charleston, which is different from southern Georgia, which is different from Raleigh, which is different from the Mississippi delta region, etc. (Not to mention northern Virginia, which I suppose doesn’t really “count” as the South anymore?) All these states were part of the Confederacy and thus have intertwined political histories, but it’s a big region.

    (This is not a problem limited to the South, of course. People still talk about “Africa” or “Eastern Europe” as if those are useful terms.)

    • MR Bill says:

      Thanks for this. I live in the Southern Blue Ridge, where GA TN and NC meet: a hotbed of antiConfederate and outright Unionist partisans, as well as Confederate home guards and regiments. One of my late wife’s ancestors recently got a historical marker as a ‘prominent Unionist’ who was executed just across the line in Ducktown TN. The locals are mostly captive to the Gone with the Wind/Cavalier/Happy slaves myth: it was the standard version (and Hollywood showed us, so it had to be true…) that was taught in NC and Georgia history in the schools until the ’70’s. This false, incomplete, and racist history is held by the Teapartiers and is fed by the Fox mindset and politicized churches.
      And, yeah, even the reddest congressional districts routinely poll 25-35% Democratic. The problem as I see it is that the southern democrats seem unable to put together the coalition of Blacks, Latinos, and White Liberals to win on higher than a county level.

    • Murc says:

      We also need to stop talking about “the South” as some sort of homogenous region.

      Why the hell not?

      It should go without saying that, while the south is a big place, there are threads of commonality running through it that are usefully categorized by referring to them belonging to ‘the South.’ Are we supposed to preface every discussion about things that are common to the ex-Confederate states with a long disclaimer?

      Similarly, while this is a big country, there are threads of commonality running through all, or nearly all, Americans, which makes referring to ‘the United States’ or ‘Americans’ in terms that sound homogenous useful. The same way we can refer to ‘the UK’ in homogenous terms despite the fact that I imagine a Londoner, a Welshman, and a Glaswegian might take offense at being lumped together.

      People still talk about “Africa” or “Eastern Europe” as if those are useful terms.)

      “Africa” isn’t a useful term, usually, but “sub-Saharan Africa” often is. And “Eastern Europe” is certainly a useful term.

      • J. Otto Pohl says:

        No, I disagree. Africa is a useful term. The Pan-Africanists did not exclude the Arab north. Egypt was actively involved in the Casablanca Group as were Morocco, Libya, and Algeria along with Ghana, Mali, and Guinea. This group was devoted entirely to African not Arab issues. Algeria was always far more involved in African politics than in Middle Eastern politics. The last significant Pan-Africanist regardless of what you think of him was the recently deposed and killed leader of Libya. His policies were focused more to the south towards Black Africa than they were to the east during the last years of his reign.

        Eastern Europe is a worthless term. Because unlike African nobody self identifies with it. Most of the region is actually in Central Europe and considers themselves to be Central European. The only time the term had any use was during the Cold War to describe the Communist bloc. But, even then most of the better scholarship used the term East Central Europe because Hungary, Poland, and Czechoslovakia are Central European. There is also little in common between Estonia and Macedonia certainly far less than Algeria has with Black Africa.

    • Chet Manly says:

      True, but it’s also disingenuous to pretend there aren’t cultural similarities common throughout the region that are specific to the South. Completely ignoring race issues, only the South has such high percentages of Evangelical Protestants so liberals will always have legitimate reasons to single out the region for criticism.

    • William Berry says:

      “Homogenous region”

      Maybe get clobbered for being a pedant here, but we can’t afford to lose this usage fight the way we lost “begs the question” and so many others. The word you want in the particular context is “homogeneous” (pronounced ho-mo-GEE-nee-us), not “homogenous” (ho-MAHJ-uh-nus). These are two very different words, with very different meanings. Best way to remember is that “homogenous” is a very rare word, seldom encountered in other than technical (e.g., biology) contexts.

      • William Berry says:

        Oh, and if just a misspelling: sorry.

      • nonunique says:

        I’m personally not convinced the distinction is meaningful unless we’re discussing biology. As we are not, meh.

      • Jameson Quinn says:

        I’m someone who holds the line on “begs the question”, “ensure”, and even “as if” (an empty shibboleth if there ever was one). And I wasn’t even aware of this one, and am not convinced unless you explain better.

        • William Berry says:

          The American Heritage Online works well enough. Sense 1. of “homogenous” is an adj. meaning “exhibiting homogeny”:’ that is, of the same genus, origin, or class. Sense 2. Illustrates that the battle might already be lost, as it is acknowledged as a synonymn of “homogeneous” that came about as a misspelling due to a mispronunciation influenced by “homogenize”.

          Check out Languge Log, Languge Hat, et al.

          I made an assertion based on what I have learned. If you doubt it, feel free to do your own research.

    • Theron says:

      Indeed. I live in what I call the People’s Republic of Lockeland Springs (a neighborhood in east Nashville). If we ruled the USA, well, the USA would look a whole lot more like Sweeden (minus all the blonde, Nordic types).

    • J. Otto Pohl says:

      Africa is a useful term in so much as there was at one time a Pan-African movement that thought in terms of a single continental identity. It is more an aspiration than a reality. But, historically there is a common experience of colonialism and neo-colonialism shared by most of Africa. Eastern Europe is much less useful. Although a number of countries in Central Europe, the Balkans, the Baltics, Ukraine, and Belarus share a common history of communist rule. There is not a regional identification with “Eastern Europe” the way there has been with Africa. Indeed few people in Poland, Hungary, Lithuania, or a number of other places that were considered “Eastern Europe” during the Cold War would call themselves Eastern European. You are much more likely to hear Central European.

  9. CaptBackslap says:

    Until I read the last line, I was just assuming the post title was an intentional echo of “Fuckin’ Problems” (obviously NSFW).

  10. Jon says:

    Yes, some of my best friends are Southern etc but come on… Using the existence of a minority in one place to apologize for the majority and then using the minority to blame the majority is pretty twisted.

    Sorry you has hurted fee fees by us mean Yanks but just about every yucky thing in US politics in enabled by the veto points controlled by Neoconfederates and their fellow travelers.

  11. mryesno says:

    Member n bout member n. In most polls last year it is white men who are the dems biggest enemies. From all regions.

  12. mryesno says:

    Should have added that it is not the level of bigotry that matters since a vote is a vote is a vote.

  13. jefft452 says:

    “Third, it holds Southern culture to be entirely negative”

    I think that the very fact that there is an easily defined “Southern culture” is a negative all by itself

    We don’t have “Eastern Rock” bands,
    westerners don’t have their own flag to celebrate “Western Heritage”,
    someone living in the north doesn’t capitalize northerner like they capitalize American,

    But a Southerner is a Southerner with a capital S

    We have an American culture, and we have a Southern culture

    Yeah, American culture has problems with racists (among other things) too, and a lot of people who live in the southern part of the US are Americans rather then Southerners

    But that dosent change the fact that “Southern culture” is anti-American culture

    • Erik Loomis says:

      This falls apart over the issue that Southern rock can be kind of great.

    • John says:

      This seems too strong to me, and it’s worth noting, as Wills does, that a lot of that “southern culture” is good stuff – Southern food, music, and literature probably beats everywhere else in the country. Basically every major genre of American popular music – jazz, blues, country, r&b, rock – originated in the South. Our greatest writer of the 20th century (Faulkner) was a Southerner who was intimately concerned with southern issues. I don’t see what is gained by attacking Southern culture as a whole; a lot of great stuff has come out of it, along with the horrible stuff.

      • TT says:

        This is the thing that makes the South the distillation point for all the fugitive extremisms of our time, the heart of Say-No Republicanism, the home of lost causes and nostalgic lunacy. It is as if the whole continent were tipped upward, so that the scattered crazinesses might slide down to the bottom. The South has often been defeated. Now it is defeating itself.

        I think Wills uses this summation to indict the South less as some kind of internal alien and outlier and (much) more as the prime incubator for the extremism and dysfunction in our politics. The Paul Ryans and Kevin McCarthys would be much powerless afterthoughts were it not for the succor they enjoy from having a lock on an entire region of the country.

        • DrDick says:

          the heart of Say-No Republicanism,

          This could also apply to much of Indiana and Michigan.

          • John says:

            Not enough of Michigan to even win elections consistently in Michigan, though. Snyder only won by pretending to be moderate, as, more or less, did Engler before him. And they haven’t elected a Republican to the Senate in almost 20 years.

      • Richard says:

        Well put. I go to the South every chance I get for the music and the food and parts of the culture. Horrible stuff and great stuff at the same time

        • Erik Loomis says:

          Having just spent 3 days back in Texas, there is something to the horrible and great being intertwined together in ways that could never be unextricated.

          • brewmn says:

            It really does piss me off that the best barbecue I’ve ever eaten and some of the very best music I’ve ever heard (e.g., Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Joe Ely, Robert Earl Keen) come from state that is almost completely populated by irredeemable assholes.

      • Informant says:

        a lot of that “southern culture” is good stuff – Southern food, music, and literature probably beats everywhere else in the country.

        I’d say that these characterizations are 100% dependent on your subjective view of these things. I utterly despise “Southern literature” and consider it a rotting, pus-oozing, sore on the body of American literature.

        • Erik Loomis says:

          I’d say that these characterizations are 100% dependent on your subjective view of these things. I utterly despise “Southern literature” and consider it a rotting, pus-oozing, sore on the body of American literature.


          I just don’t….Wow.

        • socraticsilence says:

          There’s no accounting for taste I guess but I’d put Faulkner up against anyone the rest of the country has produced, and though I personally don’t care for her work (bad HS experience with TEWWG) Hurston is pretty highly regarded, not to mention Ellison- though I would assume you probably don’t count the latter two for the same reason some on here seem to discount Southern Music if it was made/heavily influenced by African-Americans.

        • William Berry says:

          “I utterly despise “Southern literature” and consider it a rotting, pus-oozing, sore on the body of American literature.”

          E.A. Poe? Tennessee Williams? Allan Tate? Robert Penn Warren? Flannery O’Connor? Eudora Welty? Katherine Ann Porter? Carson McCullers? James Dickey? William Styron? For that matter, Twain is arguably a Southern writer.

          If you consider that these writers constitute a pus-oozing sore on the body of “American Literature”, then I don’t really want to know what it is you do like.

      • SatanicPanic says:

        Basically every major genre of American popular music – jazz, blues, country, r&b, rock – originated in the South.

        Hip-hop? Disco? Electro? Heavy Metal? i.e. most of what’s popular right now. Not from the south.

        • John says:

          True, I guess, but largely derived from southern forms – certainly metal comes out of rock, and disco and hip-hop derive from r&b. And obviously pop-country is super-popular now, although also terrible.

          • SatanicPanic says:

            Blues/rock influences were purged from heavy metal in the 80s to the extent that it has very little in common with something like Chuck Berry or even Led Zeppelin. People sometimes mix Hip-Hop from R & B, but it’s a distinct musical form. Blues, Jazz, and Country (our second most derivative musical form after pop) all came from somewhere. I think it’s too early to say that our best culture came from the south. I, for one, much prefer Hip Hop to jazz or blues, and I think the best country was made in Bakersfield.

            • DrDick says:

              And frankly, your taste in music sucks and Bakersfield was all Okies.

              • SatanicPanic says:

                Yeah, yeah, I know blues and jazz are Great Venerable Institutions of Real American Music liked by Serious People (AKA Baby Boomers). Sadly for said Serious People, not relevant today. And Merle Haggard was actually born in California, so there.

                • spencer says:

                  But “relevance” doesn’t always equate with “quality.”

                  The Backstreet Boys were “relevant” once. So fucking what?

                • SatanicPanic says:

                  These are two separate arguments- What is “Major American Music”- I’m saying nothing from the south can be considered Major at this point in time besides Country (which, like Pop, piggybacks on other genres).

                  In terms of quality- Blues is higher quality than rap? How so? Jazz you can make an argument that it takes more musical skill, but Blues? Nothing intrinsically hard about blues.

                  At any rate, it’s pretty silly to me to pick out some arbitrary point in history and say “all American Music comes from this”- it’s not like music didn’t exist before the 20th century. Southern music didn’t just spring out of the ground fully formed. Picking out the perfect time in the past and then arguing that everything since is lousy is a conservative mode of argument, and I don’t buy it.

                • DrDick says:

                  And his parents were from Oklahoma. The culture represented in Bakersfield is Southern.

                • SatanicPanic says:

                  It was Southern music that changed when it came to California. Just like African music changed when it got to the South.

                • Karen says:

                  Blues, jazz, country, and rock and roll required that people actually play instruments and do so quite well. Rap only requires an ability to chant along to a record.

      • The Pale Scot says:

        The good food and music is from african-americans, as for the lit I’m not knowledgeable enough to give an opinion.

        • Karen says:

          No. The food is what everybody eats because that’s what grows down here. I never heard anyone associate watermelon or fried chicken with African – Americans until I went to college. We called those things “dinner.”

    • DrDick says:

      You do not have a unified “American Culture” outside the South. Iowa is nothing like Maine of New York. Montana is different from either. We have plethora of overlapping and interconnected local and regional cultures with a thin veneer of shared “American” culture which is also shared by the South.

    • DocAmazing says:

      We are not without racism in California, heaven knows, but we have been very successful in isolating it to the law enforcement community.

    • J. Otto Pohl says:

      Well there is or at least was at one time Western music.

    • spencer says:

      We have an American culture, and we have a Southern culture

      We don’t have Midwestern culture? New England culture? California culture?

      Just because there’s no genre of rock music that has named itself after one of these regions doesn’t mean they don’t have distinct cultures on their own.

      That said, yes, there are certainly aspects of southern culture that are odious. Nobody is denying that. But not all of it *is* anti-American.

      • jefft452 says:

        “We don’t have Midwestern culture? New England culture? California culture?”

        No, we really don’t
        “Cheers” could have been set in a bar in Cleveland or Seattle and it would have been the same show
        I love watching “Law & Order” because its filmed in NYC, unlike LA based shows, I can watch and say “Hey!, I’ve been in that bar”, “I know that alley! I used to cut through it all the time”
        But again, if it was about LA or Chicago, it would have been the same show

        There is a distinct “Southern culture” that makes the south the odd man out

        It wasn’t always that way, from 1620 to about 1840, New England was the odd man out
        But that was then and this is now

        Don’t on one hand deny that a distinct “Southern culture” exists and in the next breath tell me how awesome it is

  14. Chester Allman says:

    I appreciate your argument, but I think that there really is a legitimate line of analysis suggesting that the South, as a whole, has a negative impact on the politics of the broader United States, in a way that no other region could be said to do. I’m not sure there’s anything useful to be gained by pursuing this line of analysis, but there it is nonetheless.

    Part of it, I’m sure, is that the South can be understood as a distinct polity within a polity. What frustrates Northern liberals is that if you cut out the Confederate states, the rest of the USA looks a lot like Canada (or at least, English-speaking Canada), politically speaking. I recall seeing a series of maps that covered everything from women’s suffrage and segregation to use of the death penalty and policies on gay rights – in every single one, the former Confederacy stood apart from the rest of the country.

    Again, I don’t think that this tells us anything useful about what to do next, nor should it serve as an excuse to dismiss Southerners in general or overlook problems in Northern states. And there’s no denying the richness of Southern culture. But you can’t blame liberals for looking at those patterns, and wondering what could be.

    • Theron says:

      Yes, but if you cut out the South, I either have to live in something much worse, or abandon my career and move to some refugee camp in the North. We are not monolithic down here

      • Chester Allman says:

        No, I get that. And as a half-Southerner myself, I’m not sure whether I’d even exist in that alternate scenario. The point Eric and you make about Southern liberals is well taken. You could make the same point about American liberals on the broader stage.

  15. Jay B. says:

    Why, with a few notable exceptions, all of the pro-science, pro-integration, pro-union and pro-voting legislation, referenda and rulings have come from the South.

  16. Bloix says:

    The South is a parasite on the body of America. Its culture condemns it to perpetual poverty: it hates science, equality of opportunity, the rule of law, and the reward of merit. It loves supersition, macho aggression, ignorance, and violence. The taxes paid by productive New Yorkers and San Franciscans line the pockets of the hate-filled enemies of New York and San Francisco. And to add insult to injury, the haters get to call themselves the real Americans, as if the people who actually build this country are somehow fakes and frauds.

    • Erik Loomis says:

      Does this include John Lewis? Martin Luther King? Lyndon Johnson? The many people fighting for equality in the South today?

      • Murc says:

        I’m not Bloix, but… I have a hard time seeing how his statement would be in any way wrong if he changed the opener to “The prevailing social and political culture of the South is a parasite” and continued on from there.

        I sort of take those sorts of disclaimers for granted in this sort of discussion unless given reason to think otherwise. Every single culture, institution, political entity, and other grouping of people is probably going to have positive aspects and honorable people involved no matter how vile it is, and conversely, many of the great and good undertakings of humanity have had threads of pure evil running through them.

        That’s common sense, right?

      • cpinva says:

        they stand out, because they (and their ideological descendants) are the exception to the rule.

        “Does this include John Lewis? Martin Luther King? Lyndon Johnson? The many people fighting for equality in the South today?”

        the “modern” south is still ruled, as it always has been, by the white, protestant aristocracy. what will always separate the south, from the rest of the country, is the legacy of slavery (yes, i know, northern states had slaves, but it wasn’t nearly as wholly dependent on the institution). there is racism all over the country, but idaho wasn’t a slave state, nor was montana or michigan. i was born in, and have lived in the south for most of my life, up to this point. i’m old enough to still remember “whites only” signs on buildings, but only in the south, not the north. this was in n. va, btw.

        while it’s true the south has no monopoly on racism, it tends to be more deeply ingrained, than in any other part of the country i’ve had occasion to visit. if a gov. stood in front of a school house door, with an axe handle in his hand, to stop integration in the north, i’ve never read about it. texas made it a point to infect school history textbooks, with a fraudulent history of the civil war, making slavery a side issue.

        the south has its share of liberals/progressives, but the bulk of the native white population is still fighting the civil war, and they are the ones who dominate in politics, along with the fundie evangelicals. no other geographic section of the country can be shown to be as dominated by this group, as consistently, as the former confederate states.

        • spencer says:

          while it’s true the south has no monopoly on racism, it tends to be more deeply ingrained, than in any other part of the country i’ve had occasion to visit.

          Never been to Detroit, have you?

    • Spirula says:

      I’m impressed. Not many could lift a brush so broad.

    • jalrin says:

      So I guess all the times that Southern Democrats provided the votes to push through economic justice measures that we could not get apporved by the Socially liberal but more economically conservative folks in the North and West are not worth discussiong.

      I also guess that the Southern Senators who voted against Bork in greater numbers than the Western Senators did don’t count either.

    • Theron says:

      Hi. Southern boy here. Ancestors participated in Bacon’s Rebellion (1676, Va). Real G— D— American. Didn’t vote for Obama in the primaries because he was too conservative. We are multitudes down here (and you are aware of the non-white population, no? Many of them are social democratic in their political orientation).

    • socraticsilence says:

      Wait are you speaking as broadly as you intend- I mean Washington, Jefferson, LBJ, etc. (this assumes you aren’t counting Civil Rights icons given your use of “dominant”)

    • spencer says:

      as if the people who actually build this country are somehow fakes and frauds.

      Seriously, go fuck yourself. I work just as hard as anyone at building this country and doing whatever I can to make it better. To claim that mantle entirely for yourself just because of where you live is theft, pure and simple.

  17. Jeremy says:

    Needs more bomb-throwing, Erik. You’re gonna have to turn in your card.

  18. Bobby Thomson says:

    No, they are southern problems in a way that really matters, because of the Senate and the Electoral College, and because of the south’s stranglehold on the current Republican party. Yeah, sure, there is racism in other parts of the country – but it just doesn’t have as much power over our national politics.

    Shorter: Both sides (of the country) do it? Oh really?

  19. JoyfulA says:

    And Timothy McVeigh was from upstate New York, the Buffalo area, I think, not Michigan.

  20. shah8 says:

    To make a long comment very short, well yes, the two articles are rather unsophisticated about the South. On the other hand, Atlanta and Columbia most certainly deserved to be burned to the ground. Moreover, it’s shocking the degree to which Atlanta is one civilized dot for literally hundreds of miles. Cincinatti to the north, Houston to the west, Research Triangle to the east, and Miami to the south.

    On another tangent, the idea that Northerners make too much of their own liberalness isn’t unique. This is pretty much true of every hub area to every rim area–say European media baiting muslims under the color of them being superstitious savages.

    As for treating the South with charity–well, we already do, and I wouldn’t say that it has been all that positive. For instance, a key aspect of Southern disfunction is the extent to which the Democratic party functions as a handmaiden to Republican goals if they are not outright the black people party in majority black areas/cities. Democratic partymembers in Georgia outside Atlanta tend to be horrible people–Congressman John Barrow is a good example, forget Zell Miller. Going from people to institutions, the South exported their brand of penal institutions, labor laws, and systems of propaganda to the rest of the country, and this was pretty damaging to the US.

    • Richard says:

      They also exported jazz, blues, county and soul. And Faulkner and Tennessee Williams. Yeah, the politics are fucked and racism is more prevalent than in the North, despite what Erik says but writing it off as this horrible cesspool is stupid

    • socraticsilence says:

      The elitism in this comment is hilarious- by these standards you could argue that the Northeast is basically only 3 cities in a barren wasteland as well- “civilization”- seriously, that dog whistle might need to be checked out its a bit loud.

      • DrDick says:

        Yep. Yankee exceptionalism really pisses me off. I am no supporter (and a frequent critic of) of my home state and region, this is not a uniquely Southern problem. Fucking Yankees just want a free ride on their own bigotry and racism.

        • JL says:


          25% of gay and lesbian kids in this area, and 15% of bisexual kids, are homeless at some point in their teens, compared to 3% for straight kids, according to a Children’s Hospital study. And the queer homeless kids get raped if they stay in the regular shelters, according to the queer homeless kids that I know. We have two anti-LBGT hate groups headquartered in this state. The LBGT civil rights organization that I volunteer for gets around 150 calls a year about employment discrimination and maybe 50 about housing discrimination. Meanwhile, on other issues, there’s quite an active anti-abortion community and the state is full of “crisis pregnancy centers” that actively lie to pregnant people, and active groups of clinic picketers. The Boston police union is so racist and sexist that the organization for minority officers recently collaborated with Occupy Boston, of all groups, to try to clean it up, because they’d gone years trying to address the problem through normal police channels to no avail.

          Are we also pretty awesome in a lot of ways? Yep. Does the South have some really nasty problems? It surely does; I grew up there and I’ve seen them. But I’m tired of talking to people around here who are just shocked! shocked! when I talk about some of the problems that we have in this famously liberal state. Because that’s the sort of thing they associate with the South. I know this because they tell me so. The complacency of people like that, incidentally, gave the country Scott Brown. I had people telling me on the day of that election that they thought I was crazy for thinking Brown might beat Coakley. A Republican senator? Where did I think I was, Alabama?

          • cpinva says:

            i’ll bet money our south boston beats your south boston, as far as racism goes. and it doesn’t have the redeeming social quality of high class schools, good restaurants and very cool museums and aquariums.

        • spencer says:

          Fucking Yankees just want a free ride on their own bigotry and racism.

          THANK you. That’s all any of this is.

    • spencer says:

      and Miami to the south.

      My Obama-voting, highly-urbanized region of nearly three million people that rests somewhere between Atlanta and Miami would like to invite you to shove your elitism up your ass.

  21. rj says:

    Erik, I really don’t understand your reaction. You don’t like elitists generalizing? OK. Point taken, not every southerner is bad, not every northerner is good. That wasn’t the point of the those two essays. As someone who knows U.S. history and culture at a granular level way beyond me, I appreciate you taking up the anti-generalist attack. But at some level, the South has acted as a distinct region and continues to do so. Packer and Wills were pointing to the changing position the South is finding itself in under the Obama realignment and how it is responding to it. Which of the southern state governments and congress members do you to expect to follow policies that will be helpful to the country? Any? Yes, I am sure there will be progressive southerners trying to stem the tide of batshit craziness. And, yes, the craziness is not limited to the south. But as a block, do you really think the South’s political influence on the national agenda will in any way be anything other than rejectionist? Both Wills and Packer were pointing out that the South is becoming more isolated and insular relative to the broad changes going on in the US. Sorry if that sounds elitist or whatever, but I think it’s more important to at least make some clear acknowledgments of what’s happening politically.

    • witless chum says:

      Personally, it irks the shit out of me to see white northerners pissing on about the south, given that our hands up here are not exactly clean. People here may sound a little more fancy about it, because they say “Detroit” rather than another word. But they mean the same thing.

      And southern bashing frequently takes the form of the ever-lovely classism and complaining about rednecks or white trash. Which is just ugly and stupid. And annoying. When it’s done by middle-class northerners, it’s nothing but kicking down toward people who didn’t have your advantages. Yeah, I’m sure many who use those terms are just as willing to include the Boss Hog types who southerners unwisely elect to political office, but I’m just tired of it. Just because there’s no god doesn’t mean that you can’t try out the whole beam from your own eye first thing.

      • Chet Murthy says:

        Hard to say what irks me so much about this comment.

        I’m no longer a Southerner. But my opinions about the South are grounded in hard, hard experience.

        And let me tell you something: my hometown is currently finding out what harm fracking can do. Y’know what? I’m kinda laughin’.

        Serves the crackers right.

        • witless chum says:

          Whatever you wanna say, I won’t argue too much. I’ll defer to your experience, as you said you grew up in Texas above. I said white northerners, I meant white northerners.

        • Tom says:

          Serves the crackers right.

          Goddamnit, this is the whole problem right here. What, under-educated, under-employed people weren’t given accurate information from the gas companies about the harm fracking can do to their communities? And now their lives are ruined? Hilarious! Let’s call them “crackers” because that’s even funnier.

          • spencer says:

            Yes, exactly. The people who get hurt are the ones who have been manipulated and lied to so that they’ll keep voting against their own interests. But hey, fuck ’em. They’re just crackers, so they don’t matter, amirite?

            • burritoboy says:

              Yes, the derogatory term isn’t particularly helpful, but………don’t, at some point, the residents of Chet’s hometown have some responsibility for their own political mistakes, which they repeatedly and insistently make? Certainly, they’re also victims – but they also have insisted on being victims because of their flawed understandings.

        • Karen says:

          I still live in Texas, where fracking is doing lots of damage. Would you all in your clean northern cities like to do without our gas? Pay the price that natural gas would be without fracking? Frack for gas in your own neighborhoods.

  22. “Still, my reading of American history remembers the Detroit Hate Strike of 1943.”

    Just got through the mention of that in The Warmth of Other Suns. Good to remember that things are always complicated (p132-133):

    “A white undertaker in the block joined the colored men contemplating the situation. He did not leave when the other white people fled. He fixed his feet on the ground with the neighbors who happened to be colored and let it be known where he stood. He might need their protection if it came to that.

    “You know, them white folks raising hell over there on Woodward Avenue,” the white undertaker started to say.

    “Yeah, they sure are,” George said.

    The white undertaker drew closer and into their circle. “But us colored folks is giving ’em hell over on Hastings,” he said.

    The colored men welcomed a new brother, and they all laughed at the meaning of that.”

    • Erik Loomis says:

      This is the thing to note. For all the racism, there were almost always a few white people who stood up for what was right.

      • witless chum says:

        The other thing to remember is the Reconstruction governments tended to win when there were free elections because a minority, but a decent-sized one, of white southerners were voting for the Republicans along with the newly-freed black folks.

          • rm says:

            Yes — it took organized campaigns of terrorist violence, such as the Wilmington Coup (what they still call a “riot” in the history books, I think), to break up political alliances of non-elite whites and blacks. Jim Crow did not jes’ grew out of the native white culture of the South; it had to be enforced and taught to whites as well as blacks. The Civil Rights Movement did not just free victimized minorities, in some sense it freed the majority too.

  23. Tybalt says:

    Great post, Erik. Thanks.

    Oddly, I am reading The Warmth of Other Suns just like Charlie Sweatpants, probably about 100 pages ahead of him. So glad I am reading it. She is a wonderful writer.

  24. Morbo says:

    I’m pretty sure I can recall instances of at least one of your co-bloggers expressing the sentiment that William Tecumseh Sherman was not nearly thorough enough in his march to the sea.

    • rea says:

      I’ve never quite understood good liberals who think that when we pulled that shit in Vietnam it was a war crime, but it was cool in Georgia or the Shenandoah Valley.

      • witless chum says:

        Sherman’s guys didn’t engage in wholesale slaughter and the Vietnamese didn’t start it for the purposes of preserving race-based slavery.

        But yeah.

        • rea says:

          Sherman’s guys didn’t engage in wholesale slaughter

          Not really true.

          • witless chum says:

            I’m talking about the indiscriminate killing of civilians here, “free fire zone” style like we apparently did often in Vietnam. You sure, rea? I’ve never heard of Sherman’s guys being accused of any sort of Mei Lai incident.

            • rea says:

              There are no reliable estimates of civilian casualties in the Civil War. Sherman’s march, and other Union campaigns like Sheridan in the Shenandoah, represented deliberate adoption of a policy of destroying the food stocks the civilian population needed to survive. There are numerous contemporary accounts of resulting widespread starvation. Sherman’s army was also accompanied by thousands of deserters and stragglers who roamed the countryside looting, raping and murdering–Sherman made no attempt to control them.

              • ajay says:

                Sherman made no attempt to control them.

                Really, rea? No one was punished for rape or murder during the entire march? No deserters arrested?
                And the objective of the march wasn’t to starve the civilian population. That’s just a lie.

                • witless chum says:

                  The deserters he’s talking about were probably mostly locals and Confederate deserters who’d taken to banditry. Which explains why Sherman didn’t control them.

              • Erik Loomis says:

                Those poor, poor Georgians, having committed treason to defend slavery and all.

              • Jay B. says:

                Sherman’s march, and other Union campaigns like Sheridan in the Shenandoah, represented deliberate adoption of a policy of destroying the food stocks the civilian population needed to survive.

                Nope. Not even true! The Confederates destroyed the food crops in retreat so they wouldn’t be able to feed Sherman’s Army. Think about how that’s an actual military strategy and has been for a long time, while invading and occupying armies wouldn’t destroy the crops they need to eat and feed the people they are occupying. It’s all part of the Lost Cause mythology that infects an overwhelming part of our national discourse and makes Southern politics such a treat.

              • Bobby Thomson says:

                I call bullshit. It’s known that Uncle Billy turned away slaves who wanted to follow his column for fear they would slow the progress of The March and eat his soldiers’ rations. I somehow doubt he would have turned a blind eye to pirate freeriders.

          • cpinva says:

            yes really true.

            “Not really true.”

            his purpose was to reduce the ability of the south to continue to wage war. he did so by destroying the assets needed by the south: crops, railroad lines, industry (such as it was, in the deep south). it was not to indiscriminately slaughter southern civilians, unless you have documented evidence to the contrary.

  25. mryesno says:

    i live in chapel hill and southern culture on the skids still play here but not sure about elsewhere.

  26. wengler says:

    Growing up in the South, I saw the outlook as that there are certain people that matter and others who don’t. Black people were in the ‘don’t matter’ group, but so were a lot of others. This isn’t exactly a unique to the South, but the fact that it is never identified as a social problem is a Southern phenomenon. They see so many things through the lens of religion that these endemic problems are never rationally approached.

    You’ll find in any place with a lot of people in the US that white people will helpfully tell you the ‘bad parts’ of town that you should never go to. What they really mean is the black parts. I of course usually go there anyways. Most weren’t bad at all during the day at least. The only exception being Chicago.

  27. satby says:

    Re Chicago: yes still divided racially and as in any huge urban area ugly incidents can occur; but Beverly has been an integrated neighborhood for over 30 years, and Bridgeport has a large minority population as well. Change comes slowly, but it does eventually come.

  28. […] Erik Loomis takes southerner-bashing liberals to the woodshed. […]

  29. Uncle Kvetch says:

    There’s a lot to love about the South…if only I didn’t have to share a country with it.

    • daveNYC says:

      Eh, I’m OK with sharing the country, it’s the House and Senate that I could do without. I’d have more sympathy for the whole ‘leave Britney the South aloooone!’ argument if their political representatives weren’t 50 years behind the times.

      Nixon’s Southern Strategy wasn’t based on milk and cookies for God’s sake.

  30. Woodrowfan says:

    I notice that I see a hell of a lot more racially mixed groups in northern Virginia than I do when visiting my Mom in the Asheville area. (not Asheville proper, the small towns to the south) But then, Arlington/Falls Church/Fairfax are not exactly a typical area so I’m not sure it’s a fair comparison.

    • The Pale Scot says:

      Damn shame Radley ran off to that rag, hope he can can give the woo-woo charlatans some grief. But I won’t go there.

      • William Berry says:

        I have Balko’s blog, “The Agitator”, bookmarked, and read it regularly. You can go there directly w/o having to deal w/Huffpo. An added bonus: most of his gang of nutbag right-wing “libertarian” commenters haven’t followed him there. So far.

        I’m a lefty and disagree w/Radley on a lot of things, but when it comes to civil liberties, militarization of law enforcement, prison industrial complex, the war on (certain people who use certain kinds of) drugs, etc., there is nobody else out there nearly as good, IMNSHO.

  31. Reilly says:

    It isn’t hard to see why you didn’t include quotations from Packer or Wills in your “criticism” as there’s almost no resemblance between what you wrote and what they wrote. As a number of people have already offered, this is nothing but a both-sides-do-it piece, which usually signals, to me, a rush to strike a pose on moral high ground. Both sides do it could actually be a valid response if the original argument had been only one side does it.
    And speaking of stereotypes, Packer and Wills are “American elites”? And you’re “not comfortable” with them “talking about the South”? I didn’t realize that the ‘Real Americans’ Reverse-Elitism Membership Council was run by East Coast perfessors.
    I think you owe both those guys an apology.
    Here’s a quote from Packer which sums up his premise:

    The Solid South speaks less and less for America and more and more for itself alone.

    And the final lines from Wills:

    The South has often been defeated. Now it is defeating itself.

    Valid points. As but one example look at this story from last September, with which you may already be familiar.

    • Lyanna says:

      Yes, Erik’s point of view and his defenders’ can be summed up as, “There is some racism in the north and some liberalism in the south; ergo, the south is not a generally racist force in American politics, at least no more than the north is.”

      Which is just false. It is a racist force. It is worse than the north. This is no reason for the north to congratulate itself, because “better than a region that committed treason to defend slavery” is a very low bar to cross.

      • DrDick says:

        There is some racism in the north

        You really need to do some research. There is a frakking lot of racism all over this country. Read David Neiwert’s Sundown Towns sometime or read up on the busing riots in Detroit, Boston, and other Northern cities. NYC’s stop and frisk policy and tendency to blow away unarmed people of color are pretty prominent in the news, as well.

        Nobody is arguing that the South is not racist or that there are not significant problems down there. The point is that many, if not most, of these are not unique to the South. Y’all want to take a close look at that beam in your own eyes.

        • Reilly says:

          The point is that many, if not most, of these are not unique to the South.

          And it’s a point that had no relation to the two articles on which it was presumably based. Perhaps you were too eager to join the chorus to actually read those articles, otherwise you would have realized that Erik’s rebuttal actually distorts and mischaracterizes the scope and intent of those writings. Or maybe y’all want to take a look at your reading comprehension skills.

  32. […] points in dispute between you and us. You will rule or ruin in all events.” An LGM blogger argues,however, that this isn’t some issue of Southern culture but spreads around the country—the […]

  33. ixnay says:

    How would the ‘south’ have developed if air conditioning hadn’t been invented?

  34. sherifffruitfly says:

    bad things happen elsewhere too! therefore there’s nothing wrong with the south!

    yah eff off, defending the confederates.

  35. theLastMenshevik says:

    Erik must have missed this in his hurry to claim the moral high ground.

    “An estrangement between the South and the rest of the country would bring out the worst in both—dangerous insularity in the first, smug self-deception in the second.”

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