Some days it is really hard to defend the honor of the South, but it’s only on the days that end in Y.
I am not, to use the local vernacular, a “son of the South”. If anything, I’m a foster child who never left and was assumed at some point to have been adopted. My plight, then, is worse than the native’s. A native can claim heritage, history and genetic doom. I have to shrug my shoulders and admit, yep, I chose this mess. Lately, there has been much to apologize for.
Rick Perry, bless his heart, has a theory about why our North Texas prosecutors who’ve been investigating the Aryan Brotherhood have been turning up shot dead. Perry thinks the Mexican drug cartels might have done it. He also speculated that North Korea’s Kim Jong-un included Austin on a short list of cities he’d like to nuke because Austin is “an epicenter for a lot of technology, a lot of economic development, and I think the individuals in North Korea understand that Austin, Texas, is now a very important city in America, as do corporate CEOs and other people who are moving here in record numbers.” God bless that boy. Only Rick Perry could turn the threat of nuclear annihilation into a Chamber of Commerce brag.
Part of the frustration of championing the South is telling people who don’t know us that we’re not all like Perry. Sure, many of us can read. Others have even been known to write a book. Southerners have been scientists, inventors, presidents, and poets. And if the civil rights movement didn’t reclaim America’s soul all over the South by defeating violence with love, I don’t know what did.
But it is very hard to stand up for my adopted kin when you also have to explain what happened in North Carolina, normally one of the more sober cousins at our family picnics. A couple of representatives introduced a resolution that claimed the U.S. Constitution did not apply to states, towns or schools and that local governments ought to be able to establish official religions. The moneyed wing of the Republican Party recognized how openly flouting the Constitution might be bad for business and got them to withdraw it.
Being a liberal below the Mason-Dixon Line means saying “please” and “thank you” and “yes ma’am” because sometimes it sounds so much nicer than the truth. For example, there is no nice way to accurately describe God’s special little children in the Tennessee legislature who mistook a mop sink for a Muslim foot-washing basin. It is truly difficult to hold my love for Tennessee in my heart and accept that its good citizens elected a couple of fellows who mistook a mop sink for evidence of Muslim infiltration into the men’s room at the state capitol.
They should have known better. In every Southern town there is a cook who can do things to a pig that are so delicious that we never need worry about the threat of Shariah law. Any religion that forbids baby back ribs will find no favor down here.
You do not need to agree with someone all the time in order to love them. If you doubt this, ask a wife. And if the wives are out of earshot, it’s safe to ask a husband. To love the culture that gave us Johnny Cash and Otis Redding, Harper Lee and William Faulkner, Lyndon Johnson and Martin Luther King Jr., and banana pudding and chicken-fried steak, you don’t need to endorse all of the South’s faults.
A popular local bumper sticker says, “I wasn’t born in Texas, but I got here as fast as I could.” The speed at which outsiders adopt local customs is considered good judgment around here, and I do admire their enthusiasm for being so decided of this place. This fervor seduced me, and now I count myself among them. I see their merits and excuse their flaws with a “bless their hearts.” There are some days—and late they come in rapid succession—when I want to cry out “I’m not one of them!” But it is too late for me, for I am one of them now.
Jason Stanford is a Democratic consultant who writes columns for the Austin American-Statesman and MSNBC. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @JasStanford.