As I’ve gotten older, my patience with the media coverage around elections in this country as well as with the political armchair analysts on social media has been worn extremely thin. Mainly because most of the analysis is basically twenty years behind. Political maps are still drawn with the decrepit concept of “red” and “blue” states. Peoples’ narrow-minded conceptions of abstaining and third-party voters are stuck in 2000—with Ralph Nader. And ironically, many who deem themselves “smart” are refusing to learn from the corruption of that election—an election that I argue to this day was stolen from Al Gore.
Nah. That would be too easy. But you know what people have been doing for nearly 20 years instead?
Blaming Florida, the Southern state where said election was hotly contested before being taken to the Supreme Court. Well, that’s not entirely true. I must give these armchair analysts more credit than that. No, instead, they have evolved from pinning the election on that singular state to pinning the losses of entire elections on “Southern States”. Or “red states”. And they usually skip over talking about widespread electoral corruption and voter suppression in favor of squawking about Southern “backwardness”.
This same 18-year-old rhetoric has been employed during multiple election cycles this year. The most recent example took place in the Mississippi Senate race between the Anti-Christ aka Cindy Hyde-Smith and Mike Epsy. When Hyde-Smith won, familiar talking points about how “The South” is “dumb”, “fat”, “stupid” and “irredeemable” cropped up. Statistics on Mississippi’s lack of education were widely circulated. And tweets stating that Mississippi— and by extension, the South and the people in it—should be abandoned.
Similar points stated were stated about Georgia, Florida, Texas, and Tennessee as well when Democratic opponents in those states suffered painfully close losses in the Senate and Governor races.
And you wanna know what is truly ironic about all of this?
All five states mentioned have extremely sizable Black populations. Which makes the outcomes of these races not coincidental. And the rhetoric surrounding these elections extremely old.
As someone who has a complex relationship with a Southern state (where I was born), this rhetoric disgusts me for a number of reasons:
1. Alabama’s Senate race last year proved that ANY state (including a “red one”) can be competitive when given a fair shake.
At the height of the election cycle, “progressive” candidate Bernie Sanders showed his backside and the full range of his ignorance by completely writing off the Southern electorate.
He died on the hill that opponent Hillary Clinton had the lead on him because of wins in “deep South” states, but that it didn’t matter because those were states where Democrats could never win. His spouse, Jane Sanders on MSNBC, added to the nonsense, stating that “[M]ost of the states are historically red states and are not likely to carry the day in the general election. Most of the states that Bernie has won are mostly blue states or battleground states.”
Bernie was competing where his progressive brain thought the competition was “real” and that realness didn’t include any country bumpkins. Especially Black ones. Both comments were wildly cocky and returned to bite Sanders in the arse when he suffered double-digit losses in these “non-competitive” states and lost his shot a clinching the Democratic nomination for president.
To be fair, Sanders is not alone in his narrow-minded belief on how Southern politics work. But his extreme dismissiveness of an entire region as a voting bloc is indicative of what progressives think of said region.
Which is what made Alabama’s senate race in 2017 so electrifying to watch.
During this time, we saw Doug Jones (D) run against Roy Moore (R). Moore was being paraded around by the white and racist powers that be in Alabama as the front-runner. And many in those same positions of power assumed that he would win, most likely off his whiteness alone and his unabashed and open appeal to flaming racists in that state. Which would not have been unlike the route that Trump took when campaigning in 2016.
Unfortunately for Moore, however, he came up against the organizational and progressive power of Black people (particularly Black women) in Alabama—a state, like Mississippi, that has a deep and complex history with organizing and civil rights (which I will get to). Black women toiled, canvassed, and most likely talked to people—in conjunction with Doug Jones—who hadn’t seen a lick of politicians on their block in YEARS.
The result was Doug Jones pulling out a win in a state he hadn’t been expected to win and in a competition that was extremely tight until the very end. Until the very last vote was cast and counted. Outlets and political pundits were genuinely shocked, mainly because this particular win made that outdated “blue state-red state” map look funny in the light, specifically because it showed that any state with a large Democratic voting bloc, even in the South, shouldn’t just be called “red”. And specifically, because it showed that any state can be a “battleground state”.
You think the lesson learned in Alabama would have carried to other midterm elections this year. But they have not. Instead the “dumb, irredeemable South” rhetoric continues, particularly after heavy losses were suffered in Georgia, Texas, Florida, and Mississippi.
And here’s why that rhetoric is insulting to Black voters and organizers who have tirelessly worked like those in Alabama:
2. Southern states have extremely large populations of Black people. When you say they are “irredeemable”, you are including the Black people in them and dismissing the vote that you claim is key in these elections.
When the “dumb South” rhetoric started up again after Epsy’s loss in Mississippi, I was already ready to block most of Twitter because they couldn’t wait to dunk on Mississippi for how poor, destitute, fat, and intellectual backward it was. With “statistics”.
It was a painful loss that reminded me of the extremely close Senate race in my home state of Tennessee that went in the direction of the Anti-Christ (Marsha Blackburn) as well.
I was about three seconds from deactivating when I came across a tweet from Van Newkirk that spoke to my soul:
Gotta say there’s nothing I find more distasteful about how northern liberals talk about the South when an election doesn’t go the way they wanted. Especially in MY mentions. I’m a southerner. All the stats ppl cite are real lives. That’s my great grandmother in the Delta.
— Dad (@fivefifths) November 28, 2018
He had managed to put my thoughts and my disgust in so succinct a way in that tweet and in the rest of his thread. There was no sick joy to be had in watching your home state go in the direction of fascism-lite. Firstly, because you want better for your state and the people (Black people) who live there. But secondly, because no matter where you end up as a Black Southerner, your family will always be there. They live there. They exist there. For whatever reason, they choose (or maybe not choose) to be there.
Suggesting they should suffer (and presumably die) because a band of powerful establishment racists (or Republicans, same difference) continues to attempt to maintain their stronghold on the state with virulent and overt voter suppression and corruption—something plenty of Black scholars, analysts, and denizens of Southern states have been screaming about—is reprehensible.
It’s also pretty telling. I say this because many of these progressives do not take the idea of voter suppression seriously until we are in the eleventh hour of an election. For all the hand-wringing and gasping that was done in response to the systematic voter suppression that Stacey Abrams’ campaign as governor in Georgia laid bare, where was this energy when a key part in the Voter’s Registration Act was struck down in 2013? Where was this same energy when states like North Carolina—and other Southern states with large populations of Black people—then pounced and began to pass all sorts of trash state voting laws with the intention of letting as few Black people vote as possible?
Where was the shock then? Where was the concern then?
Up someone’s arse, I assume, because that would mean that progressives and progressive pundits would have to view Black people as human beings that deserve justice and consideration, instead of a voting bloc that they pay attention to only during election time and use to achieve a means to an end.
This dismissiveness, of course, is not new. But it is particularly infuriating when you consider the complex history of Black people in the South.
Which leads me to my final point:
3. This dismissive rhetoric relies on the belief that it is only “The South” that is racist and “backward”—which is a lie and disrespectful to the political forces of nature and voices for change that have come out of these states.
I could talk all day about how progressives think the South is a lost cause during “key” elections. But my analysis would not be complete if I didn’t point out that this “screw them” attitude from so-called progressives stems from the belief that the South is the only region of the United States that is backward and racist and should be punished accordingly and via abandonment.
This is extremely humorous to me. Mainly because every region of this country is sitting on stolen Native American land, and is thus racist by default. But secondly, because you would be completely naive and asinine to think that America‘s own unique twist on racism and white supremacy is just limited to one region of the country. If that is the case, why are Black people over-represented in the prison-industrial complex of Bernie’s representative state of Vermont? How does a state which has a population of 95.2 White people possess one of the most glaringly disproportionate and racialized rates of incarceration in the country?
Y’all ever been to Chicago? Boston? Some of these other places in The North or The Midwest? Are you even aware of how segregated these places are? Particularly if you look at housing (which has a violently racist history all over this country)?
Of course, these aren’t questions that many progressives ask themselves because the extent of their McGraw-Hill education boils down to “South had slaves, slaves bad, South is bad” simplistic logic that completely ignores the fact that even “free” Black people weren’t exactly living it up in the Northern states at the time.
This simplistic logic also omits the potent political forces of change that have come out of, you guessed it, the South. You do not get the modern Civil Rights movement without the compassion and righteousness of specifically Black Southerners. How soon do we forget places like Georgia, who gave us table-shakers like MLK? Or Mississippi, who gave us change-makers like Fannie Lou Hamer?What of Montgomery, Alabama? Or Selma, Alabama? Or Money, Mississippi? Places where key moments in civil rights history occurred and from which the foundations of civil rights legislature—which benefits all of us—sprang forth?
Hell, you don’t even get some of these celebrated labor movements without some extremely progressive Black people who, yes, lived in the South.
Liberals esp white liberals love degrading the south but the south is where most progressive movements start. Esp labor movements.
— Danie Durst (@daniecal) November 28, 2018
I mean, do you think the Poor People’s’ campaign was just for shiggles? What of the Southern cotton mill strike of 1945? What about the fact that the largest strike in US history, 1934’s Textile Workers Strike, started in states like North Carolina? Or more contemporary strikes like the teacher’s strikes in Oklahoma, Kentucky, and West Virginia?
You see, this history runs extremely deep. This does not mean that the South is the most perfect place ever for Black people. Nor does this complex history give the region some type of moral leg to stand on in comparison to the rest of the country. Because, if we’re keeping it 100, America at-large is a, excuse my French, a shitshow and no one region has any right to claim moral superiority over the other.
That said, suggesting that we abandon an entire region of the country because those states just so happened to not vote your way in an election is not only flagrantly ignorant, but it is ahistorical and likely fueled by gross elitism, classism, and racism. Furthermore, it is also completely disrespectful to our ancestors who lived, breathed, organized and died in the South to one day make it better.
So think about that the next time you fix your wayward mouth to tell a Black person they should find some sense and “just leave” the South or imply that the people who live there are not worth saving.
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