I can’t help it. I think of the Deep South as backward. I’ve driven across southern Mississippi without an Easy Rider moment. I’ve munched on fried pickles. I love shrimp and grits. I try to not to wear my bias on my sleeve. I’m making progress.
In early May, I loved being a history nerd in Savannah and Charleston. Perhaps the magnificent architecture and cuisine helped. Strolling through gorgeous parks and squares, lush live oaks formed natural archways.
Careful not to mention that my children were direct descendants of General William Tecumseh Sherman, his name was mentioned plenty. Not in a good way.
On my first day hanging out amid Southern accents, sitting at a bar waiting for my Maine pals to arrive in Savannah, I ordered a mint julep.
“Oh that’s a Southern drink but y’all should have a Savannah Peach,” the bartender suggested. So I did.
A retired teacher, whom I mostly couldn’t understand, started chatting me up. An odd-looking young man wearing a big bow tie sidled over to order a drink. Turns out he was a Conservative radio talk show host who currently lived in Anchorage, Alaska.
“Yeah, but I voted for Obama,” he admitted. In Savannah for an old friend’s wedding, he recalled visiting their small Missouri hometown prior to the 2008 election.
“Who you voting for white boy?” someone called out as they drove by. He didn’t tell us whether or not he replied.
“See, we’re not so different,” the retired teacher said as he paid his bill and left.
Racism is everywhere. Whether it’s police pushing a black Yale freshman to the ground, suspecting he didn’t belong on campus, or members of the 2018 Georgia State Legislature promoting the teaching of U.S. History from 1865 to the present, uh, leaving out the Civil War and slavery (it didn’t pass).
I prefer conversations that disregard color. Walking to the Sentient Bean cafe one morning, we met a heavy-set African American woman, sweating, struggling down the stairs of the former Telfair Hospital, now a senior-living residence. We asked if she needed help.
“Oh, I’ll make it,” she said. “You should see the circular wooden staircases inside. Used to be a hospital only for women giving birth. Mothers with girl babies could stay as long as they wanted, be taken care of. Boy babies had to leave in three days. Babies who died became angels. Just outside my window once I saw hundreds of butterflies. Maybe they were the angels of those babies.”
Her story still floats inside my head.
Accents, racism, prejudice, hatred, hypocrisy are still with us. Spontaneous conversations may help us crawl away from rigid patterns.
As for our hurting nation, Vote for Democrats, wherever they’re from or whatever color they are!