We’re under attack — again.
We know the drill. Hypercritical non-Southerners — call ’em whatever you wish — think we’re different: too conservative, too Republican, too racist, too uneducated, too entrenched in our ways, too reluctant to join the 21st century, too alarmist, too defeatist, too distrusting of the federal government, too reliant on race-baiting, hysteria-invoking politicians, and too accepting of a low-income, low-results, we’ve-always-done-it-our-way status quo.
Some Southerners think that, too.
Orville Burton, a distinguished history professor at Clemson University, delivered the presidential address in November at the Southern Historical Association’s annual meeting in Mobile. In his poignant remarks — “The South as ‘Other,’ the Southerner as ‘Stranger’” — Burton provided a compelling case for why our region is so often viewed by outsiders as if we’re aliens crash-landed from Mars.
“No other part of the United States shares the number of intriguing contradictions that the South generates,” Burton wrote, and he’s right.
We love contradictions.
Burton details them: Deep South states are among the poorest in America, yet they also are among the states that give the most to charitable causes. Southern states are uber-patriotic, provide thousands of sons and daughters to the U.S. armed forces and are home to many sizeable military bases that are paid for by Washington and provide immeasurable economic benefit to local economies, yet Southern politicians routinely decry the intrusion of the big, bad federal government. Those are but two of his examples. I’ll provide two others.
In Montgomery, opponents of a volunteer system of national curriculum standards (called Common Core) want the state Legislature to keep Alabama students away from outside influences that may come from policies and textbooks not indoctrinated in everything Alabama. Forget the fact that educators, by and large, say the Common Core standards are top-notch.
One anti-Common Core Alabamian, Sharon Sewell, said she found texts that encouraged students to “delve into morally corrupt and liberally biased conversations” and assignments “where they’re supposed to think like a Muslim or think like a terrorist,” The Star reported Thursday.
“Delusional” seems an appropriate response.
Meanwhile, Gov. Robert Bentley, a retired physician, is stomping his foot all over President Obama’s health-care reform efforts and refuses set up Alabama’s own health-care exchange — which would boost the state’s tepid economy and provide affordable and accessible health care to thousands of Alabamians.
Oops. It’s “Obamacare,” and he’ll have nothing of it.
Instead, the federal-government boogeyman will come in — exactly what government-haters don’t want — and set up a federal exchange. In other words, Washington will do for Alabama what Alabama won’t do for itself.
We love contradictions.
Don’t think for a minute that there aren’t Southern-doubters out there who think the Bentley approach is the height of Southern gubernatorial stupidity.
Meanwhile, this week at the Supreme Court, Chief Justice John Roberts and the court’s other conservative judges have unleashed a full-bore assault on the 1965 Voting Rights Act, one of this nation’s seminal legislative successes. Specifically, Roberts and his crew are questioning the necessity of the act’s Section 5, which requires certain state and local governments to get changes that affect voting pre-approved by the Justice Department or a federal court. The only state and local governments under Section 5 are those with a history of making it hard — if not virtually impossible — for black Americans to vote. Alabama is on that ignoble list.
Chief Justice Roberts, born in Buffalo, N.Y., raised in Indiana, educated at Harvard, included this question in this week’s proceedings in Washington.
“Is it the government’s position that the citizens in the South are more racist than the citizens in the North?”
How’s that for a bit of highly placed, well-publicized Southern propaganda?
It makes for great headlines, as long as we Southerners enjoy negative connotations when influential public figures openly discuss the likelihood that today’s South remains a region undermined by deep-seated, generational racism.
As for Burton, the noted Southern historian, he makes it clear of the value of the Voting Rights Act. Roberts, though he won’t, should listen.
“The Voting Rights Act is crucial for protection of minority voting, but I see no guarantees that it will continue into the future. …
“Already it is difficult for me to believe that in 2012 we saw purges of voter lists and draconian voter-ID laws that discriminate against poor people, minorities, the elderly and the disabled. These tragedies should have been left behind in the 19th century, but a powerful element in the United States today, while not talking away the right to vote, is taking away the ability to vote.”
In other words, Southerners, we’re making news.
We’re fighting the big, bad federal government.
We’re fighting Obamacare.
We’re fighting national education standards.
Even if we wish it wouldn’t, the Supreme Court is curious if we’re more racist than the rest of the nation.
Sadly, some things never change.
Phillip Tutor — firstname.lastname@example.org — is The Star’s commentary editor. Follow him at Twitter.com/PTutor_Star.