I read and shared a post a few days ago on Reverb Press, 5 Things I Learned Growing Up Liberal in the Deep South. It was a solid list of things that I’ve found to be true myself. But I disagreed with the commentary – if not necessarily the message, then the delivery of it. Maybe it’s the audience that the article is geared towards – northern liberals. But I want to direct this at the southern conservatives who I know and love. So, here’s my list with my own commentary.
Racists Don’t Really Believe They Are Racist
Y’all, this ain’t no joke. And I was one of them for the longest time. I’ve had friends and family that have welcomed people of color into their homes with open arms, with true love and compassion. But the problem comes when assuming things like “it’s not all black people, it’s just those black people.” Institutional racism and white privilege is a very hard thing to explain to poor people. Again, even as someone who grew up liberal despite my conservative family on all sides, I speak from the experience of my own racism, of having to learn my way out of these thought processes. It’s so easy to assume from rock bottom that the people around you have the exact same opportunities you have to pull themselves up out of the mire.
Here’s the thing – most racists aren’t bad people. That’s what makes it so hard to recognize generational, institutionalized racism. The message I grew up with in south Mississippi was (wrongly) that racism is only hating someone or seeing them as less than human because of the color of their skin. No one ever told me growing up that racism was fear of driving through a certain neighborhood, even though some of the nicest people I knew lived there. Or that it was that subtle belief that gangs are the fault of bad communities. Or not calling someone’s bullshit when they tell that racist joke, even if you don’t laugh. I was pointed to, and eventually pointed myself to, the real racists in my own life – because we’ve all grown up knowing some who are old guard racists. Like my father telling me when I was 16 that if I got pregnant by a black man, not to bother coming home. How could I be racist when that is what racism looks like? But the truth? Most of the racists I know would never call someone a n*****. Or at least haven’t in the last 20 years or more. But not using it doesn’t mean you’re not racist.
Insulting God is Never Okay
I guess it shows just how southern I am because I as a Polytheist don’t believe in insulting other people’s God(s). Sincerely held belief in a deity is an incredibly huge part of most southerns’ lives and insulting their God(s) is a jab at them as people – it’s fighting dirty. It’s a matter of having respectful discourse with one another. Now, some people will do it to non-Christians, but I’ve found more and more it to be more a knee-jerk reaction of true disbelief and, given a second chance, most people will not react that way a second time.
But when it comes to Christianity in the south, there are so many different flavors and most don’t won’t hold hands across the isle, discussing your issues with a certain church – or even all churches – is accepted and even accepted to some extent.
How to Keep Your Mouth Shut
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to bite my tongue and walk away from a conversation. Mostly when growing up because I’m from a large family of liberals. But part of growing up for me was also learning that I don’t have to keep my mouth shut. I can tell someone that I disagree with them and ask them to change the subject. So I don’t talk politics with most of my friends and family from the south, but they know not to talk politics with me, too.
Some People Are Too Far Gone
This is unfortunately true. But it’s not the vast majority. The problem isn’t that most people are, though. The problem is how often white liberals from outside the south paint all southerners as backwards and stupid and they speak down to them about issues that need work. And one of the southern values I was raised with is dog stubbornness. If you are insulting before you ever begin your spiel, southerners shut down and don’t hear a word you say. Kind of like, um, fucking everyone.
Because we, as southerners, already know exactly who would never change their ways of thinking, no matter what evidence you can show them of how they’re wrong. Even the most conservative southerner, who would read this and think I’m talking out my ass can think of at least one person who holds outdated and wrong-headed ideas that they will never let go of. But they aren’t the majority.
This is the biggest one. Because as a white, liberal southerner, I can afford to have patience. It’s easy to get angry and to get worked up about liberal ideas. When I was younger (not that much younger) I was always angry. And sometimes I still am. But I’ve had to tap into a well of patience I never knew I had if I’m really going to get my conservative loved ones to hear me, to understand.
And sometimes it means not talking about certain things so that I can maintain a relationship with people I love and who love me. But a healthy relationship is where you are respected in turn. Where your family members and friends recognize your difference of beliefs and they hold their silence about those topics. You don’t have to (nor should you) subject yourself to a racist, sexist asshole just because they are family.
In the end, I agree with the overall sentiment of the original article – it can be frustrating and heartbreaking to be a liberal surrounded by conservatives. But it’s because I know that most southern conservatives are, at their core, good people. And I think that they can and will become even better people. But as white liberals, we have to approach them with courage and compassion if we are to truly change hearts and minds. Being flippant and insulting isn’t making things better – it’s a self-congratulatory pat on the back that isn’t helping anyone. But neither should we meekly stand by and hope they don’t notice us. We have the responsibility for challenging these narratives because we know they are truly good people.