Monthly Archives: March 2011

The Romanticized South

You think so?

Write what you know, right? Ok then.

Being a Southerner in a major city has made me acutely aware of what I appreciate about my heritage, and those qualities I loathe about it. When I moved to the DC metro area 5 years ago, folks knew immediately that I wasn’t from around here. I learned quickly that the ease of my smile was welcomed precisely because warmth is an unfamiliar character trait around these parts.  Likewise, the first time I visited New York a few years ago, I thanked a man for information and he called me back over to where he was standing to ask where I was from. When I told him I hailed from the great state of Alabama, he said to his comrades, “Told ya she wasn’t from here.”  I definitely took that as a compliment.

Moments like these provide great perspective.  Because to Yankees, southern hospitality represents a kind of charm and grace that you just don’t get everywhere.  We say “please” and “thank you” and “ma’am” because somebody somewhere along the way told us that that’s how decent people treat people decently.  And although my Southern sensibilities allow me to trust first, I don’t do so blinded by naiveté.  It doesn’t hurt me to give the benefit of the doubt.  But I keep my eyes peeled, just in case cats are in the business of mistaking kindness for weakness.  My armor has always been my earnestness.  And now that I’ve had the chance to experience being Southern from the outside looking in, I’ll shred my usual diplomacy for what my parents called “constructive criticism.”  Dear Dixie, I’m only telling you what I see because ultimately, I still love you.

At any rate, what I see most often is a purposeful acceptance of ignorance that flows as mightily as the Mississippi.  Sure, there’s some up North too, but Yankee know-nothings are more frequently confronted with the manifestations of their ignorance. It’s more difficult to degrade a person or a group of persons when you have to interact with them on a basic ass level everyday. It’s difficult to assume that all Arab-looking people are terrorists when one has invited you to his family’s home to celebrate a special occasion.  It’s more difficult to conclude that all Spanish-speaking people are “Mexican” when you work with a gang of Guatemalans … maybe I shouldn’t say “gang”, but you get my meaning.  It’s easy and cowardly to be against something that you don’t already know or understand.

Yet, not understanding and/or not knowing is never the ultimate offense; life is an exercise in learning and practice and refinement.  The true crime lies in the South’s prideful incredulity about change and progress. There’s an undercurrent of “this is how we do it down here; this is how we’ve always done it; this is how we’ll always do it.”  The former governor of Alabama echoed a similar refrain in 1963.  George Wallace stood in the doorway of the University of Alabama blocking the path of progress, both literally and figuratively, for Black Americans and for Southerners.   I imagine that Wallace hoped to prevent Black students from integrating the University of Alabama, and White social psyches by proxy.  Because it’s difficult to perpetuate the “lazy,” “stupid” narrative about Blacks when they sit right beside you in Chemistry class — when they have the same opportunity as you to succeed just as much as you.  As soon as just one of “them” graduates with honors and just one of “y’all” doesn’t, then the superiority card you’ve grown so comfortable toting around, has a hole in it.  So does your superiority narrative.  And so does everything you’ve always known.

The isms — racism, sexism, gayism, anti-elitism — these are but one aspect of the issue.  I mentioned decency earlier, and I believe that’s the common delusion about southern hospitatlity.  It’s not unconditional — you get it unless and until who you are is something different from what they (the powers that be, whoever they may be) have determined is “normal,” and therefore acceptable.

Remember when South Carolina wanted to adopt the confederate flag as it’s state flag? No?  You’re right, that was a few years back. Remember, then, when the Governor of Virginia thought April would be ideal for a Confederate History Month?  Oh and just last May, the Texas Board of Education cited “removing liberal bias” from its textbooks when it approved a measure to rename the Translantic Slave Trade the “Atlantic Triangular Trade.” Because the term “slave” is, you know, too touchy. Too closely associated with an acknowledgement that “the way we do things down here” may absolutely be fucked up.

The intolerance for difference in the South is a tradition, as is the comfort with not knowing and/or caring about what an amorphous “they” do wherever “they” are.  The South will undoubtedly go kicking and screaming into the 21st century, and to its own peril, as it lags in virtually every indicator of intellectual, social, and cultural upward mobility.  Yeah, there are pockets of progress, but Atlanta simply isn’t synonymous for Georgia, neither is Houston for Texas, nor Charlotte for North Carolina.  Moreover, religion plays a huge role in this.  It’s no secret that religiosity is higher in the South.  Given that we tend to lend as much credibility to mysticism as we do to facts in the South,  I’m not saying that religion causes simple-mindedness, but I’m confident that it contributes significantly to it.

If you’ll drift with me once more down memory lane, you’ll remember that Eddie Long and T.D. Jakes sure did lead Black folks to the George W. Bush promised land in 2004 after the latter’s fuck-ups were already quite clear.  He supported banning gay marriage though.  He wasn’t saying much about the dwindling prospects of middle- and lower middle class Americans, but that’s neither here nor there.  At least he would ensure that “the gays” couldn’t marry.  Unclouded by the the haze of religious rhetoric, folks might have seen that GDubs’ ideological perspective would also ensure that they couldn’t marry either — because the economy got fucked up while they marched in opposition to a matter that had absolutely no bearing on their own lives.  On the contrary, if the gays got married, then Bishop Eddie Long’s wife could stop feeling some kinda way about why her husband’s nails are always shiny, and why he prefers those tight ass shirts, and why his hair is so…like that.  He’s in the closet, honey.  And his last ditch effort at suppressing the gay was marrying your ass.

I’ve been asked many times if I would ever move back, and the answer has always been no.  While the sweet tea is still delicious, the accent minus that twang is still the most charming I’ve ever heard, and my Granny’s yard in April is still the most beautiful I’ll ever see, I can’t go back.  I don’t begrudge anyone who has the courage to go back and fix what’s wrong with where we’re from.  But, like all addicts, the first step is acknowledging that there is a problem.  The challenge and triumph of diversity allows to you to see objectively.  You’re able to measure who you are and what you think against something different.  And while you may not always capitulate to the other side, at least the experience of meeting someone who looks, speaks, or thinks differently than you has opened you up some.  It makes clear that how you do it, and how it’s always been done isn’t the only way to do it, nor is it always the right way.

Accepting that fact makes the South far more hospitable — to me anyway.


I Love It: Fotografia

Yes I Can Knock the Hustle.

I acknowledge that school aint for everybody.  People with exceptional talent don’t always need a classroom.

The operative words here aren’t mutually exclusive though.  There should be talent and it must be exceptional if you plan to make it longterm without some formal education.  Before the naysayers get going, I’m aware that there are exceptions to every rule.  But for every Lil’ Wayne, there are 100 Lil Larrys and MC Southsides on the come up, trying to make a name for themselves, too.  I’m not saying that MC Southside shouldn’t try to fulfill his dreams, only that his talent should match his lofty aspirations.  Or, he should be so charismatic that we might overlook his other deficiencies — like spelling, and speaking with some sense.  No, I’m not shittin on Waka Flocka!

Yes I am.  No seriously, watch this bamma.

He can’t read, “but he got ice tho.”  Insert *blank stare* and/or *vicious side eye* right here.

Over the last few years, most of the cats I’ve met who struggled through high school and dismissed college all together,  claim to spend their off time “in the studio layin down tracks.” And this is fine.  But unfortunately, what I’ve heard coming out of these “studios”… well let’s just say that cats might be better off aspiring to wash lettuce before moving up to the deep fat fryer.  Assistant Manager’ll be right around the corner, “and that’s when the big bucks start rolling in.”

That if I can do this, anybody can do this meme is a crock of shit.  You gotta be realistic about your chances, bruh.  Consider the context.  You know how many little boys want to be the next LeBron James?  Jay-Z?  You know how many little girls want to be Beyonce?  But for all the wannabes, in reality there exists only one.  Sure, there are gradations of greatness.  But really — who’s trying to be Beanie Siegel, or Manny Fresh, or Latavia “I went to prison, Phaedra” Roberson out this mug?  If you’re saying “Who?” right now, then I’m saying, “exactly.”  You’ve proven my point.

As you encroach upon those latter 20’s, it might behoove you to go ahead and put the pipe dreams away, and start working on ones legitimately within reach.

Big Boi of OutKast said:

“…Can’t gamble feeding baby on that dope money/might not always be sufficient/ but the United Parcel Service & them people at the Post Office didn’t call you back because you had cloudy piss/ So now you back in the trap/ just that, trapped.  Gon and marinate on that for a minute.”

Word Big Boi.  Word.  The hustle doesn’t pan out for everybody. Either be good at it and get the fuck on. Or get on with your life so you can be somebody to somebody.  Knowledge is power.

The Hubris of Heterosexuality

We're queer. Get fucking used to it.

It’s amazing what people think they can say to you.

“I mean, I don’t accept your lifestyle, but we can still be cool.”

Whatchu mean you don’t accept my lifestyle, but “we” can still be cool?   Who the fuck do you think you are?

I’ve pretty much had it with benevolent acceptance of willful ignorance.  If cats are on stupid shit, I feel compelled to not only be intolerant of it, but also to call it out when I see it.

As a political scientist, I’ve learned that politics depends on an analysis of relationships — interpersonal ones as well as those between individuals and institutions (government, church, etc.). It’s the interpersonal ones that inform policies and can alter the ways we relate to our institutions. For this reason, I always find it interesting that Presidential candidates seek to pander first to the wholesome folks of middle America, and those good and honorable patriots in the South (whose schools and highways still bear the names of Confederate generals). The rationale is that these people consistently vote, and consistently vote conservatively. But do the politicos ever stop to consider why? In theory, conservatism is a fine ideological perspective, but it thrives on a fear of the unknown.  Ideological conservatism appears incapable of conceiving of an “unfamiliar” that isn’t also automatically construed as “worse and/or less than” that which you know.

I told my mother I was gay almost 7 months ago, and it has gone better than I had hoped in some respects, and worse in others. My father is rational and understands that having a girlfriend instead of a boyfriend doesn’t make me any less extraordinary as a human being, nor any less productive as a citizen of the world. My mother, on the other hand, has declared all out war with my sexuality and with me. Initially, I understood her hurt and her shock. Assumptions are comfortable until the assumption of your greatest fear gets confirmed. It takes people time to grapple with new realities. I get that, and I respect that position.

My tolerance ends at the notion that because I am gay, my lifestyle (I’ve grown to loathe this word) is less serious than the “normal” heterosexual lifestyle. This gay thing must be a phase, or I must hate men because of some awful affront they (yep, all of ’em) perpetrated upon me. Or perhaps I’m confused because I secretly want to be a man.

I call bullshit. Thinking this way is evidence of one’s lack of exposure to diversity, both cultural and intellectual.

It’s one thing to not know the various incarnations of everything in our vast universe. It’s quite another, however, to be so arrogant about shit you don’t fucking know. People have gone out of their way to ensure that gay men and women aren’t allowed to marry or adopt children, or serve openly in the military. This obstruction of equality indicates that the only legitimate kind of love exists between heterosexuals. This is the kind of logic that would support two crack heads getting married on a whim in Vegas, or a woman who meets, courts, and selects a fiancé from a pool of 25 on national television. And speaking of crack heads, I remember when the former mayor of DC, Marion Barry, weighed in on marriage equality. He was against it because…well, it doesn’t even matter why. This cat got caught trying to fuck around on his wife, while snorting a crack rock. But Mayor Barry and his constituents think they should be able to tell me that I can’t marry my girlfriend. “…but we can still be cool.” This is the hubris of heterosexuality, and fuck that.

Despite having had beautiful and fulfilling relationships with the women in my life, my mother is convinced that what I’m missing is a man to make me the “apple of his eye.” There is nothing more infuriating to me than the assertion that I need a man to validate me, my womanhood, or my person-hood.  The idea that a woman hasn’t yet reached her full potential until she’s the apple of some man’s eye … Yeah, fuck that too.

I’ve lost all patience with folks’ “tolerance” of my “lifestyle,” as if how I live is fundamentally different from the way most others live, or as if they’re projecting heterosexual benevolence and doing me a favor. And fuck that. My relationships are an extension of all that I am; they are loving human interactions with wonderful human beings. I don’t care what peoples’ religious, traditional, cultural, and personal dispositions are, or why they are. But I know that being gay has never defined me; being authentic about who I am as an individual, however, has. Thus, the proper respect for me and mine, is absolutely non-negotiable. And if one cannot accept that, then no. We can’t be cool. He or she has more life work to do.

And finally, because I’m gay doesn’t mean I automatically want you, ma’am, to ride this ride.  There are standards, and being a woman is merely the beginning.