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The American South can’t seem to shake off the Civil War. Or Jim Crow. And yet, that region of the U.S. is undergoing some dramatic changes. How the South responds to these changes will determine how easily it will enter the modern world and usher out the racial demons of its past.

Latinos are on the rise in the new South, with the nation’s fastest growing Hispanic populations in the states of the former Confederacy. Georgia and North Carolina are now among the ten largest Latino communities in the nation.

Further, African Americans are coming back home to the region, reflecting the nation’s largest demographic shift. The South now has its highest share of black folks in half a century. As northern states and California have witnessed a loss in their black populations, Atlanta has gained half a million black people in a decade. The largest black city after New York is no longer Chicago, it is Atlanta.

The migration of Latinos and the reverse migration of blacks mean that people of color are poised to become a majority in some areas of the South, as is the case in Texas. Add to that the influx of white professionals and high-tech workers in states such as North Carolina — a red state that Obama turned blue in 2008 — and you have the makings of noticeable change.

Then again, you have Alabama. After the state enacted the harshest anti-immigration law in the land, Latinos are leaving Alabama. Now, farmers are hoping to replace migrant workers with prisoners to work the fields because, after all, we know how forced agricultural labor worked out the first time around.

Alabama, as an aside, has a majority black prison population. African-Americans are 27 percent of the population and 63 percent of the prisoners. The state is 23rd in the nation in population, but was second in the number of executions in 2011. And over the past decade, nearly two dozen death penalty cases were overturned because prosecutors illegally struck black jurors.

Last year, like Alabama, South Carolina also passed its own bad anti-immigration law — modeled after Arizona’s SB 1070 — key parts of which were thrown out by a federal judge in Charleston. And the U.S. Department of Justice blocked the state’s new voter ID law, which would require voters to present a photo idea at the polls, and discriminate against racial minorities in the process. Under the Voting Rights Act, states such as South Carolina and Texas, because of their history of racial discrimination, require federal approval of any changes to their election laws.

The old South meets the new, as South Carolina’s Governor Nikki Haley signed both of these cruel, atrocious pieces of legislation into law, and vows to fight in court to have them upheld. Governor Haley is the children of Sikh immigrants from Punjab, India. The Sikh-American community has endured its share of discrimination in the post-911 era, branded as terrorists and persecuted for the traditional turban and beard worn by Sikh men.

And so, a woman of South Asian ancestry, a person of color and darling of the Tea Party, has chosen to channel the angry white segregationist governors that came before her. Some names that come to mind are George Wallace of Alabama, who stood in the schoolhouse door to block black students from enrolling at the University of Alabama; Theodore G. Bilbo of Mississippi, who kept blacks from voting, and Ross Barnett, who denied James Meredith, an African-American, admission to the University of Mississippi.

Haley’s policies, not unlike those of her predecessors, are the unjust laws that Martin Luther King discussed in Letter from Birmingham Jail. As King said, “Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority. … An unjust law is a code that a numerical or power majority group compels a minority group to obey but does not make binding on itself. This is difference made legal.”

Even today, such laws are designed to keep communities of color isolated, scared and disempowered, down and out of the process. That the dominant party in the South has changed its affiliation from Democratic to Republican since the Civil Rights era really is beside the point. The old mentality remains. We’re talking old South vs. new South, a steadfast resistance to civil rights, and clinging to a segregationist mindset, even well into the twenty-first century.

Meanwhile, in Georgia, a black man named Troy Davis was executed last year under the rules of the old South — a justice system of mob rule, in which racial vengeance and scapegoating take precedence over guilt or innocence. In the end, what mattered was not the evidence pointing to Davis’s innocence, or the seven out of nine witnesses who recanted or changed their testimony, but rather that the victim was a white police officer and Davis was a black man.

Although I was born and raised in New York and now live in Philadelphia, I always regarded the South as a second home, if not something of an ancestral homeland. My mother was born in Charleston, South Carolina, and my late father was from Augusta, Georgia. I have lots of family there, not to mention fond childhood memories of visiting cousins. Many good people in the South, to be sure, but there’s a great deal of ugly in the South.

The problem arises when some people can’t pick a century to live in and stick with it.

Originally posted to David A Love on Fri Jan 13, 2012 at 10:34 AM PST.

Also republished by Kos Georgia, Black Kos community, Three Star Kossacks, and White Privilege Working Group.

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Comment Preferences

  •  What is your experience when you visit ? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Nulwee

    When you visit, do you see that the changes are good?

    Although I was born and raised in New York and now live in Philadelphia, I always regarded the South as a second home, if not something of an ancestral homeland. My mother was born in Charleston, South Carolina, and my late father was from Augusta, Georgia. I have lots of family there, not to mention fond childhood memories of visiting cousins. Many good people in the South, to be sure, but there’s a great deal of ugly in the South.
          Italics mine
    -

    I would have thought that by now the ugly would have gone.

    •  People seem nice enough (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Nulwee

      Polite that is, but the politics obviously is not so polite.  Plus in each Southern state you have a blue/progressive component, but unfortunately it is under 50%, except for North Carolina, Virginia and Florida in the 2008 election.

    •  Why is it that people always forget that the south (0+ / 0-)

      doesn't have the market cornered for racism? There's still ugly all over this country. The south IS changing, but the rest of the country needs to change too.

      As was mentioned African Americans are returning to the places of their birth. Usually once they retire from the job they found up north. Just like so many white southerners.

      In Appalachia there were no jobs for black or white if you didn't want to farm. So they migrated to where the jobs were. But they still know where home is. And when they are free of that job they come back home.

  •  i am looking forward to watching the south flip (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    isabelle hayes, Nulwee

    as these changes work their way through the voting electorate. it would be awesome to see obama pick off a few unexpected states over there, i've heard that his polling in georgia and south carolina is better than the CW would assume.

    •  it will be nice, won't it? (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Nulwee
    •  From your mouth to God's ears (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      isabelle hayes, Nulwee

      I'm retired in Georgia and don't really want to leave, but I'm sick of all the Republican foolishness that goes on here.

    •  the southern youth (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Nulwee

      i wonder whether they're as color blind we see among the young in the north and midwest;

      my personal schadenfreude is watching biased families learn to see past appearances, once they have a mixed race baby in their midst;

      it's a wonderful thing to be able to see the future happening to the construct of "race", of which there is only one, as we know...

      •  Yes many are. (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        isabelle hayes, marykk, raincrow

        It's quite common to see grandparents with their mixed race grandchildren. They love them just the same as they do any of their other grandchildren.

        There are wedding pictures in the paper for mixed race couples. All white wedding gowns,with bridesmaids,ushers and proud parents.

        Granted we aren't Georgia or Alabama. We're a small mountain town where the races have always mixed more than you would see other places. Yes there's still some ugly that goes on, but it's the exception rather than the rule.

        There are a lot of really good people in the south. Even when they do insist on voting Republican.

  •  Southern expat sez gud piece (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    raincrow

    I was 30 before I left the south and george Wallace was still governor. King w as only recently murdered and years of struggle lay a head.

    Not that it's over. The old White Suprecy For The Right and the lily white rooster of the segregationist Democratic Party is no more...in fact that party is dead...resurrected in the racist Republican Party of the South and many like thinkers all over in once moderate Republican areas.

    Code words mask the white ignorance of the right, but no one who lived in and disapproved of the old system can find much to praise in the approach today.

    It is sometimes as if they have forgotten the bad old days of voter suppression when they seek to reimpose the old strictures that once confined people of color. Now they extend the net, still in search of Rove's permsnent majority of the "right kind" of party.

    The war is a long way from being over and if we can't stop them in e ach place, we have to be on the right side and resist the madness of fools.

  •  The South's psychological heritage is complex (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    marykk

    and dysfunctional, IMNSHO. It is still recovering from the trauma of defeat, ruin, and mass death in the Civil War; still hanging onto the trailing end of the shameful Compromise of 1877; and still haunted by the hellfire-and-brimstone God of unreformed Protestantism. The last Southern slave, Eliza Moore, died in 1948; and the last Civil War veterans died just a handful of years later -- barely more than 2 generations ago.

    Combine that with the cultural background of the Europeans who established the Southern states -- forgive the length of the following quote from de Tocqueville's Democracy in America, Vol. 1, Ch. 1 (public domain), but I think it thoroughly captures the essence of the region where my parents grew up and where I've lived for all but my first 12 years :

    .... If we carefully examine the social and political state of America, after having studied its history, we shall remain perfectly convinced that not an opinion, not a custom, not a law, I may even say not an event, is upon record which the origin of that people will not explain. The readers of this book will find the germ of all that is to follow in the present chapter, and the key to almost the whole work.

    The emigrants who came, at different periods to occupy the territory now covered by the American Union differed from each other in many respects; their aim was not the same, and they governed themselves on different principles....

    Virginia received the first English colony; the emigrants took possession of it in 1607. The idea that mines of gold and silver are the sources of national wealth was at that time singularly prevalent in Europe; a fatal delusion, which has done more to impoverish the nations which adopted it, and has cost more lives in America, than the united influence of war and bad laws. The men sent to Virginia were seekers of gold, adventurers, without resources and without character, whose turbulent and restless spirit endangered the infant colony, and rendered its progress uncertain. The artisans and agriculturists arrived afterwards; and, although they were a more moral and orderly race of men, they were in nowise above the level of the inferior classes in England. No lofty conceptions, no intellectual system, directed the foundation of these new settlements. The colony was scarcely established when slavery was introduced, and this was the main circumstance which has exercised so prodigious an influence on the character, the laws, and all the future prospects of the South. Slavery, as we shall afterwards show, dishonors labor; it introduces idleness into society, and with idleness, ignorance and pride, luxury and distress. It enervates the powers of the mind, and benumbs the activity of man. The influence of slavery, united to the English character, explains the manners and the social condition of the Southern States....

    The settlers who established themselves on the shores of New England all belonged to the more independent classes of their native country. Their union on the soil of America at once presented the singular phenomenon of a society containing neither lords nor common people, neither rich nor poor.... All, without a single exception, had received a good education, and many of them were known in Europe for their talents and their acquirements. The other colonies had been founded by adventurers without family; the emigrants of New England brought with them the best elements of order and morality—they landed in the desert accompanied by their wives and children. But what most especially distinguished them was the aim of their undertaking. They had not been obliged by necessity to leave their country; the social position they abandoned was one to be regretted, and their means of subsistence were certain. Nor did they cross the Atlantic to improve their situation or to increase their wealth; the call which summoned them from the comforts of their homes was purely intellectual; and in facing the inevitable sufferings of exile their object was the triumph of an idea....

    The result is a regional character imbued with narcissism, a gnawing sense of inferiority, and identification with the aggressor/abuser (Stockholm Syndrome) -- people who talk tough but buckle in the face of authority and refuse to question it closely; who believe against and vote against their their own self interests; and who tend toward rigidity and conformity.

    It's going to take more time, more sustained and widespread economic success, and the influx of a lot more non-Southerners to transform this region IMO.

    •  Boy that's tough (0+ / 0-)

      where we are, some of the northern transplants are the most ardent fundies and have all the baggage that goes with that.

      If you think you're too small to be effective, you've never been in the dark with a mosquito.

      by marykk on Sun Jan 15, 2012 at 06:03:40 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

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