Every now and then, I meet someone from North Carolina or one of the other Southern states who is sheepish or contrite about their state’s reputation. They seem to go out of their way to change the perception that folks from other parts of the country have about them.
Their countenance is akin to the embarrassed or apologetic attitude that many Americans displayed when traveling abroad during the Bush presidency. “We’re not all like that,” people would feel obligated to say when presenting an American passport.
Tonight’s resounding passage of the anti-gay Amendment 1 to North Carolina’s state constitution (with a 20% margin) is just another example of those things that reasonable people end up apologizing for.
I try to have empathy for those well-meaning folks in those places that perhaps aren’t collectively so well-meaning. But it’s difficult for the rest of us to comprehend when we witness things like:
- “Religious” leaders who advocate violence against a child if the child is perceived to be gay or lesbian
- Videos of a redneck shooting at his neighbor’s Amendment 1 lawn sign
- Continued defense of Confederacy, along with unapologetic display of the Confederate flag
- Enthusiastic passage of a constitutional amendment not only to ensure that an already exclusionary law can’t be rescinded but also to take away more rights previously provided to some of its citizens
The bottom line is that if people in the South don’t want to be stereotyped as peckerwoods, hillbillies, hicks, or rednecks, they have to stop acting like peckerwoods, hillbillies, hicks, and rednecks.
The good people of the South need to marginalize the folks who believe and behave like this. Places like North Carolina can’t be changed by outsiders. They can only be changed from within. Only by the well-meaning people in these places speaking up, taking action, and educating their fellow citizens can the narrow-minded legacy of the Jesse Helms era be erased. And until critical mass is achieved, the rest of the nation (and the world) is going to continue thinking of those places where you live as being backwards. Because, by the standards of the rest of the world, they are.