Thursday, July 9, 2015

Journeying to the South Provides a Clue

The horrific killings in Charleston, South Carolina reminded me of the trip we took last winter. On our way home from South Florida, we stopped in Mobile, Alabama.

Before the trip, a friend recommended reading Better Off Without ‘Em: A Northern Manifesto for Southern Succession by Chuck Thompson. Chuck Thompson's premise is that the South and the rest of the United States are so philosophically and culturally different that it makes compromise impossible. All concerned would be better off if we simply let the South secede.

Thompson provides many facts and examples to support his premise, some amusing and many redundant. One amusing example he gave was that since South Florida has so many transplanted Jews from New York, it is not part of the South. As a Jew originally from New York with many relatives in Florida, I found it amusing to be reduced to a cultural stereotype. Then I got angry and understood what he said about Southerners bristling at being stereotyped. 

At the very end, Thompson contradicts what he has been saying throughout the rest of the book. He admits that this solution will probably never happen one major reason being that most of America’s oil resources are in the South. Alas, economic dependence intervenes. Since Thompson’s solution is likely never going to happen, we have to learn to co-exist with one another.
Since South Florida doesn’t count as the South, this was my first trip to the region. As we pulled into Mobile, Alabama, I thought about Thompson’s premise. Many neighborhoods in Mobile were beautiful and we thoroughly enjoyed walking through them. Their history museum was very interesting. Being a Chicagoan, it was a delight to walk outside in 70-degree weather and see flowers blooming in the middle of February.

Street Scenes in Mobile Alabama

Several locals suggested that we visit the Mardi Gras Museum. Since they seemed to be quite proud of this museum, we decided to take a guided tour. We were taken past floors of gowns donated by past Queens of the Mardi Gras. Even now- astounding as it is to us- a full social season of debutant parties and other such events is organized around Mardi Gras. Every year a white king and queen and a black king and queen of the Mardi Gras are chosen. The social events surrounding Mardi Gras are totally segregated. While it  was mind –boggling to us, the tour guide relayed this information without blinking an eyelash. Later, when we told our cousin in Memphis about it, she was not surprised. “That’s something that will never change,” she said obviously not endorsing these customs.

a display at the Mardi Gras Museum

a train of one of the Mardi Gras queen's gowns costing 1,000's of dollars

Was the experience at the Mardi Gras Museum just another example of the racism that continues to inflict us all but the South especially? Did this culture contribute to the killings in South Carolina? Not knowing the South well enough, I’ll refrain from comment. Nevertheless, racism and hatred aren’t cultural choices. They’re pernicious and do major damage to the hated and the hater. When do we cross the line from regional cultural differences to totally unacceptable racism and discrimination? I’m sure that’s an issue we’ll all be discussing in the months ahead. Maybe someday we’ll have an answer. 

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