Tuesday, July 24, 2007

graffiti bridge



In her 1928 essay, "How It Feels to Be Colored Me," Zora Neale Hurston described the moment when she realized she was colored. At thirteen, when she was sent to Jacksonville, FL for school, she became, was "now a little colored girl. I found it out in certain ways. In my heart as well as in the mirror, I became a fast brown--warranted not to rub nor run." This sort of rite of passage that Hurston described is juxtaposed to her previous, individual, southern self she had delineated earlier. Before the move to Jacksonville, Hurston described herself as someone moving through the world unconcerned with race. Part of this, I imagine, is dramatic hyperbole to prove a point; the other part, I'm sure, stems from the fact that Hurston grew up in Eatonville, an all-black Florida town. What struck me as I read this essay, however, is the way that Hurston assigns difference. She's unlike other black Southern writers, like her one-time nemesis Richard Wright (see: "The Ethics of Living Jim Crow"), in that she is not insistent upon racial difference--recall: she's not tragically colored-- but rather geographical difference. Therefore, a young Hurston pays no mind to white Southerners from other towns, nor they to her. Rather, the Northerners--apparently tourists-- who came through town in cars and were intrigued by the young girls gregariousness, are the outsiders of note. Hurston recalled that she would "go a piece of the way" with them, using the colloquialism to further emphasize linguistic difference based on geography to highlight her point. Hurston concludes that she only feels colored among whites; more importantly, she "feel[s]" her race while at Barnard "beside the waters of the Hudson." Again, Hurston marks geography to emphasize her ruminations on regional difference--Jacksonville is north of Eatonville. Almost thirty years later, Hurston wrote a letter to the editor of the Orlando Sentinel ("Court Order Can't Make Races Mix") expressing her disapproval of the Brown decision. She was more interested, it seemed, with the Supreme Court upholding the equal aspect of separate but equal. She had no desire for "forcible association."

I was reminded of Hurston and her positions on race and region last night when I finally buckled down and watched the CNN/YouTube Democratic Presidential Candidate debate. There was a very brief moment just after the two gentlemen from Tennessee asked their question about Al Gore's popularity that I found particularly telling. After Anderson Cooper asked if any of the candidates' feelings were hurt, Joe Biden replied, "I think the people of Tennessee just had their feelings hurt." Now, it is unlikely that anyone will mention that moment in their analysis of the debate; besides, Joe Biden has said stupid(er) things in the past. However, I think Biden's comment symbolizes what Democrats seemingly fail to recognize or remember: You can't be talking shit about the South if you're trying to win a Presidential election.

Legend has it that when Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, he told an aide, "We have lost the South for a generation." Now, I don't know if that's true or not, but if it is, LBJ was a soothsayer, because a northern Democrat ain't seen no parts of the Oval Office as President since. A generation spans, roughly, thirty or so years; 2007-1964 = 43. Of the three Democrats elected President, all were from the South (Jimmy Carter (GA); Bill Clinton (AR); Al Gore (TN)). Jimmy Carter's loss notwithstanding (but remember, he beat Ford, and Clinton beat Bush), every other Democratic candidate was from above the Mason-Dixon--Humphrey, Dukakis, Kerry. Maybe we need another generation.

I'm no political expert; I'm only mildly amused by the political actions of Washington. But as a voter who is just not fucking with the Republicans, I'm concerned with the possibility that my various theories on geographical tension, and chit chats with my homegirl, Rachel (a native ATLien) about similar subjects may actually play out come November 2008 if the Democrats don't get their act together. I began with the Hurston discussion not simply to again highlight region as an increasingly important marker of difference, but also to point out two things. First, we often use racial difference when it might better serve us to say regional difference (or South). (Admittedly, sometimes I just think of Negroes as displaced southerners.) Second, maybe the (white) South is not only still upset but perhaps still believes, if I may crudely paraphrase Gavin Stevens**, that they were always fighting to free Sambo themselves; acts like Brown and the CRA of 1964--although signed by a Southerner, he was a Texan-- were other manifestations of "northern aggression." In other words, (discourse on) race has continually been the way in which we've (de)valued the intellectual prowess and opinions of other Americans, and that value judgement not only reinscribes the symbolic resonance of the Mason-Dixon, but perpetually characterizes the Southerner as obtuse and uncultured. Unfortunately for the Biden-like Democrats, there are more of "them" than there are of "us." And they vote.

I'm not suggesting that every time a Southerner goes to vote she remembers LBJ, and casts a ballot for the elephants on some subconscious race shit. What I am suggesting, however, is that these Northern politicians really need to let up on the whole ignorant, backwards Southerner comments if they plan to get anywhere, because the only southern Democrat running for President right now is Johnny Reid Edwards, and it seems like the only thing he's gonna win is a beauty contest. Biden's comments prove that the idea of the South(erner) as provincial and agrestic, as a the geographical location of America's id, as a region that needs fixin' by the ostensibly cosmopolitan, urbane, more forward-thinking neighbors to the North (meaning: above, like better than) is one that continues to figure prominently 40 years later. If LBJ's words continue to prove true and recent history of presidential elections has established a trend, it's lights out for Biden, Obama, and Clinton (though her connection to Bill and Arkansas may help)--no matter what the numbers say. Unless, of course, they're strategic in addressing this rather subtle issue.

I hope, however, that we are so fed up with the antics of the current administration that whoever we elect brings about profound, positive change. Go slow, now.**

**Despite the break-up, Faulkner still haunts me.

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language alone protects us from the scariness of things with no names. language alone is meditation. ~toni morrison

3 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

**...but thats just the trouble...

26/7/07 14:52  
Blogger Spook said...

Now that you’re on the O’Bama Pay roll, will you by me a four piece white Chicken Dinner from Harolds #87?

You say that

“maybe the (white) South is not only still upset but perhaps still believes,.... that they were always fighting to free Sambo themselves”

And you say other acts of much needed black liberation
“were other manifestations of "northern aggression” to white southerners

Well you are correct here, so by your logic we need to cater to this backwards ass racism? Are you gonna put David Duke on your Christmas list now?

Then you go getting all Barak O’Bama on me
by saying “race has continually been the way in which we've (de)valued the intellectual prowess and opinions of other Americans,”

Well like Tonto said to the Lone Ranger, “What We White Man!”

If memory serves a Spook, the only folks who’s intellectual prowess has been continuously devalued has been black folks. Sure people might joke about southern intellect,but far more southern writers are praised that Black ones. And white Southerner’s joke about themselves but from a high tower of white supremacy. There is a reason why Northern Politian’s wanna be known as “Bubba” including this current moron in the white house.

The reality is not just Black intellect but Black Humanity for 400 years was relentlessly devalued, viciously and violently attacked in every quarter of every American institution form science, religion, government, academia on down. Only since the late 60’s have folks( including Black Folks began to pounder that Black may be indeed beautiful.

When you say, “Northern politicians really need to let up on the whole ignorant, backwards Southerner comments if they plan to get anywhere.”

I say show me the last Northern Politician who pulled a Willie Horton at the expense of Southern whites? Or went into the 700 club, Oral Roberts University, or some other bastion of whiteness and dissed angry white males as Clinton did to angry black hip hoppers when he went to Operation Push and slammed Sista Soldier for being “violent”


You completely miss the fact that the majority of politicians bend way way way over backwards appealing to white southern males than they do Black folks, I mean there was a reason why Dukakis was ridding around in that tank,
Personally I’m sick at how we "cow tow" to a bunch of Red Neck racists. Why not attempt to build and encourage new political paradigms with the disenfranchised? But I guess this kinda talk scare DNC folks lead by Nancy -Lear Jett Armani Pelosi, Look what they did to Howard Dean!

30/7/07 12:32  
Blogger summer m. said...

@spook: no, we don't need to cater to anyone. at least, i don't. i'm not looking for anyone's vote. my whole point was to highlight the ways in which the north continually wants to position itself as better than while simultaneously ignoring shit like, i don't know, race riots in their own immediate history. and that, it seems to me is part of the reason why a non-southern democrat hasn't been elected in, iono, damn near 50 years.

black people do not have a monopoly on being devalued. it's just ok to talk about rednecks.

i'm no political expert, so i can't really say about how politicians bend over backwards for nigs. seems like they really don't need to, though. we voting democrat anyway. except, of course, unless we feel threatened by the gays.

my point, if any, was about electability. and ignorant or not, the dems are gonna need a lot of southern votes. and in order to get those ballots, they gotta change up the swagger, er, semantics. that's all i'm saying.

and no to the harold's. i'm trying to keep niggas from having heart attacks. i'll buy you some green tea, though.

iono if this makes sense. i'm on the phone, so blame it on that.

30/7/07 19:46  

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