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