Watched part of the GOP debate a few nights ago, and once again became embarrassed. The level of ignorance and schoolyard bullying going on in these debates is shocking. And what is so appalling to me is not that men running for high office act this way, nor that the GOP seems to have nobody more capable to replace these people, but that so many voters support this kind of buffoonery, and even encourage it. I’m convinced that this support comes from a deep-seated bigotry, a reaction of resentment to eight years of being governed by an African-American intellectual.
Then I read a passage in How I Shed My Skin by Jim Grimsley, that helped put it in perspective. He talks about his own experience of growing up in the South, but I believe this translates to other parts of the country as well. Here is that passage:
The Southerner had a position in the social order: white, trash, slave, merchant, overseer, paddyroller, artisan, master. This functioned as a kind of temperature, which moved up or down with one’s fortunes or behavior. Knowing your place in the world and accepting it, paying respect to your betters and giving a good kick to those beneath you, these were and are part of the Southern order.
A Southerner accepted his station in life but tried to find the means to rise above it. That same Southerner accepted that station of others in life and tried with all his might to keep them in it. The Southern world spent much of its energy deciding who was entitled to advantages and who was not, and most especially who was better than whom. The social hierarchy was complicated and endless, Southern memory long and vengeful. Violations of the social order, lack of respect for one’s betters and their relations, brought quick retribution along with slow and thorough revenge.
God never put us equal onto the earth. The very notion was absurd. God put us in a hierarchy, some better and many worse, and He gave us life so that we could discover who was the better and who was the worse. Southerners have never believed in equality, even when they have believed in some kind of democracy. The two ideas have never had much association with each other.
In this, I am mostly speaking of the white Southerner, thought I don’t doubt that black and brown Southerners share some of the same traits. I was raised to be a believer in the United States as a white nation, in the South as a white paradise, and in the superiority of my European descended race over all the other races of the earth. No one ever said these words to me in such clear terms, but, nevertheless, I learned the ideas behind these beliefs. In particular, I was raised to keep black people in their place, and to see to it that they stayed there.