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Will the South Rise Again? It Already Has.



Growing up in the Jim Crow South of McComb, Mississippi, and Helena, Arkansas, in the 1950's and 60's, I realize looking back how protected I was from any truth that contradicted our white supremacist worldview. This included our own version of U.S. history, especially Civil War history, and our rigidly segregated social order - militantly enforced by lynchings, disappearances, and massive incarceration, usually without any semblance of due process with its presumption of innocence until proven guilty. Where Black people were concerned there was no innocence if the charge involved White people.

Until I was a young man and a recent college graduate, for example, I had never heard of the brutal murder of Emmett Till, which occurred when I was 9 years old, in Money, Mississippi, or the murderous racial rage that provoked what is now called the 1921 Elaine (Arkansas) Race Massacre, recently commemorated amid belated nationwide articles and opinion pieces. Although the Elaine slaughter occurred less than 25 miles from where I was raised, and fourteen-year-old Emmett Till was killed in the state of my birth, I knew nothing about either. Today, the two horrific crimes might be designated "fake news." The Elaine Race Massacre has been described as “possibly the bloodiest racial conflict in the history of the U.S.” by fellow Arkansan, J. Chester Johnson, in his recently published account, Damaged Heritage: The Elaine Race Massacre and A Story of Racial Reconciliation (2020 ). Dr. Catherine Meeks and Rev. Nibs Stroupe, co-authors of Passionate For Justice: Ida B. Wells As Prophet For Our Time (2019) highlight the role of newspaper publisher and reporter Ida B. Wells in exposing the White race riot that killed some 220 Black people. But what about the Tulsa "Black Wall Street" destruction? Or Rosewood, Florida, burned to the ground? Fact is, many of us don't know about them. Even today. Our history is replete with black murders - sometimes an individual lynching like Emmett Till's or even an entire community's destruction like Rosewood.[1]


The MAAFA (Middle Passage) cost tens of millions of African lives before and during their enslavement. Black Lives Matter. Dead is dead.


Every white southerner, at least of a certain age, I dare say, could tell similar stories, if we were freed from the psychological lockstep of White Supremacy that permeates our psyche and our sense of history. When it comes to race, for most of us whites, it's not "Me too" but "Not me." This is our reality, of course, not just in the South but throughout this nation. Yet we continue to bury this truth deep inside us.


In New York City where I live once again, I have long heard that racism is a southern problem, or a phenomenon of the White working class, or proof of White male character flaws. But when we're honest with ourselves, we know that all whites are complicit in this history. We simply are experts at denying our role in it.


I used to laugh to myself at the bumper stickers everywhere in the South that read "The South Shall Rise Again." I laughed because in my mind this would never happen. I "knew" we would be saved from ourselves by the dominant, educated classes of the Northeast, Midwest and West Coast. Ultimately, the South was not in charge. I "knew" this.


"The South," however, is really code for white people. Just as “We Americans" means we white people, not the people of color who live in “our” country. White people rule, everyone else watches from the sidelines. This has always been so; still is. In the South, we call it "waving the bloody shirt." Back in the day, in the South, that was to remind us of the “The Lost Cause" so that we would not let our guard down. Today, across the nation, we might say “Make America Great Again.” That’s one loud Dog Whistle.


The late white Civil Rights icon and anti-racist community organizer Ann Braden often quoted W.E.B. Dubois' famous line, "As the South goes, so goes the nation." She said it supported her vision of a coalition of working-class Whites, poor Whites, and Black people coming together to create a more just society. She would add that this quotation is indeed true especially if other oppressed people are included. Today, however, “As the South goes” is a vision held by White nationalists across the nation. It speaks not just to White southerners but to those fearful, hyper-vigilant White folks condescendingly referred to as "deplorables" by Hillary Clinton and those non-elites living in "fly-over states." This racial pot has been boiling a long time. Now our pot boils over. Our very democracy, long revered if never fully actualized, is at risk, maybe fatally.


Meanwhile, we "progressive" Whites remain resolutely in denial ourselves in order to defend and rationalize our racial advantages. We might deplore racial inequities, but that doesn’t mean they don’t benefit us. We know, deep down, that life as we know it would be made unrecognizable if white supremacy were somehow dismantled. Even those of us who claim to support a racially just society still live with our White privileged status firmly in place. We do so, we say silently to ourselves, for our children and grandchildren.


Include me among those who expect Donald Trump to refuse to step down if he loses the 2020 election. I, too, think he will scream fraud, maybe even declare martial law, and refuse to leave - democracy be damned. Who will stop him? Attorney General Barr? The military? Mitch McConnell? The Republican Senate? The Supreme Court might even rule it legal.

Get ready, people. You think the South might rise again? It already has. We just call it "The will of the people."

[1] A historical footnote: “Indian Wars” killed millions in North America alone over 300 years and the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki obliterated hundreds of thousands of Japanese. However, these are classified as “wartime casualties.”

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David, your voice is forever a call to action. Indeed, the "South" - both real and metaphorical - has risen up. So too has the resistance. While I'm a voter and will do all I can to contribute to better outcomes in the elections, my real hope lies with the global organizing and demonstrations against anti-Black racism and the platforms being put forth.

Suka
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