It seems like my home state keeps popping up these days. In the news, facebook, party conversation. Every time I hear the word “Alabama” on TV, I cringe a little and think “Uh-oh. What sort of backwoods yokelism is on display this time?” The other night I was watching The Colbert Report and the guest was Scott Douglas, Executive Director of Birmingham Ministries, on to discuss House Bill 56. (You can watch that clip here.) If you don’t know anything about HB56, in brief it is an extremely hardlined immingration reform that exceeds even Arizona in drawing the line against immigrants. Most of the bill was upheld in court while more stringent elements are currently being blocked. (You can read more about it from the horse’s mouth here. Or from concerned educators here. Or hear about it here.) You may or may not agree with it and I’m not here to persuade you either way. For the record, I don’t. I think it dehumanizes the people it targets. I think the parallels between that and the prologue to the Civil Rights movement are startling. Alabama seems to have a history of bringing these sorts of issues to a head and, if history is any indicator, something horrific will happen as a result. I think that immigration is a complex and delicate issue with no easy answer, but laws that promote fear and racial profiling, and that require police, educators, landlords, and employers to act as immigration law enforcement are certainly not helping.
I wish that I could say that I’m proud of where I come from. But it wouldn’t be totally true. I’m proud of parts of it. I’m proud of my upbringing, the strong sense of family, the work ethic, the love of cooking and home that was hammered into me from a very young age. I love the coast I grew up on, the magnolia tree I would play under, the azaleas that wash the city in a coat of hot pink for a month of the year. I love thinking about my grandmother’s kitchen table on Sunday afternoon after the dinner plates had been cleared when all of the women would gather round for coffee, cake, and gossip. I have daydreams about fresh gulf shrimp and crabs caught that morning and delivered to my plate that night. I sorely miss my family, my mom, and not being a part of their daily lives.
But here’s what I don’t miss:
I don’t miss thinly veiled bigotry. I don’t miss the undercurrent of misogny. I don’t look back in fondness to the time that my grandmother told me that she would never forgive me if I dated outside my race. I don’t miss the disgust and hatred of other human beings that is adopted without question because it’s the norm. I don’t miss having to fight an uphill battle to get an education. I don’t miss the confused looks on people’s faces when I tell them that no, I don’t have nor really want to have children. I don’t miss hearing the n-word over lunch. I don’t miss the limited perspective and the suspicious view of the world outside of the state. And I definitely don’t miss feeling like an outsider because of it. I don’t miss being called a misguided, bleeding-heart liberal because I voted for Obama.
I don’t want to be totally unfair here. I’ve known some pretty cool, progressive people in that state. I spent my formative teen years in Birmingham, where there was this completely surprising and very forward music scene happening in the 90’s. It was there that I discovered punk, drugs, and art at a tender age. In college I worked for a jazz musician who owned an organic burrito lounge and I hung out with literature nerds. Not everyone is a camouflage sweatpant wearing racist. But, well, these sterotypes exist for a reason.
The idea of Southern Hospitality is not a myth, but the fact is that my home state is not exactly a warm and welcoming one if you don’t fit into the decades-old mold of the decent, hard-working, conservative good old boy. (Or girl. They’ve progressed that much.) I speak from experience, y’all. There is a very good and valid reason that I live in Chicago, no matter how much I love and miss my family. But I should give credit where credit is due. Though they may not understand my liberal, naked ways, the family members who matter don’t give me any guff about it (anymore), and my mother especially has surprised me in her openness to what I think, and do, and enjoy, and fight for. And, no matter how much I loathe it’s politics, Alabama is my home. I do like being a Southern Girl. But I enjoy that title on my own terms. I am proud to be an open-minded, education-loving, bigger-picture-seeing, curious-about-the-world-around-me, high-heeled-wearing, downward-facing-dogging, happy-and-childless, sympathetic, humanity-loving, tassel-twirling, Daily-show-watching, intellectual Southern Girl. And that wasn’t an easy thing to become. It’s not like they breed them like that down there.
Yee fucking haw, y’all.