I published this in my own publication, “Your Voice Counts”, as I was quite sure it wouldn’t be accepted into any another publication, after I initially tried and was rejected. Even though this article is about my own personal feelings I thought it would be too controversial for some publications. After I published it my own publication it went nowhere. I am republishing this in my publication to see if it will pick up any traction or will be forever ignored. So much for my personal feelings.
I’ve always thought of myself as being quite tolerant towards different lifestyles, people of different races, creeds and sexual orientation and people with different beliefs. Being gay I have always been sensitive to the feelings of other people, even though I may disagree with them. However, I must admit that at times throughout my life I have harbored some less than endearing thoughts about a certain group of people. The events of the past few weeks in Alabama have forced me to realize that I may not be as tolerant as I thought I was. I have to admit that I have always disliked or mistrusted people from the South.
…not only the vile hatred, but the thick Southern accent stuck in my head.
When I was growing up I had neighbors who were from Mississippi and they were the nicest people, but they only lived in my neighborhood for a couple of years before the Army transferred the husband overseas. In my teen years I observed the events of the Civil Rights Movement unfolding on the nightly news. I can remember the Southern accents of people like Alabama governor George Wallace or Arkansas governor Orville Faubus ,who actively fought racial discrimination. On television I remember seeing the Klu Klux Klan marching against the enactment of civil rights legislation. Watching interviews with angry White Southerners condemning the federal government for trying to give equal rights to African Americans, not only the vile hatred, but the thick Southern accent stuck in my head.
I’ll never forget George Wallace standing in front of the door of the University of Alabama…
I could never forget the pictures of lynchings, or acts of tar and feathering, as well as signs reading “Whites only”. I’ll never forget George Wallace standing in front of the door of the University of Alabama trying to prevent three Black students from entering. Under orders from President Kennedy, the Alabama National Guard made Wallace step aside to let the students enter. Once again that accent stood out. Throughout the Civil Rights Movement hatred and violence towards Blacks and anyone who supported them seemed to be tied to that Southern accent.
I guess I tolerated them because they shared my values.
As the once solidly Democratic South turned Republican over President Lyndon Johnson’s Civil Rights Act of 1964, to me the Southern accent began to be associated with Republican politicians. I was confused however by Johnson, Clinton and Carter. They had Southern accents, but they were Democrats and not racists, in my view! I guess I tolerated them because they shared my values.
…but I was still terrified of ever traveling through the South.
As I was growing older I watched movies where the plots often centered around the mistreatment of Blacks in the South as a matter of every day life. I can remember many movies where even White people form Northern States were singled out and terrorized simply for being from a Northern state. I realized they were just Hollywood movies, but I was still terrified of ever traveling through the South. When I was in high school a teacher of mine who happened to be a Catholic priest was driving to Florida to play golf on vacation and was arrested in one of the infamous speed traps that Southern states were and are still known for. He was thrown in jail for the night because he wasn’t wearing his Roman collar, and most likely because he was Catholic and from New York, a Northern state.
I cringe every time I hear Senator John Kennedy from Louisiana speak…
As an adult I was and still am leery about traveling to or through the South. I have been to New Orleans a couple of times and absolutely loved the city, the food, the people and the atmosphere, but visiting there I’m sure is not like living there, even though it is probably much more liberal than the rest of the state. I cringe every time I hear Senator John Kennedy from Louisiana speak out in his thick Southern accent against immigrants and LGBTQ rights, while at the same time fighting for enactment of religious liberty legislation to allow discrimination against anyone who is not a white right wing Christian.
I was dumbfounded…
I realize at times that I am generalizing in my attitude towards the South and Southern accents and I have truly tried to be more accepting, like the time in Boston when I befriended a young doctor from Mississippi who was attending the same pathology conference as I was attending. We had dinner together and I showed him around Boston Common and the Public Gardens. We stopped in a bar for a nightcap and I asked him how he liked Boston. He replied “ I didn’t realize you had so many n*****s here! I was dumbfounded and very angry. Surrounded by all the historical sites and monuments to the founding of our country the only thing he noticed was the color of people’s skin! Needless to say I ended the evening with a nasty comment about his racism and left.
…but the Southern voices seem the strongest.
People say that as we grow older we become more tolerant, but I’m not sure that’s true, at least in my case. As an adult I saw the likes of Mike Huckabee, from Arkansas, Southern Baptist preacher, Pat Robertson, Senator Mitch McConnell, Senators Graham and Cruz, all Republican Southerners vehemently oppose gay marriage and anything resembling the granting of a civil right to the LGBTQ community. Just hearing that Southern accent was like an attack on my being! Every current Republican in Congress has opposed gay rights, as well as women’s rights and minority rights, but the Southern voices seem the strongest. It seems like they are pushing to return to the 1950’s, the glory days of the White, Christian, straight male!
I guess I have wrongfully learned to associate the Southern accent with racism and bigotry.
I realize that not all Southerners are like those I mentioned above, but unfortunately I don’t hear them. I know there are gays living in the deep South and I admire them for living there, but I don’t hear them. I know I shouldn’t paint Southerners as racists and bigots, but maybe I should paint Republicans, regardless of where they live, as racists and bigots. There are also many people who oppose civil rights, gay rights and immigrant rights who are Yankees, but I don’t hear them in the same way. I guess I have wrongfully learned to associate the Southern accent with racism and bigotry.
…I associate the sound with an attack on me and everything I stand for.
I have learned that when I hear Christmas carols I associate the sound to joy and good will. When I hear Dean Martin singing “Amore”, I associate the sound with eating in Italian restaurants, when I hear the sounds of children laughing and playing I associate the sounds with happiness and innocence. But when I hear a Southern accent I am put on guard, as I associate the sound with an attack on me and everything I stand for. I know this is wrong and I honestly try to fight the feelings, but lately I have not been successful.
How do I destroy my own bigotry towards those who wish to destroy me?
With the Trump administration this country has become more divided than I can ever remember. We are not only divided by politics, but by race, gender, sexual orientation,religion and even where we live. It seems as though we have abandoned tolerance towards those who are different and are now choosing our camps and fighting to defend them, regardless of what it is doing to our country. I sadly have become involved in this abhorrent behavior and I don’t like it. Yet at the same time, the attacks on the values I hold strongly continue. My sexual orientation, my marriage, my immigrant husband and even my safety are being attacked daily, but I am going to fight back for my rights and those of others. How do I do this and remain tolerant? How do I destroy my own bigotry towards those who wish to destroy me? Is it really possible?
…I know Southerners are caring people…
Deep inside my being I know the South is a beautiful part of our country and I know Southerners are caring people, and I would really like to spend time there. I want to get over my mistrust and fear of those with a Southern accent. After all it is just a manner of speech. I feel badly that I have allowed myself to stereotype all Southerners by the actions of a loud bigoted few. To those from the South who may be reading this, I apologize for my feelings. If there was only a way to fight ideas instead of fighting the people who espouse them!