Monday, January 28, 2013

Dignity




Here is a very interesting rumination on today's American South. It reinforces and clarifies what has seemed obvious to me and, probably, everyone else who looks at it: their current intransigence is precisely about Obama. To receive help from a black guy offends their sense of dignity. It's encoded deeply enough there that it moves them to hurt themselves in the process.


... They were defeated but not dumb. With dreams of an agrarian society, they might denounce the industrial north, but they got the funds to bring electricity to large parts of the South from the government’s Tennessee Valley Authority. ...
But the current South is willing to cut off its own nose to show contempt for the government. Governor Rick Scott of Florida turned down more than $2 billion in federal funds for a high-speed rail system in Florida that would have created jobs and millions of dollars in revenues, just to show he was independent of the hated federal government. ... 
No part of the country will suffer the effects of global warming earlier or with more devastation than the South, yet its politicians resist measures to curb carbon emissions and deny the very existence of climate change ... But it just digs deeper in denial. The South has decided to be defeated and dumb.
... I was made aware of the odd mix of gain and loss when I went back to Atlanta to see my beloved grandmother. She told me not to hold change between my lips while groping for a pocket to put it in—“That might have been in a nigger’s mouth.” Once, when she took me to Mass, she walked out of the church when a black priest came out to celebrate. I wondered why, since she would sit and eat with a black woman who helped her with housework. “It is the dignity—I would not let him take the Lord in his hands.”
... That is why the worst aspects of the South are resurfacing under Obama’s presidency. It is the dignity. That a black should have not merely rights but prominence, authority, and even awe—that is what many Southerners cannot stomach. They would let him ride on the bus, or get into Ivy League schools. But he must be kept from the altar; he cannot perform the secular equivalent of taking the Lord in his hands. It is the dignity.
Up north, where the racists are more sprinkled about, it's just manifest in blind hate and conspiracy theories. They can accept the needed government programs with the luxury of railing about it at the same time.

There's false dignity, too; and it's just the inverse of self-esteem. You call upon your self-described "dignity" to convince yourself you're better than "they" are. It's always been the source of prejudice and bullying and the sort of formless rage we see directed at President Obama.

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