I Spent the Summer in the South. What They’re Telling You About Racism There Is Wrong

While attending a cocktail party some years in the past, my spouse was raving a couple of current journey we had taken. She was telling a good friend—who’s black, like my spouse and me—that we flew to Memphis, Tennessee after which drove by way of Mississippi, Louisiana, and Alabama. Her good friend, a girl who typically takes solo journeys internationally, stated, “I would love to do that, but I’m afraid.” The South in her thoughts was not secure for blacks.

It’s a notion many northerners share. Those of us who do not stay in the South typically speak about it as if the complete area is frozen in 1965 Selma. So the query of racism in the South was very a lot on my thoughts when my spouse and I determined to spend the summer time in Charleston, South Carolina. I had been to the South on a number of events, however this was going to be completely different from a go to or a weekend journey; I hoped to see if there was actually a unique America with respect to race in the South than the place I was coming from, New York City.

What I discovered was nothing like the horror tales I had been instructed. In reality, it was a pleasing shock.

The very first thing I observed was that there are lots of black folks in Charleston. In reality, most blacks still live in the South—55 p.c of black Americans, which is 10 p.c greater than the remainder of the nation mixed. And it is a quantity that has been growing ever since then.

And the development is not only in numbers; it is in political clout, too. Half of black representatives in Congress signify southern states, and black Americans are experiencing a development in native political energy, too, with cities throughout the South electing black mayors.

This isn’t the results of segregation both, one other aspect of the South I had anticipated and was pleasantly stunned to search out out was simply not the case; the reverse, in reality, is true: Data routinely finds northern American cities extra segregated than the South. In 2019, only three of the high 10 most segregated American cities had been in the South. And a recent study discovered California and the Northeast had been extra segregated than the South.

As for kids, New York—that bastion of liberalism—is the most segregated state for black college students, with the highest charge of black college students who don’t go to high school with any white college students. And Illinois is second. Meanwhile, by 1970, Southern colleges had been the nation’s most racially built-in. And whereas there was some backsliding, southern colleges stay much less racially segregated than all through the Northeast and Midwest.

The South
People maintain arms as they be a part of collectively on the Arthur Ravenel jr. bridge to commemorate the lives misplaced in the capturing at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church on June 21, 2015 in Charleston, South Carolina.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Another little bit of anecdotal evidenceI famous that’s backed up by knowledge was the variety of mixed-race {couples} I noticed throughout my sojourn down South, a part of a development of exploding interracial households. Based on Census Bureau knowledge from 42 states again in 2011, the New York Times reported that “the nation’s mixed-race population is growing far more quickly than many demographers had estimated, particularly in the South.” In North Carolina, the mixed-race inhabitants had doubled, whereas Georgia, Kentucky and Tennessee noticed their mixed-race inhabitants explode by as a lot as 80 p.c. In Indiana, Iowa and South Dakota, it was 70 p.c. And it was Mississippi—Mississippi!—that led the nation in the development of blended marriages.

Then there’s the historical past. Obviously, the South was house to a lot of the worst of the ugliness of slavery and racism in America. And lately, we’re typically instructed that whites—particularly non-elite whites— in the South are afraid to debate this historical past and are attempting to censor our ugly previous in school rooms. But what I discovered in Charleston shattered that narrative.

Charleston has taken necessary steps to embrace moderately than conceal its previous, utilizing it to show future generations the fact in addition to to honor those that had been savagely mistreated. There are road indicators and statues honoring the likes of Robert Smalls and Denmark Vesey. There’s the marker on Highway 17 commemorating the Stono Rebellion of 1739 (the largest slave rebel in British North America), and there are numerous museums, plantations, and cemeteries that honor the lives and legacies of enslaved Africans.

I visited a number of of those locations throughout my keep and all the time felt that the workers made it their mission to provide as correct a notion of the remedy of the enslaved folks as they may, to acknowledge the great work they did— underneath unimaginable circumstances, and to color the slave holders in a damaging gentle. These will not be folks afraid to show the fact about slavery.

But in addition to all the surprises I witnessed in the South, maybe what stood out the most was what I did not see. I noticed no profusion of “Black Lives Matter” or “Hate Has No Home Here” and was subjected to no fixed reminders of the virtues of range. No one took pains to remind me that I’m black or felt compelled to inform me that my life issues or that they empathize with how troublesome my life should be.

Instead, folks took a moderately novel strategy to race relations: White and black Southerners handled me and everybody else with kindness and respect. And they did this with typical southern attraction. Everywhere I went, folks made it some extent to talk to me—a transfer international to New Yorkers; folks took pains to discover a type phrase or remark to share and went out of their option to make me really feel at house.

It was surprising, after residing for many years in Chicago and later New York City, the place folks go about their day by no means acknowledging the milling of individuals round them—whereas nonetheless managing to perpetuate the heavy weight of racial consciousness.

And it was this most of all that I dreaded returning to after two months in Charleston: the endless deal with race that the north has assumed.

As a black American, I will miss with the ability to go about my day with out seeing a plethora of indicators droning on about “people of color” or points that “disproportionately affect black and brown people.” In Charleston, I felt seen and acknowledged with out being instructed that I was; in New York City, I’m as soon as once more surrounded by white girls in “Black Lives Matter” T-shirts who would by no means deign to talk to an precise black stranger.

Being handled like a fellow human being and a fellow American earlier than being seen as a black man was a deal with I did not know I was lacking till this journey. I want I might export the niceties and respect I acquired in the South to New York and have folks actually settle for everybody as equals moderately than deal with them in another way—after which put-up indicators or put on T-shirts signaling how deeply they embrace equality.

Charles Love is the govt director of Seeking Educational Excellence, host of The Charles Love Show, and the creator of the upcoming e book Race Crazy: BLM, 1619, and the Progressive Racism Movement.

The views in this text are the author’s personal.

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