Thursday, June 21, 2007

North vs. South -- Part III

This is the last posting about why I prefer North Carolina to South Carolina, and I have to begin with a report I heard on NPR this afternoon that Raleigh, NC was listed as the third most desirable/livable city for African Americans, right behind Atlanta and Washington DC. And Charlotte was also in the Top Ten, with Greensboro, NC coming in at a close #11. Is this a reason for me to prefer North to South Carolina? Well, it certainly doesn't hurt.

Especially because of a comment that was made during a boat tour of the Sea Islands. The tour group was arranged as part of the post-conference ASLE trip to the Penn Center. I have to say that overall the trip was not what was I was expecting. There was a lack of leadership, for one, although I give credit to our guide, Steve, a Furman University professor, for trying to provide some cohesion and organization to our trip. However, the trip was really about the ecology of the area rather than the culture--and yet, it had been billed as a trip that would explore both the ecological and cultural aspects of the region, with an emphasis on educating us about the local Gullah people (made famous by Julie Dash's film Daughters of the Dust). Despite this billing, however, the Gullah portion was only about 2 hours worth of the whole trip.

But I digress.

We're on this 3 hour boat ride around the sea island wetlands/marshlands, and our tour guide and person driving the boat is giving us a local history of the area, the various plantations that were once a part of the landscape, and he mentions, casually, that they were occupied up until the time of the war of northern aggression. Wait, let me repeat that for you. In tones completely unironic and matter-of-fact he referred to the Civil War as THE WAR OF NORTHERN AGGRESSION. And, for anyone who understands the meaning of making this comment in the 21st century to a boat load of liberal, environmentally minded literature professors, 5 of whom are African American, well, lets just say that at that point, if I could have jumped ship, I would. The guide continued on with the history as if he had said nothing out of the ordinary, and I whispered to my friend Sofia that I felt like singing the Battle Hymn of the Republic, but she cautioned me to stay quiet--this was not an educational moment and this comment was made in the first half hour of the trip. With over 2 hours left, we wanted to return to shore, in tact, and so I remained silent (although largely because I couldn't quite remember the lyrics--only the chorus, and even then I was spotty about whether the line was "The Truth Keeps Marching On"--can't quite remember).

This comment came a day after I was at a bar, on my way to the post-conference trip, trying to catch up on my Tiger Watch--Day 3 of the US Open. I was drinking an Arnold Palmer (half lemonade, half ice tea) and a white couple in their 60s was also watching golf at the bar. The wife was chatty and friendly and struck up a conversation with me, asking what I was doing. When I explained that I was in town for a conference on literature and the environment, her husband snorted derisively and said, "I'm a logger!" to which I said "Oh" and then the bartender, a friendly guy, Darryl, said, "Did you cut down a lot of those big trees?" And Mr. Logger said, "Well, I'm retired now, but I didn't cut down the trees. I carried a gun." "Why a gun?" asked Darryl. "To use against all those people hugging those damn trees!" said Mr. Retired Logger.

All of this was said without irony. Without laughter. To goad.

To which I kept my eye on the TV screen and rooted for Tiger (at this point he was tied for the lead at 3+).

So that's that. I mean, in the scheme of things, these comments could have happened anywhere, and probably do. I know that racism is not confined to single regions of the U.S. and that even the most liberal among us can still have biases and prejudices. And I know that rudeness (which the ex-logger's comments certainly were--rude and uncourteous) could also happen anywhere. But I have been lulled into believing the stereotypes about Southern hospitality and gentility. Guess I'll have to rethink them.

But, I'll say this: it may not be representative of North Carolina, but I like my liberal slice of heaven, and I'd rather take my stand here than anyplace else in "The South." And I don't plan to return to South Carolina anytime soon.


Anonymous said...

*wonders what criteria made Raleigh a desirable city for African Americans....*

Paul said...

Another good song choice would be "Dixie," which I had to sing in fifth grade in school.

Jennifer said...

In response to anonymous, what I recall about why Raleigh, or any other city on the list, made it on the list, had to do with affordable housing, culture, and job opportunities for African Americans. That housing prices and practices allowed large communities (and individuals) of African Americans to buy and more importantly, keep their homes. The director of this study mentioned something about high foreclosure rates in other cities--so a lot of it seemed to do with economic opportunity through acquiring and keeping homes and finding jobs that would be sustainable. And of course areas hospitable for African American communities.