One problem with discussing race with white people (or people in general, actually), is that they take they view that as long as they are personally nice to a small group of black people, they are not being racist, even if they support political policies that disenfranchise black people as a group. To them, racism only exists among a small subset of people that one could call “lifestyle racists”: Klansmen, neo-Nazis, racist heathens, etc. Such a view ignores the fact that “lifestyle racists” are relatively rare in 2015, and most of them don’t live in mainstream society, because these delicate snowflakes can’t fathom the possibility of having to endure even casual contact with those they deem “lesser.” This view also ignores the fact that for a long time, the Klan was considered to be a fairly respectable organization that had the tacit support of the white population.
Last week, I wrote about the negative reaction to the revelation that Harper Lee’s new book Go Set a Watchman portrays former hero lawyer Atticus Finch as a racist segregationist. Upon further thought, I think that much of the dismay revolves around the need and desire to have “good whites” in stories about racism.
Once upon a time, a female journalist with a taste for history and erotica broke her leg and decided to spend her downtime writing a novel that could combine her two interests. The end result was a long, somewhat maudlin soap opera detailing the tempestuous love affair between two abusive, angry drunks. After being rejected by dozens of publishers, our heroine finally managed to get her opus published, where it was an instant success. Not only did this work conquer the bestseller lists, it was also adapted into a highly successful film that swept the 1940 Oscars and became even more of a pop culture icon than the original book. Alas, success was short-lived for our heroine, and she was killed roughly ten years after the release of the movie based on her only published work.
This is another unpublished essay that I thought needed to see the light of day, rather than be hidden away on my hard drive. It’s not about religion in the institutional sense, but about various aspects of Southern identity, which tends to function as a civic religion anyway. This essay goes with my previous posts on Southern Agrarianism and racism, but tackles the issue from a more personal perspective and includes a few suggestions for future action.