In February, I drove from Charleston, S.C. to New Orleans, L.A.. The Southern U.S. is synonymous with many things, sweet tea and hospitality, but also intense racism and crippling poverty. At least, that's how we Yankees see it. The South also possesses much grace, beauty, resilience and strength, all flourishing under the hot sun.
While driving through the South, I attempted to capture an honest picture (no pun intended) of the people who live there, and the lives they lead. I want to stress, on this trip I found very few opportunities to speak with local persons. Those who I did approach more often than not politely refused.
Generalizing a region as large as the American South can lead one down a slippery slope; here I go anyway.
The South's most synonymous negative connotation is, of course, racism. Removed from the passive prejudice presented in the North, the blatant racism of the South has tarnished the warm and hospitable region for decades beyond count. Why this racism has endured as a staple of the culture eludes many, and if the answer were simple, the problem would have been solved long ago.
For the moment, it is crucial to remember that racism in the South lives on, healthy and happy, disregarding the perceived post-racial society brought on by the election of President Obama. The accusations of racism against Donald Trump, his endorsement from David Duke, and his overwhelming victories across the South speak to the unraveling of any progress made by President Obama.
This brings us to another crucial aspect of the South: the powerful grip religion holds on the region, and the solid block of red Republican governed states. The South was the historic birthplace of the Democratic Party, but not since Bill Clinton has a Southern Democrat faired well nationally. The South contains the Bible Belt, a strip of the most potently Christian people in the nation. Christianity and religion are central to the South. Through this religious monopoly, Conservatism reigns supreme; Conservatism in a place wracked by poverty; Christianity in a place wracked by poverty. That's the fundamental disconnect.
Republicans win in the South by running on socially conservative positions: anti-LGBT rights, anti-Choice, and religious influence in public schools. The problems in the South do not stem from Gay people, they stem from a lack of opportunity. That opportunity is not coming from the Free Market. It needs to come from the State. Who controls the state? Conservative state governments have presided over an era in which the South has consistently had the lowest minimum wages in the country, the highest rates of poverty in the nation, the lowest per capita incomes in the U.S., and the least amount of economic mobility.
This isn't working. The South needs to realize that Gay people and Mexicans aren't taking their jobs. Lack of medical care, lack of economic opportunity, and low quality of life are all problems that have been solved elsewhere. I'm not arguing for the South to elect liberals and Democrats. I'm not saying that. I am saying that the South is stuck in a rut, caught in a clear pattern, and the methods they have deployed to solve these problems are, in fact, the exact causes of the pattern.