Sunday, July 02, 2006

A few thoughts on a lazy Sunday morning, some of which are from a letter I just wrote to a pair of my professors from Brown...

Summer school ended on Friday. Though I am happy I will have a month's respite from getting up at 5:45 AM, I was sad to see the classes end. I felt as if I had only really began to understand my students over the last week of school; they were now comfortable joking around and being honest with me. They seemed to look forward to my lessons and trust that I would not put them to sleep. Though I thought it would be inappropriate for summer school and eventually decided against it, I did want to give my email address to a number of my students - TG, TM, TJ, HS, and CW especially - to keep up with them during the school year. Some of them are basketball players, so perhaps I can read the papers and keep up with them that way. On the last day of school I commented to TM that, although I enjoyed having him in class, I wanted to see him perform well enough so that he would not be in my summer school class next year. "Oh don't worry, Mr. E," he told me, "I'm gonna be in the League next year." I told him I'd send the Mavericks and Celtics scouts advance warning of a hot young prospect coming out of Holly Springs, Mississippi.

Aspects of Mississippi are growing on me, other aspects are beginning to really attack my nerves. The people of this state are very kind, very open, and very welcoming. My summer school students, in particular, were always smiling. Tomorrow evening there will be a 4th of July square dance in the center of town, with a traditional jug/string band. The area seems to have a certain down-home goodness that brings to mind the music of (Bruce Springsteen's recently released folk album) The Seeger Sessions.

That said, traditionalism has its price. Racial issues remain huge here, perhaps exacerbated by the fact that nobody seems willing to discuss them. A bright pink elephant that stands in every room in the South. Last night I was at a bar, and at closing time (11:45 PM on Saturday night, so that there is absolutely no serving of alcohol on Sunday, God forbid), the bar flashed the lights, rang a bell, and began to play “Dixie,” the nostalgic, slower version that plays during the end of Gone With the Wind. The crowd – 90% white – began to sing along, sway their arms, and perhaps dream of a better time when the other 10% of the bar’s patrons were picking cotton. More fascinating was the fact that “Dixie” immediately turned into “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” a song commonly recognized as the North’s counterpoint to “Dixie” during the Civil War. Is there hope yet? Could reconciliation be in sight?!?!

Also maddening, on the topic of the Civil War, is the monument to the Confederate dead that stands in downtown Oxford. “To the Confederate dead,” it reads, “they died for a just and holy cause.” Hmmm, what was that cause again?

Across the entire South, many cars display small bumper stickers that sport a large white “W” atop a black field. Underneath that single letter are printed the words, “THE PRESIDENT.” I am not exactly sure what these bumper stickers are supposed to mean, but to me they seem to say, “George W. Bush is the President and, right or wrong, his decisions are law, so keep your opposition to yourself and respect his authority.” Maybe I am reading too much into this, but the bumper sticker seems to represent a certain mindless subservience and lack of critical reasoning that would allow an individual to support the current administration.

Sorry to inject politics into this discussion, but it is all part of the journey.


Blogger Ben Guest said...

Nothing inappropriate about giving your email out or the discussion of politics. Good writing.

1:51 PM  
Blogger Sinister Mr. A said...

Have you seen the corresponding stickers that say "O the Coach"? What is that about?

Agree with you mostly.

Thoughts occurred to me today that made me feel a little less judgmental of white Mississippians. I ate at a Backyard Burger, and everyone there but a couple of the kitchen hands was white. Dealt with a realtor today. Well, all the real estate agents in town were white. In short, I spent all day with white people. Does that make me a racist? Yeah, I have a big problem with the white academies and so on, but I think the "Southern way of life" is actually a genuine culture worth celebrating. Should we tear down statues? I think not. Better to build new monuments to new achievements, and leave intact the ugly/beautiful scars of the past for the sake of history and culture.

In truth, black and white have remained so separate for so many years and were in fact never historically in the same position to begin with, so it is only natural that to this day they have very different cultures that exist side-by-side. Both black and white seem reluctant to cross cultures. I think there is a deep fear that cultural identity will be lost by merging with the other race. I am not saying this is right or justified, but it is at least understandable. And I truly do not think most whites down here are dreaming for the better days when their darker colleagues were slaving away at the cotton fields. They may be nostalgic about a stronger sense of cultural identity that may or may not have existed in the past, but race is merely incidental to this pride.

Furthermore, few of us indeed are truly race-neutral in our relationships. How many of your good friends are white? How many are black? I know mine do not reflect national demographics. Personally, I think we tend to falsely idealize America as one big "melting pot" of monoculture, when it fact, like all nations, it consists of endless configurations of subcultures, with race, geography, religion, education, and economics being some of the major divisions.

Does it sound like I am defending racism? That's not really my intent. But I do refuse to believe that half the state of Mississippi is evil at heart. Just playing the devil's advocate!

9:15 PM  
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3:50 AM  

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