The Duality of the Southern Thing January 17, 2012Posted by Matt in personal stories, race.
Tags: drive-by truckers, duality of the southern thing, Martin Luther King, Mississippi, peace, racism, Robert E Lee, self-righteous indignation, the South
What does it mean to be Southern?
It’s an interesting question and one that I’ve been pondering quite a bit over the past 24 hours. After spending the first 26 years of my life in the great state of Arkansas, I moved across the river to Southaven, Mississippi, which in turn sits within walking distance of Memphis, some eight years ago. The process of leaving the safe confines of small town Central Arkansas and entering the urban/suburban area in which I now reside was an interesting one to say the least.
I’m an educated guy and have long considered myself to be an intelligent, progressive person, one whose mind is open to all sorts of views and peoples, one who believes strongly in justice and peace. That being said, these years of living in Mississippi have been challenging ones in a multitude of ways. In that time I’ve chosen to confront my own inner prejudices lurking back in my subconscious, the byproduct of being raised in a largely homogenous small town environment, and I’ve emerged a better person than before, one who truly tries to practice what he preaches.
But at the same time, having largely conquered feelings of prejudice in my mind, I often find the balance swinging too far in the other direction, that of self-righteous indignation. I think to myself, “I get this. Why don’t you get it?”
This internal struggle came to light again yesterday on Facebook as I wrote with some incredulity about my children’s school letting out for “King/Lee Day.” Yes, that Lee. Robert E. The famous Confederate General. Every year I see that and every year I have a similar reaction, shaking my head with consternation at the perceived backwardness of others, summoning that self-righteousness again to wag my finger in their faces.
This time, though, something interesting happened. Barbara, a friend, mentor, and someone for whom I have immense respect, put me in my place. I don’t think she minds me reprinting her response and I would rather do that than put it in my own words:
Oh, the need to explain that “dual” holiday. The date was historically for Robert E. Lee’s birthday and was a state holiday. When the day became a federal holiday to honor Dr. King on his birthday this is what happened. Now, if you object to honoring REL, a true son of the South, you can honor MlK, another true son of the South. If you want, you can honor both guys. Just think of King and Lee meeting in heaven on this day to share a beer and talk about how things have changed. Maybe not fast enough, but things have changed. I would like to think that we’ve learned that peace and nonviolence is a better way to address our differences (Dr. Kings message) than violence and war. But,I’m a dreamer…..
With my scorn sufficiently placated by Dr. Jones’ words, I decided to again look inward, to reflect on what this meant to me, as a progressive Southerner, one who loves the place and the people, but struggles with reconciling the past with the present. As often happens, this train of thought then brought me to a song, this time by one of my favorite bands, the Drive-By Truckers. “The Southern Thing” is found on their sprawling and incredible album Southern Rock Opera, a personal favorite of mine that once led me on a pilgrimage to Muscle Shoals and then on to the small community of Zip City.
In this particular song, Patterson Hood sings of this internal struggle for reconciliation between pride and shame brewing inside the hearts and minds of those below the Mason-Dixon Line while at the same time trying to deal with those who don’t understand, those to whom this seems so foreign, saying,
You think I’m dumb, maybe not too bright
You wonder how I sleep at night
Proud of the glory, stare down the shame
Duality of the southern thing.
“The duality of the southern thing.” I think that explains a lot. It may be impossible to define “Southerness,” but the inner struggle of those dueling forcing is certainly an aspect that cannot be swept aside.
Things are continually moving forward and changing in the South, and though that does not absolve us of nor does it cause us to forget the past, it aids us in building for a better future. As Hood later says in the song:
Four generations, a whole lot has changed
Robert E. Lee
Martin Luther King
We’ve come a long way, rising from the flame
Stay out the way of the southern thing.
So, while I may never venerate Robert E. Lee, certainly not to the extent of Martin Luther King, I can recognize and respect his place in the history of my people. And maybe, as Dr. Jones said, the two of them are having a beer in heaven talking it over right now.
Good Job, Mississippi November 9, 2011Posted by Matt in politics.
Tags: Initiative 26, Mississippi, rational thinking
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I’m often quick to decry the state we’ve called home for nearly 8 years, a place where common rationality often takes a back seat to the loudest voices in the room, but I must say that this time Mississippi has done the right thing.
Yesterday, after all of the balltos were cast and votes were counted, Mississippians shot down initiative 26, the so-called “personhood” amendment by a wide margin. It was a surprising turn of events because it seemed that, from the polling data I had looked at earlier and the vast amounts of support seen around me, it was a sure thing it would past. Fortunately, clearer heads prevailed.
It’s a good day to be a Mississippian.
Say No to Amendment 26 November 3, 2011Posted by Matt in politics.
Tags: Amendment 26, Duncan Gray, Mississippi, personhood, Southaven, unintended consequences
I haven’t written anything seriously politically motivated in a long time, having grown tired of the nonstop squabbling, but I hope you’ll bear with me for a few moments while I tell of something that truly bothers me.
Those of you in other locations around the country, or for that matter, around the world may not be in tune with the political controversy currently engulfing that in which we live, Mississippi. The hot button issue of the day is Amendment 26, i.e. the Personhood Amendment, a proposed addition to our state constitution with ramifications that could be huge. The amendment itself reads:
The term ‘person’ or ‘persons’ shall include every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning, or the functional equivalent thereof.”
As you might guess, the stated purpose of the amendment is to end the practice of abortion, which in itself is controversial enough, but the wording of this sentence could go far, far beyond that.
If fully followed through, this amendment would end birth control methods such as the “morning after pill” and IUDs, but it could even affect the legality of the pill, for even though the birth control pill primarily prevents ovulation, it may also prevent implantation following fertilization. Thus, this bill could make the pill illegal in the state of Mississippi.
There are also the ramifications that this piece of legislation holds for the practice of in vitro fertilization, where several eggs are fertilized and the unused ones are either frozen or discarded. If followed through, this amendment could then cause this practice to cease entirely.
Then there are the concerns of the physicians who wonder about their own liability when having to make life-and-death decisions involving a woman and her unborn child. Could they save the mother if it meant the termination of the embryo, or would they be held criminally liable?
And then there is also the issue of miscarriages. Would every miscarriage then be subject to a criminal investigation to ensure that the woman did nothing to cause it, and if she did, could she be charged with a felony?
In a state that already has the highest infant mortality rate in the nation and one of the highest teen pregnancy rates, so it seems to this Mississippian, with two daughters of his own, that perhaps the focus is misplaced.
Driving around Southaven, the town where we live, you see the “Vote Yes on 26” signs adorning yards on every street. They leap out a drivers from churches and businesses and seemingly everywhere one looks. Even the Church of Christ, the denomination I grew up in and one that is historically apolitical, near our house is proclaiming their stance in favor of the initiative.
And though it seems the passing of this amendment is immanent, not everyone is in favor of it. I was quite happy to see that our Bishop, The Rt. Rev. Duncan Gray, spoke out publically against it, and it is interesting to see that even many Roman Catholic bishops have voiced their opposition.
So, I will be voting against Initiative 26 and I hope that those of you living in Mississippi will as well.
In a related note, the local Fox 13 station interviewed our priest Patrick yesterday. He told us what he said to them, a measured and reasoned response that took no firm stand on the controversy, instead referring to the dangers of certainty (see why I like him so much?). Naturally, the news show cut his part down to just a few seconds and prefaced it with, “But some local pastors are not in favor of the Amendment.” That’s Fox for you.
The Universal Language of the Razorback October 31, 2011Posted by Matt in Razorbacks.
Tags: Arkansas Razorbacks, drive-by truckers, faith in humanity, interconnectedness, Memphis, Mississippi
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Saturday night I had the opportunity to see one of my all-time favorite bands, the Drive-By Truckers, in concert again. It was an incredible show and I’ll have a separate post about that later (today?), but there was another phenomenon that took place prior to the band gracing the stage that captured my attention, something that again renewed my belief in humanity and interconnectedness of the universe.
I’m an Arkansan by birth, hailing from a small town in central Arkansas, so naturally I carry a strong affinity for the gridiron heroes of my home state, the Razorbacks. I have a deep and abiding affection for my fellow Arkansans, those who don plastic hog hats and pig snouts and give a great Woo Pig Sooie at any and all occasions, from weddings to funerals to just the general celebration of life. For nearly 8 years, though, I’ve been somewhat removed from my people, a stranger in a strange land, like the Israelites of old toiling away ‘neath the harsh rule of an Egyptian pharaoh. But, my predicament may be even worse, for these isn’t merely a totalitarian government seeking to enslave my people and kill our children, no, it is even worse.
I live in Mississippi, surrounded by Ole Miss fans.
Yet there is no prophet rising up to lead the people out of exile, to part the rushing waters of the Mississippi river and lead us back to the promised land, and away from the accursed calls of “Hotty Toddy.” The despair can sometimes be great, even unbearable, but occasionally my faith is rekindled.
Saturday, as you may recall, my beloved Razorbacks eked out a victory against the mighty Vanderbilt Commodores, in a game that may rank as one of the most entertaining thus far in 2011. So, as I chose concert-going clothes from my wardrobe (Is this clean? Not sure. Does it smell bad? No, so it’s probably ok.), I made sure to grab one article to proclaim my allegiance: a baseball cap with a Razorback featured prominently, glowing in its maroon majesty.
The friends with whom I planned on attending the show were all unable to go, but that did little to deter my enthusiasm. I mean, it’s the Drive-By Truckers, how could I ever miss that? So, I parked a short distance from the New Daisy Theater, and walked over to the building alone, but not feeling any real sense of aloneness. We’re all Trucker fans here and soon any subconscious unease was alleviated.
I walked into the theater, grabbed a PBR and strode down the runway, just one of a multitude fans beginning to fill the building. As I walked, I heard an unfamiliar voice call out from one side, “Hey, man! Woo Pig Sooie!”
I turned and saw a small contingent of young men smiling and waving. I waved back, “Barely, but we did it again.”
“Hell yeah we did!”
I nodded, gave a little fist pump, and walked on, eventually coming to a halt in the second section, the first elevated one from the stage. I had little desire to be in what would no doubt be a sweaty mass of humanity directly in front of the stage, so I settled into a spot where I would be able to easily see the band and have room to move around if I so chose. I stood in my place, sipping my PBR and enjoying the good sport of people watching (always interesting at a DBT show) when I heard another voice, this time a female one, call out, “Hey, you from Arkansas?”
Turning back, I saw a middle aged woman standing next to a couple gesturing to me. I walked the few yards over to them and answered, “Yeah, I’m originally from Beebe, but now I live here.”
After that there were numerous others, some serenading me with a “Woo Pig” and others with a simple “Go Hogs,” our common language and homeland binding us together with an invisible force, reminding me that I’m not in this alone.
Though separated by miles and invisible borders, we’re all Razorbacks and we wear it with pride.
Woo Pig Sooie!
The Pink Purse August 2, 2011Posted by Matt in family.
Tags: boys, Hello Kitty, Mississippi, pink purse, Southaven, Wal-Mart
Our two year old, JD, has found a new object upon which to bequeath his affection, a new item to embrace and hold tight at all times, to guard as if it held the elixir of life. So, what is this newfound source of joy in the young boy’s life?
His sister’s pink Hello Kitty purse.
In the past you might see him carrying around his beloved blue elephant blankie, but now, with the addition of his purse (or man-bag), he can now stuff the blanket into his pink bag and carry it around with him. It’s not that big of a deal to us, and we think little to nothing of him hauling it around at home or at church, but a week or so ago I found myself considering this with thoughts that later bothered me a great deal.
As a rule, I avoid our local Wal-Mart like the plague, preferring anything to the crowded, soulless aisles of the nearby megastore, but for some reason I don’t readily recall, I found myself in a situation where I had to step into the unsavory retail giant. Because of Diana’s work schedule, I was also carting along the kids, another undesirable aspect to our Saturday outing. We parked the car and began to get out when I noticed that my son was gripping the purse, fully intending to carry it in with him. To a Wal-Mart, in Southaven, Mississippi. As you can imagine, it’s not exactly a hotbed of progressive thought. Suddenly thoughts flooded my head. Would we be accosted by hordes of Baptists with crazed eyes, swinging their Bibles like swords? Would I be beaten senseless by camo-wearing, Skoal-dipping, rebel flag-waving Mississippi rednecks?
Granted, none of these attacks would probably take place, but the seed was planted in my brain, so I quickly talked JD out of carrying the purse, and went on with our shopping.
The next morning I was relating this story to some people at church and when I came to end, saying something along the lines of, “I told him, ‘I don’t think it’s in either of our best interests for you to take this into Wal-Mart. In Southaven, Mississippi.’”
One of the ladies looked at me quizzically and asked one simple question, “Why?”
And I had to think about that. Why? I’m not embarrassed. It doesn’t bother me. I guess it’s because I’m anticipating a negative reaction from others and I don’t want to deal with it, but that’s really not a good reason. Not at all.
So, from now on he can carry it anywhere he wants. If other people don’t like it, they need to grow up.
Roll What? March 5, 2011Posted by Matt in Football, Southaven.
Tags: displaced Arkansas fan, football fan demographics, minority status, Mississippi, Roll Tide
There are a number of ways to divide and subdivide the people of our suburban, northwest Mississippi county. The most obvious methods may include race, socioeconomic standing, political affiliation (generally either far-right Republican or right-center Republican), or church, but perhaps there is no more divisive measure of humankind in this part of the country than that of football and of one’s affiliation with one team or another.
Though the county contains a smattering of fans from across the Southeastern Conference (and perhaps a few others as well, but they hardly matter anyway), the population is dominated by Ole Miss and Mississippi State fans. This can be somewhat problematic for me because, as you probably know, I am and always have been a diehard fan of the Arkansas Razorbacks. This championing of the Hogs affords me a certain minority status in the Magnolia state, one which does not entail any sort of open hostility, yet does elicit the occasional strange and knowing look from others when I wear my maroon and white hat.
Today I was doing our weekly grocery shopping at one of the local stores, dutifully filling my basket with various goods, when a man walked up to me, nodded, and spoke two words I have rarely had directed at me, “Roll Tide.”
The momentary confusion passed and I gave the man a smile and a nod before continuing on my way down the aisle. Though I am quite sure he mistook the colors and the “A” on my hat as being for Alabama, in retrospect this slight error did not bother me in the least. If anything, the short encounter gave me a small feeling of community, a brotherhood of those not ensnared by the traps of the majority, strangers in a strange land not willing to surrender to the overwhelming sentiment of those around us.
Maybe next time I’ll even muster enough nerve to return the “Roll Tide.”
But probably not, I mean you have to draw the line somewhere, right?
Cruisin’ in the ATL – Part 3 June 28, 2010Posted by Matt in vacation.
Tags: antebellum homes, Columbus, Mississippi, Mississippi University for Women, Proffitt's Porch, vacation
Friday morning, after three full days of activities in the city, we bid a tired goodbye to Hotlanta, and the five of us again hit the road, this time heading in the general direction of home.
I say general because, after discovering that our expenses were coming in below budget, we made the decision to take a detour and spend one more night on the road – this time in Columbus, Mississippi. Columbus is the home of my mom’s alma mater, the Mississippi University for Women, and she had long told us of the town’s beauty, a reputation that is well-deserved.
Knowing nothing about the town, I emailed a Facebook friend who grew up in the area, Jeff Baker, to find out where to go for dinner. He promptly responded with his favorite spot – an out of the way joint called Proffitt’s Porch. We unloaded our things at a local Day’s Inn and soon set off for our dinnertime destination, which we found way out on a gravel road adjacent to a small lake. What we found inside, though, were friendly people and excellent gumbo and red beans and rice.
Later on that evening and again the next morning we explored the town and the college a bit more and we were thoroughly taken with just how beautiful it was. The town is full of antebellum homes that are incredibly and impressively well kept.
The university also had some lovely old buildings that we were able to take some pictures of as we toured the campus.
And I have to include this picture of the girls underneath some crepe myrtles adorning the campus.
After that, our tired family loaded back into the van and made our way back home to the Memphis suburbs. It was a great trip …and, truthfully, I didn’t even miss going to the beach.
A Diverse Raising May 10, 2010Posted by Matt in family, race.
Tags: children, demographics, diversity, friends, Mississippi, population trends, race, suburbs
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Like Steve Martin in The Jerk, you might say that my kids are growing up as black children in Mississippi.
Last night my oldest daughter, Rachel, was doing one of those little girl playground chants and I was halfway listening when two words caught my ear – “black power.”
“Honey,” I said, “what did you say again?”
She repeated the lines for me, complete with the two words that grabbed my attention earlier.
“Where did you get that from?”
She looked at me with a sly smile on her face, “I learned it from T____”
I smiled back at her, “That’s cool, honey,” and she scampered on her way, saying the little rhymes she picked up from her friends. It’s not often that you hear a 7 year old little white girl with blonde hair and blue eyes use the term “black power.”
Later on I was talking with Diana about it and we both found it very interesting that most of our daughter’s friends are African-American. It seems as though they gravitate toward each other. In close proximity to our house there are six little girls around Rachel’s age (she is 7, so I’ll consider anything from 5 to 9) and of those six, three are white and three are black. While she is friends with and plays with all of them, she shows a definite tendency to prefer the company of the black girls – including the aforementioned T. From what I gather from her about her school friends and who she invites to our home, the pattern tends to hold steady. It’s the same way at our church as well. Though she has close white friends, they are outnumbered by the black ones.
While some of this stems from us – her church friends are the children of our friends – much of it comes directly from her. It is so amazing to me the way that kids do not see color as an issue, a barrier that separates them from each other. The continued experience of diversity is the answer to the prejudice problem that still plagues our society.
I read an interesting article today regarding race and society, this dealing with the changing face of America’s suburbs and how they are moving from being deliberately lily white to something that more matches the general populace. The article details a sort of reverse white flight trend, in which many whites, particularly young professionals, are moving back to the cities, while at the same time the suburban areas are seeing an influx of racial and socio-economic diversity. It’s quite fascinating to look at the numbers.
We live in Southaven, the largest suburb of Memphis, and have been here for six years. During that short time I can tell you that we have seen a good deal of demographic change. According to the latest population estimates I can find, Southaven has about 45,000, making it the fifth largest city in the state – though I suspect that once the latest census figures are tallied we will move ahead of Biloxi and maybe even challenge Hattiesburg. Though our city retains a decidedly white majority (65% vs. 25% black and 10% other), it is quite smaller than the other towns in our county (Olive Branch – 86%, Horn Lake – 83%, Hernando – 76%). In addition to that, our kids’ school is among the most diverse in the county, with a racial breakdown of 62% white and 30% black. This stand in contrast to some of the newer schools in the county which have much larger white majorities (80%+). So, in our section of the Memphis metro area, we have seen many move out to greener (or should I say whiter?) pastures farther away from the Memphis city limits – either to the far, more rural, reaches of the county or out of it altogether.
A large part of me would much rather live in Memphis than where we do now, but if we are going to be suburbanites, at least we can hold know that our children will grow up with diversity. I can think of few things as important as that.
The High Cost of Lower Taxes May 5, 2010Posted by Matt in education, Southaven.
Tags: DeSoto County, Mississippi, public schools, taxes
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I live in Southaven, Mississippi, a suburb of Memphis that has become well known for having low crime, good schools, and lower taxes than the city it adjoins. Over the past two decades, the population in Southaven and the surrounding area of DeSoto County have exploded to well over 150,000 people. The county is also home to the largest school district in the state, with 40 schools and around 37,000 students.
Recently it was announced from the office of our governor Haley Barbour that education would be forced to face cuts due to the state’s financial problems. In our district, all employees will face a pay cut and those that remain will not include 22 adminstrators, 40 teachers, and 50 teacher aides, all of whom will be let go at the end of the school year. In addition to that, some employees will see their work hours decreased, purchases of new textbooks will be delayed, and art programs will be cut, with the spectre of more cuts on the horizon.
So DeSoto County residents, who are overwhelmingly conservative (I’m not sure how we ended up there), will soon be forced to face the music and decide whether or not low taxes are more desirable than high quality schools. I have one daughter in the school system now and another who will start next year, so I have a vested interest in the future of our schools. If we need to raise the tax rate to save our education system, let’s do it. I can’t think of anything more important.
Remember this if Barbour really does decide to bolt the state and run for president.