The South Will Rise Again

I was born by the river in a little tent
Oh and just like the river I’ve been running ever since
It’s been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will

It’s been too hard living but I’m afraid to die
‘Cause I don’t know what’s up there beyond the sky
It’s been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will

I go to the movie and I go downtown
Somebody keep telling me, “Don’t hang around”
It’s been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will

Then I go to my brother
And I say, “Brother, help me please”
But he winds up knockin’ me
Back down on my knees

Oh there been times that I thought I couldn’t last for long
But now I think I’m able to carry on
It’s been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will

      “A Change is Gonna Come” — Sam Cooke

The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) has left the building for the summer, but not before handing down a pair of significant and — depending upon your orientation (pun intended) — earth-shaking decisions. By striking down both a key provision of the Voting Rights Act and the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the High Court might appear to some observers to be suffering from some sort of judicial schizophrenia. Others may see these rulings as reflections of American society’s increasing acceptance of homosexuality on the one hand and its deep ambivalence about race on the other.

I am not a legal scholar and am by no means qualified to expound upon the Constitutional implications of these decisions. Rather, I am fascinated by the possibility that these judgments could have a profound effect upon my native region of the country: the South.

Obviously, it is not necessary to review here the South’s disgraceful history of racism and homophobia. Academic and legal careers have been and continue to be built upon these twin pillars of shame; and the popular media have made and continue to reap billions depicting Southern culture and exporting it to the world. Southerners continue to be the butt of jokes and are pitied/hated as hopeless relics of an age long past and best forgotten. (Consider the latest Exhibit A: the Paula Deen controversy.) Black Southerners, in particular, are in a bind. On the one hand they decry the Voting Rights Act decision as a blatant attempt by a conservative Court to roll back one of the most momentous outcomes of the Civil Rights Era. On the other, they denounce same-sex marriage — not to mention the very existence of homosexuality itself — as an abomination before God. (I have more to say about Black people and homophobia, but will save those comments for another time.)

As I pondered the consequences of the Supreme Court’s rulings in these cases, it occurred to me that SCOTUS has handed the Southland a unique opportunity to change not only its “brand” (to use modern parlance), but also its soul. Finally in the second decade of the twenty-first century, my beloved Dixie can lead the nation into the post-racial, post-sexual orientation Promised Land. Who will be the New Moses to lead us on this fantastic journey? Perhaps it will not be a politician or a preacher or a prophet who will (or should) do this. Perhaps this Utopian goal will be achieved instead by neighbors meeting and getting to know each other in the sames ways our parents and grandparents did — and through the new platforms brought to us in the Age of Social Media. If change is gonna come, it must start at the kitchen table, around the water cooler, in the pews, on main street, in Google+ Hangouts, on Twitter, on Facebook, and anywhere else that We the People gather and exchange opinions.

Let me be the first to admit that this idea — this fervent prayer — seems at best far-fetched. But then, sometimes the best ideas are like that — just beyond our grasp, but not beyond our imagination. And to my fellow pessimists out there, I leave you with this grain of hope: it was a loyal son of the South who, as President, signed Civil Rights legislation, including the Voting Rights Act, into law. Surely, we can be as tough, determined, persuasive, and creative as Lyndon Johnson was half a century ago.

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I’m Good Enough, I’m Smart Enough, and Doggone It, People (Don’t) Like Me!

Mitt Romney must feel as if he has truly entered the Twilight Zone, or that he is Stewart Smalley’s evil twin.  He is accomplished, intelligent, (sometimes) well-spoken, attractive, focused, determined, and very, very rich.  His opponents for the Republican nomination include a brilliant, but erratic and irascible former Speaker of the House, a conservative zealot trying to revive a derailed political career, and a libertarian maverick.  By any stretch of the conventional political imagination, Romney should be the poster child for a resounding victory against a weakened incumbent Democrat in November.  (What would the late GOP strategist Lee Atwater have done with a hand of cards like these?)  And yet…he seems unable to close the deal.  Or rather, the Republican rank and file just do not seem to be convinced that he is the man to lead them to the Promised Land of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.  Indeed, the latest polls of Republican voters place former Senator Rick “Sweater vest” Santorum ahead of Romney. How can this be so?  By most accounts, Romney has done just about everything right in his pursuit to become the standard-bearer for the Republican Party: he has piles of money, a disciplined organization, and a message that should resonate in hard economic times.  (And he has fabulous hair!)  To be sure, he as made some foolish statements; but to my knowledge he has neither said nor done anything that has made him unelectable.  Some say that the reason for the unease about Romney is that he is “not conservative enough.”  Others think that there may be a lingering prejudice against Mormons.  (I suspect, however, that these may be the same people who persist in believing that President Obama is a Muslim.)  Still others maintain that Romney’s capitalist success story has made it impossible for him to comprehend the plight of the struggling middle and lower classes of American society.  I do not pretend to have an answer for this baffling state of affairs.  Many people with bigger brains and even bigger paychecks are working around the clock on this one.  I have little doubt that the Romney Machine will find a way into the hearts — as well as the minds — of the GOP faithful.  The Man from Massachusetts may get a little bloody, and his perfectly pressed shirt and blue jeans may show a bit of mud from the campaign trail; but he will capture the nomination — and perhaps even the respect and devotion of his fellow Republicans. But Romney may find the 2012 Election to be the “dark, drizzly November of [his] soul.”  Why?  He just might win.  As the old adage goes, “Be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it.”