For years now, I have witnessed both coffee shop and Twitter arguments over social happenings as it applies to race. African-Americans unite over the fact that their is a prejudice within the American justice system: witnessing the wrongful execution of Troy Davis and the release of Casey Anthony. We often relate the inequality to the color of our skin, seeing as facts presented in court do not withstand a chance. In Davis’ case, for example, he was convicted after several witnesses attested to his guilt, but almost all of those witnessed recanted their statements and admitted to perjury and bribery by the police. In Anthony’s case, she was held throughout the investigation of her daughter’s disappearance and death, but was acquitted because of ‘lack of evidence’. Situations like these stir up our silenced, and often repressed feelings, about race in America (and especially the South).
On Sunday, December 1st, as we welcomed the end of the year, Twitter took to the latest trend “#RacismEndedWhen”. The purpose: the 58th Anniversary of Rosa Parks’ movement in the Montgomery bus boycotts. The initial tweet: “@GOP: Today we remember Rosa Parks bold stand and her role in ending racism.” Attached lies a picture with a quote from Parks herself reading, “You must never be fearful about what you are doing when it is right.” Almost instantly the replies to the Twitter responsible for ‘updates from the Republican National Committee’ streamed in and the hashtag trend “#RacismEndedWhen” became a Top Trend. Among some of the answers was, “…when we got a Black President” and “Reagan solved it”. However, it got me thinking… racism never ended. Perhaps the manager of this account is defining racism as laws that single out a race, but calling the START of such an indefinite task the end of a long struggle was not the best way to commemorate a major accomplishment of the Civil Rights Movement
As a region, the South gets hit the hardest with the racism card. With many of our state capitols and major cities being monumental, tourists from all over always wonder if there’s still nooses on the sides of roads in Mississippi or if they’ll be looked at sideways in some parts of the city. Truthfully, I must acknowledge that both are probably true, not because we failed to evolve after we lost the Civil War, but because we all act off of learned behaviors. Not every city is a melting pot, nor are they all evenly distributed. However, racism persists in our workforce, marketing, and educational settings based on what we allow. Racism has become such a large issue because we have gotten into the habit of deciding what other people deserve for them, instead of asking. For example, Hispanics are often used for non-contracting jobs because it benefits the employer. We see it as us giving them a job, but water down the fact that they are too often being underpaid. I guess you could say #RacismEndedWhen we stopped lynchings and began organized suppression. Otherwise, there’s no such thing.
This past week I was talking to a friend of mine, definitely one of the only three I have ever felt comfortable since I moved to Memphis, and he said something to me that made me question Southern Black mentality towards race, as well as White, and the intention behind both. I admitted my weariness about working with a large group of Whites in a setting where I would be the minority, simply because I have what many people call trust issues. Out of nowhere, the Confederate flag was mentioned- as one of our predominantly White fraternities on this campus owns one in their house- and I admitted that I believed everyone needed to let go of the Old South. “Some people just need to accept that the South lost that war…”, I said. Much to my dismay, he admitted that growing up in a rural town in Tennessee he wore Confederate flags all throughout high school because it was just something that country people did. He said, “I don’t not like Black people. I was just raised country and that’s what we do.” For this to be someone that I’ve known to hang with nothing but Blacks, never portray a Black persona, and represent Dyersburg every step he takes, I knew that his statement was sincere.
Here in the South, we often identify with our past life whether it affects our thought process or our habits. While a White person in the South may not directly identify with racism or view society from a socially superior standpoint, it is believed that every White person “feels some type of way”. On the other hand, it is the common belief that Blacks in the South have not strayed far from their depictions as watermelon-eating, barefoot people, and those who have high societal rankings just absolutely have to be Uncle Toms.The rest of us are believed to actually be racists that only call for activism when someone mistreats our own “kind”.
With this conversation, I had to think… Why do we assume all White people are racist? How do we know that their ancestors owned slaves? Factually, it is historically correct that several Whites here in the South actually did not own slaves and were actually prejudiced against as well if they were poor. Personally, I have to own up to being cautious around any White person that looks at me sideways. That is something that will most likely not change overnight. However, it makes me wonder what we are doing to recreate segregation and if it is a learned behavior or out of fear. No, my mother did not teach me to side step for anyone on the street (unless they’re elderly), but I will reroute my steps if I see a Confederate flag on a man’s belt. What she did teach me is to question everything and be sure of everything I believe, so am I switching sidewalks to save him from what I may say if he sneers? Even moreso, who said he would sneer? That could have been his grandfather’s belt or a gift for shooting a deer.
Just food for thought. Are we judging books by their covers or automatically painting them with the colors we find in documentaries like “10 Dollars an Hour”?
Memphis is the infamous “City of Blues”. We have Beale Street, National and Famous Museums, and the home of Elvis Presley less than 30 minutes from each other. Every year we have family members, tourists, and travelers alike stopping by to taste the barbecue we’ve branded and see our attractions. However, beyond the rapport we’ve built for being a great tourist city in the South, there’s one generalization we cannot escape: “Yeah, I know Memphis. Y’all are on ‘The First 48 all the time”. Given my combative nature, my first instinct has always been to pull out all of the facts I know or question a statement until the person that said it actually questions it themselves. However, I’ve never been able to fight this stereotype because I don’t actually watch “The First 48” and probably never will, leaving me with no comeback.
It was a well-known fact at one point that Memphis held the #1 spot in a listing of Most Dangerous Cities produced by Forbes. With our numerous star appearances on “The First 48”, we set a standard that could not be beat and shed a light on one of our biggest problems in our city (accompanied by low literacy rates and infant mortality, but who’s looking at that). It wasn’t until 2008 that the Commercial Appeal reported a discontinuation of Memphis’ ties with the show. City Council Member Wanda Halbert expressed her concerns as such, “I heard out-of-town people say Memphis was out of control, we were exposing the world to the worst aspects of our city…”, also noting that Memphis isn’t denouncing it’s role in crime as big city, but the show “sensationalizes it”. So what is it that brings people to Memphis, you ask?
Despite and beyond our reputation, as a whole Tennessee benefits greatly from tourists every year. USAToday stated: “more than 50 million people come to Tennessee each year… tourism has an impact of more than $14 billion on the state. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most-visited national park in the country, with more than 9 million visitors each year.” Ranking #1 in tourism for West Tennessee, Memphis has a lot to offer people that don’t have access to its attractions everyday. On the other hand, people that live in Memphis see nothing new or exciting about Beale Street. We visit Beale Street every weekend to people watch, Graceland maybe once in our lives to say that we went, Mud Island really just looks like water springing into the air across the River, and we visit places like Ching’s Hot Wings more than we do our Downtown Museums. However, when someone mentions our star appearances on “The First 48” our defense mechanism is to challenge their hometown and say that Memphis is never shown in a positive light. My question, as a city tax-payer and half-native, is do we support our city in any way, or do we just protect it from being shot down? When someone shadows our light, are we coming together to pull the blanket of crime, despair, and statistics off of the underlying heart that lies underneath? As much as we want to protect others from “talking bad about our city”, what are we doing to give them something good to talk about? I’m guilty, but I’m not the only one.
The first government shutdown in almost two centuries plastered every news channel, newspaper header, and Facebook status alike . Among my peers, our first instinct was to panic and questions spurred vigorously: “Will I still get food stamps? Does that mean school is canceled tomorrow? Do I still have to pay my student loans?” Almost without hesitation, there was an invisible levee pouring us into the whirlwind of social media and outwardly voiced their opinions with little to no research on the topic. On the other hand lied myself outstretched and researching what exactly a thing like this means. Theoretically, the government is designed to control, protect, and standardize the rights and laws for all of its citizens. So what the hell did they mean they’re shutdown? Did I not vote for Barack Obama’s second term exactly a month and three days after turning eighteen? Were we abandoning ObamaCare? Did everyone just say, “We quit.”?
In my research, I found that the government shut down twice between November 1995 and January 1996 because of a similar dispute between then-President Bill Clinton of the Democratic Party and his Republican House and Speaker of the House, Gingrich. Now almost two decades later, we have a split decision that boils down to whether or not we should approve a government funded healthcare plan. Obamacarefacts.com lists a number of facts regarding the plan, and after weighing the pros and cons of the program I would personally support it. However, in the 2012 reelection of President Barack Obama we saw the appointment of two battling parties that would be forced to coexist and agree on the means for which us as citizens would live for the next four years- to this day, I preside on neither body. Now, less than a year after news headers across the nation plastered Obama’s face in every medium and while the newspaper articles still lie in my nightstand, we are witnessing a shutdown.
When a government shuts down, we are talking about the fate of many people’s jobs, homes, and daily living expenses being cut. While essential employees of the government are still paid, those who are not have been furloughed, or temporarily laid off. For students like my sister who are working interim- or internship- positions for the government, today was her first day off of work in almost three months. If the shutdown continues, an economist reported to CNN that it could “cost the economy about $55 billion”. (CNN.com) My proposed question for the Republican-lead House would be how much they’re considering the citizens versus themselves. As a governing body for billions of people, what are they saying to everyone if you don’t want the government to provide 15% of those people without healthcare with a means to live. For the South, we cannot afford to continue support the Republican Party any longer as they have made it clear that our impoverished neighborhoods and poor economy are less important than their status compared to Senate. We must consider one things: for everything we cannot afford, someone in the House can.