The time is quickly approaching for another visit to Alabama. And so also with me now are all the feelings that accompany a trip into the depths of the deep south . . . only amplified because this is an election year. . . .
Here, in these little drips and drabs that offer a bit of commentary on my life on the hill, I have tried to steer clear of politics. Not that it’s any secret which direction I lean. Not that there’s any doubt, I’m sure, in any of your minds which direction my vote will be cast when we reach November, if we can ever, ever, ever actually get to November.
But, as the man and I prepare for the trip, I can feel myself tensing. The jaw is already clenching a bit, the stomach knotting. The man looks forward to a bit of political sparring. But, of course, while he’s respectful and considerate and understanding, it’s not really his country we’re talking about now, is it. He doesn’t really know what it feels like to have people ask you about your country’s potential leaders with a sneer and laugh and a suggestion that it’s all really rather funny that this ‘great nation’ is headed down the shitter.
It’s not funny. It’s not a joke. It’s not simply a topic of conversation. It’s life. Real life. And I’m just about to step into the middle of it.
Because, of course, I’m from Alabama.
Alabama, where, I recently read, almost 20% of the population lives below the poverty line.
Alabama, the state that just lurves Donald Trump.
An embarrassing bigot. A man who preaches and promotes hate. A figure whose aim is to scapegoat anyone who can be classified as ‘the other’.
How could these people be so stupid, you wonder?
Or, maybe you don’t wonder because you’ve been told your whole life how stupid Alabamians are.
And maybe, just maybe, that’s one of the reasons Alabamians are liking Trump.
Recently, Robert Reich wrote:
“I keep getting asked if Donald Trump will survive his failure to disavow the Ku Klux Klan. Of course he will. His supporters don’t care. They support him not because he’s a conservative but because he’s an authoritarian – someone who will bully and intimidate, and even use (or tolerate) violence, to get his way.
Trump’s supporters have felt bullied for years by employers who treat them like horse manure, by politicians who take them for granted, by an economy that won’t give… them decent wages no matter how hard they work, by immigrants and minorities who appear to be driving down their wages and taking their jobs. And before that, they were probably bullied by teachers and parents who told them they would never amount to anything.
Now they’ve found their very own bully – and the meaner and more bigoted he is, the more they feel in control.”
That hit me like a punch in the gut.
Because it’s true.
You see, I might have had the redneck washed off me and my voice might have been rinsed of a bit of the hillbilly hick, but I know that background. That is my background. My history.
I sat in classrooms in the deepest pits of south Alabama with kids – black and white – who were told every single day that this world isn’t really for them. I didn’t think I was one of those kids. I wasn’t made for this hellhole that my parents had landed me in and I was headed out, or so I told myself.
And then I made it out.
To one of America’s ‘elite’ preparatory schools.
And I discovered that, in the eyes of my classmates and of my teachers, I was indeed one of those kids. Redneck. Hick. Clearly not destined for greatness. Not worth the time.
But I made it through. To a ‘northern’ school in the south.
Where I learned that it’s not just redneck hicks who are not destined for greatness, it’s southerners.
And I got hit with it again. And again. And again.
For some reason, it didn’t make me hateful. I became more, not less tolerant. My bitterness has driven me to prove that we’re better than that. That I will use your ignorance and willingness to accept the stereotype to expose your weaknesses, not mine.
But, I also left.
And, frankly, I’ve been lucky. I’ve worked hard, but I’ve been lucky too.
I don’t think that’s happened for most of those kids I sat with in elementary school. Or for lots of kids like them throughout the country.
I think Reich is right. Those kids were bullied and bullied and bullied and now all they recognize is a bully. A hateful, mean, bigoted bully.
You reap what you sow, eh?
Sad. Depressing. Ugly.
And, soon, I will hold my nose and jump into the deep end of it.