Living Out Loud
April 9th, 2024

The Southern Problem

Old homestead
Old homestead

Where I Fit In


I'm in the oldest cohort of Generation X. Born in 1965 in the south (North Carolina), I was in the first generation to attend integrated schools for a full twelve years. My parents grew up and were educated in the Jim Crow era. I've lived my entire life in the states of the old confederacy, yet somehow managed to end up on the progressive side of the political spectrum. As a white male with no higher education but with military service and work experience in manufacturing in my background, I'm very much an anomaly. 

The Bad


There's plenty of stuff about the south about which to be frustrated. We are the least unionized area of the country and not coincidentally we have the lowest wages and highest poverty rates. Our per-pupil spending and K-12 educational outcomes are the worst in the nation. Republican controlled state governments have stymied Medicaid expansion and our life expectancy is low, while our infant mortality rates are high. Despite draconian laws and high execution rates, our crime rates out strip other areas. Even our broadband access is lower than places outside of the South. To top it all off is the endemic racism that is exemplified by the continuous reverence of Civil War icons. Did you know that when Dixie is played in Alabama, most of the white people stand up as if for the national anthem?

The Good


To not stay perpetually distressed about the state of things here, I choose to concentrate on what there is to like about the South. I'm grateful for the African influence on Southern life - from the way our cooking has evolved to the way Sothern music, country, bluegrass and Southern rock has been influenced by black artists and traditions. I'm proud of our civil rights background. SNCC (Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee) was founded in Raleigh. A famous anti-Klan event, the Battle of Hayes Pond took place in the county adjoining the one where I live. I've been lucky enough to encounter and work with some of the most dedicated activists in history: veterans of the voting rights struggle, labor organizers in Southern textile mills and committed anti-war veterans willing to demonstrate at the gates of our military bases.

Although our primary and secondary educational systems suffer, our higher educational institutions are among the country's best. I work at a small private university with an active DEI program and an international student population from over 50 countries. The 2020 election and the unexpected Democratic victories in Georgia show how close the electoral struggle actually is. Although my home state hasn't gone Blue in a presidential election since 2008, we voted out a GOP governor who supported a hugely unpopular anti-trans bathroom bill and replaced him with a pro-choice, pro-Medicaid, pro-labor Democrat.

I love what everyone should love about their home: the familiarity, the people, the weather. I've traveled all over the country. I've been to Europe. I'm not blind to the benefits of other places. I just happen to like my little Southern city, full of good people. The beach is a couple of hours away and the mountains only a couple more. I work in a system that I actively strive to make better, as we all should. I'm not one for proclaiming southern pride but neither am I ashamed. We all have to be from somewhere.