Whistling Dixie Yet Again

After the 2004 elections and with the reality sinking in of another disastrous four years with George Bush, I wrote an article that appeared in counterpunch.org entitled “Whistling Dixie: Bush’s Reelection–a Perspective from the South” (November 13-14, 2004). I placed Bush in the context of the southern white male elite that he is. The revealing and poignant responses I received from readers across the country from this article were quite remarkable and I wanted to share them as we go into year six of George sitting up there in the White House. The comments range from sex in the south, to environmental degradation, to the disastrous aftermath of the Civil War.

Just to re-cap my article on the election, the introduction was as follows: “The 2004 presidential election results were sobering for millions of Americans. The pundits say that “values” and “morals” were key to the re-election of George Bush and that the Republican rhetoric resonated with the Christian “values” of huge numbers of voters. For those of you not used to the hypocrisy of Christian Evangelical values and morals ­ welcome to the South. You had better start learning about southern history–it’s religious, social, racist and economic history–because the nation is now poised to become the South writ large. As writer Gavin Wright said in 1986, the nation was “coming to resemble the economy of the antebellum South when slave owners were ruthless and footloose because their wealth was portable.”

Most of what the GOP espoused has its roots in the South. George Bush, after all, has tried desperately to become a good southern boy and bow down to his Evangelical base. He likes his guns, he cares nothing about the environment, he wears his religion on his sleeve, he likes the death penalty, he’s born again, he lies, he’s deceitful, believes government money should be doled out to his friends. All of these are time honored traditions and values among the Southern white elite.

For years writers have intimated that the South was rising again. Little did we think this meant that the Southern mindset was to poison the entire country. For those who think that Southern exploitation has been exclusively racist, think again. The Southern plantation elite and its progeny exploit everything and everyone. They have used race as the primary trump card to control the southern electorate and the economy, but they have also used their Evangelical roots to bolster their claims. Let’s reflect a little about this because some of us in the south have a lot to say about the white elite in the region.”

And southerners most certainly did respond and do have a lot to say about the southern white elite, (and, of course, there was the inevitable “I thought all you folks disappeared with the Soviet Union,”), but first I’ll start with responses from those above the Mason Dixon line.

From Michigan, Tom, who describes himself as ‘”an angry old man who was an angry young man in the 60s” wrote,

“Right on, Heather. I have been telling everyone who will listen here in Michigan about the old Southern Bourbons. Those wily bastards just went underground after Mr. Lincoln’s boys in blue whipped their asses. As far as I am concerned, the Slavocracy was the original Evil Empire. As a union man for all my working life, I know why those bastards hate unions–because we insist that all our members be treated with equal dignity, both economically and personally. Just wages? Hell, no. There is a theory that the great de-industrialization of the Northeast and the Midwest was aided and abetted by these latter day Southern Nazis. Wouldn’t surprise me. Things really went down hill after they murdered JFK, Bobby, Martin…Those gentlemen believed, as Lincoln did, that a government’s sole purpose is to provide the greatest good for the greatest number. I am so angry now for all the boys in blue, both black and white, and all the Vets, like my 83 year old Dad, who fought the Nazis and the Japanese Fascists, both black and white, so that we could remain free. I am angry for the insult to those who marched, bled, and died in the 60s for human rights all across this land! As far as I am concerned, this government as presently constituted, can have no claim on our obedience or our consciences. It is a lawless, criminal enterprise. We have a duty to confront it, to oppose it, in the names of all those who died so that we could be free. “

From Maine, I received this gem:

“Well said and ‘right on’. I am from Maine–the State where the Abolitionist Movement started and the last stop on the ‘Underground Railroad’ before freedom in Canada. I was taught that the Civil War was fought 150 years ago and that the evil ‘Slave Owners’ were vanquished from our land–oops….they’re back–in fact, they never left.

All my youthful experiences came to mind. You see, I was drafted into the Viet Nam War and got stationed in the South. I got there just in time to actually see ‘white only’ fountains in Bus Stations and ‘sit to the back of the bus’ and, my real favorite–Churches with ‘whites only’ on them. I freaked out!!! What I had only seen on TV–the Civil Rights struggle–MLK–and the unbelievable actions of the Southern White Racist Establishment et. al. was actually True! The lynchings, the mysterious deaths of civil rights workers, the fire hoses & dogs turned on peaceful marchers, the arrests and despicable and violent behavior of the Police, the Church bombings of children, et cetera ad nauseam.

Now, I am informed by the Media that the Election turned on “Moral Values”!!! Well, as I have told my friends for years, and I would tell anyone today–if these are Morals Values, I don’t Want Any!!!”

Here’s a comment from another disenchanted Vietnam Vet ­ this time from Wisconsin:

“As a born and bred yankee, I went to the south, specifically Lake Charles, Louisiana for the work after serving two tours in Vietnam.

I come from a small town of under 500 people in northern Wisconsin, and, to say the least, the economic prospects were and still are mighty bleak. The economic prospects of the petrochemical industries were mighty attractive in the early 70’s.

In the polluting and I must say murderous petrochemical plants in the south, I was well compensated financially, and shunned societially for the accident of my birthplace. and I became sympathetic and allied with the local ‘colored’ folk-we were almost equally despised, I being slightly more tolerable because of my white skin. I hated the racism. I had done two tours in Vietnam and that experience had turned me against racism forever.

I enjoyed your perspective and can relate to it with gut wrenching memoriesYour simple and categorical truths, as I witnessed as an outsider, brought back a lot of memories.”

All right, now from the SouthI’ll start with a comment in reference to the on-going exploitation of working folks in the south. This writer was born in Georgia in a town juxtaposed to Atlanta. Obviously feeling discouraged, he wrote:

“You got it right. I’m a 43 year old white male, born and raised in (Georgia). Luckily, I went to college and spent my junior year studying and learning Spanish/Latin American Studies in Mexico. I’m now an ESOL teacher at my old high school. We now have a new low wage worker to exploit- my students’ families from Latin America. Sometimes I want to just give up and move to a “Blue” state. I’m not sure how much more I can take. I feel just like a stranger in the land where I was born. I thought for many years we were moving forward, progressing. Now I just don’t know.”

Then there’s this rather gripping note from a writer in rural Tennessee. Like many whites and blacks in the South, she likely has a hate/love relationship with the region, but at this point she simply wants out! She refers to the difficulty of openly discussing issues in the closed society of the rural south and of being ostracized by her family for her progressive views. She describes having lived in Tennessee for 44 years and then moving to California for 13 years until she recently moved back to rural Tennessee for family reasons. She said

“I have spent my life in learning and research ­ a professional interior designer ­ consultant to Fortune 500 companies in the areas of creativity and learning ­ a futurist, poet, author, have a degree in interior design, am working on a master’s in humanistic psychology, and have a D. Div.

Of course, everything you say is correct and absolutely true. We are living in an intellectual, psychological, and spiritual gulag. I would never have come back here but for my child and grandchild. My son and I plan to move back to the west, at least, and are even talking about immigrating to Canada. We will have to work hard for another two or three years, but we will definitely not stay here.

(Note: In reference to my article’s comments about workers being exploited by the southern elite, she expressed concern for her grandchild who she wants to take out of the south.) “(I have no) intention” she said” of allowing (my grandson) to become cannon fodder for some rich, fat, white guy.

I was raised in privilege, went to a private girl’s preparatory school, was a member of the Junior League, went to the assorted balls, etc. I don’t know why I turned out to be so awake, conscious, and aware, given that background. I am different from and vilified by my family. I only know that I have been willing to take extraordinary risks with my life. It has cost me everything, but I quote Maya Angelou when I say: ‘Wouldn’t take nothing for my journey now.’ I think the fundamental difference may be a willingness to ask questions, learn, grow, and become ever larger in spirit.

As far as I am concerned, we are in the mid-life crisis of our species and are in the dark night of our soul here in America. We are in for terrible trouble in this country and in this world. It will soon be too late to repair the environment, not to mention the vast human suffering throughout the world.

The southeast is filled with a vicious sort of arrogance that is based upon ignorance and a lust for power and control, and too many people appear to be determined not to become more conscious, more informed, much less more compassionate.”

In my article I referred to the hypocrisy of evangelicals, yet didn’t mention “sex” and should have. One the most compelling responses I received was about southern sexual perversion, but before sharing that, here are a few introductory comments.

Growing up in Methodist pews as a white Christian in the south and being warned by preachers about any impulse, particularly sexual, I, and many of us young folks, began to think that even ‘breathing’ was sinful. When these southern evangelicals spew fire and brimstone, it was only later that I learned that I needed to take their commands with a grain of salt, or rather no salt, as there was one heck of lot of licentious hypocritical tidbits going on behind the scenes. Arkansas writer Suzi Parker describes this best in her book “Sex in the South: Unbuckling the Bible Belt.”

In the forward to her book, that she wisely calls instead “foreplay”, Parker writes

“The first time a boy told me that he wanted to fuck me, I was sitting on a pew in the First Baptist Church in Russelville, Arkansas, a small town on the edge of the Ozark Mountains. A chubby blond classmate to whom I had never given a second glance in high school passed me a note asking to do that very thing, earning him my contempt and a withering go-to-hell glance. I never spoke to him after that, and I certainly never accepted his offer. But years later, I was amused ­ but not entirely shocked ­ to discover at a class reunion that he had become a minister. That’s the South, where what you see is never what you get. Peer behind the hymnals and homilies as I do to find out what really happens when the pastor’s not looking. The region is a full-to-capacity carnal playground where the den mother buys dildos, the principal is a swinger, and the preacher is a porn fiend.

The region I call home is a surreal bubbling cocktail of unbridled desire, uber-Bible thumping, and unapologetic hypocrisy.No doubt about it,–the South is the nation’s premier sexual hothouse, be it on unpaved back roads or in covert country club powder rooms.the deal in Dixie is that everybody does it but no one talks about it.there’s one rule of thumb: deny, deny, deny ­ unless the romp was with your own spouse. Even then, sex is considered sacred and off-limits in conversation.”

Responding to my article was this remarkably revealing note from a former Georgian. It speaks volumes about the hypocrisy in Southern churches and echoes Parker’s and my observations.

“Speaking of the South,” he said, “I was baptized in the First Baptist Church (in rural Georgia, with close affiliation to the Southern Baptist Convention).

There, the organist was a homosexual pedophile who committed unspeakable acts literally in the church sanctuary. The pastor was having an adulterous affair with a female church member.

I know all this, because I was living in the home of the parents of one of the pedophile’s ‘willing’ victims. When I told my ‘father’ (who was actually my uncle, but at the time, I didn’t know it. He had told me–when I was about 8 yrs. old that ‘they’ got me out of an orphanage when I was two weeks old, and no one in the world wanted me, and they ‘took me in’.), he reacted in his usual scary-mad, ominously threatening manner. At ME! See, one of his ‘boys’ was actually living with the homosexual pedophile, who had purchased a house two doors away.

So, the philandering pastor and the pedophile each were able to indulge their various carnal appetites largely free of scrutiny of one another, because they both knew something about the other!

I left my ‘home’ in Georgia, headed for the Tidewater Bay a few months before my 16th birthday in 1960.

I was born a bastard in (South) Carolina. My biological father was a Jew from Texas. My birth mother was a Methodist from South Carolina.

I knew nothing of my origins (and still know very little), but the people who ‘took me in’ were diehard evangelical Southern Baptists. Together with their three sons, we were all taken to services twice on Sunday and for ‘Prayer Meeting’ on Wednesday night. All revival services, every night.

Those fine people knew the truth about me, yet in all the years of their criminal abuse of me, they never flinched from making anti-semitic remarks.

The First Baptist Church (was the) home of child abusers, bigots, pimps, pedophiles and a preacher with the morals of an alley cat.

Those historical FACTS may not rival the Civil War and Jim Crow, but students of Southern history shouldn’t be surprised to learn them. And folks who want to understand the deep-rooted gene pool that produces voters who can’t stand to do anything that isn’t hypocritical, criminal, or just plain mean and exploitative of others…might profit from Chapter one of ‘my story’.

It would take a while (“spell”) to explain to you how my own personal experience is living proof that the Plantation mentality is indeed alive and well in the South. To those who say ‘you really believe THAT’, I respond: ‘BELIEVE it? Hell, I’ve seen it with my own eyes!

Let me know if you think of anything else I can speak up about! I’ve got plenty to say. And, being a 100% genuine white-ish bastard, I’m unafraid to tell it, signify it, and let the Hellions loose.”

When my fellow Georgian sent his note, I was not in the least surprised. He, in fact, offered names and addresses that I did not include here and have yet to corroborate his experience. Nevertheless, sexual perversion in the midst of Southern religious fire and brimstone, along with moral repression, seem a natural blend. In all fairness, not all churches are like that described above, but it’s always worth some healthy skepticism.

I agree with Parker when she says she’ll not leave the South. “Yankees tell me that if I had a good head on my shoulders I’d leave and never look back.Actually, it’s very easy to understand. The schizophrenic land of Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler slakes my thirsty curiosity more than any big-city Northern romp ever could.” She’s right. There’s never a dull moment below the Mason Dixon line.

I’ll conclude with a comment from another southerner who was born, he said, on a “dirt farm” in north Alabama. “Thank you for what is perhaps the most insightful analysis I have seen on the present situation here in the South—- By the way I am a 63 yr old white male— The truth is the truth and you have told it—The other possibility is that the bastards just stole the election.”

HEATHER GRAY is the producer of “Just Peace” on WRFG-Atlanta 89.3 FM covering local, regional, national and international news. She lives in Atlanta, Georgia and can be reached at hmcgray@earthlink.net.


Heather Gray is a writer and radio producer in Atlanta, Georgia and has also lived in Canada, Australia, Singapore, briefly in the Philippines and has traveled in southern Africa. For 24 years she has worked in support of Black farmer issues and in cooperative economic development in the rural South. She holds degrees in anthropology and sociology. She can be reached at hmcgray@earthlink.net.