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Race and Beyond: Secession Isn’t the Answer

SOURCE: AP/Bruce Smith

Flags adorn graves in the Southern soldiers ground in Magnolia Cemetery in Charleston, South Carolina. A controversial new book by Chuck Thompson suggests that Southern and Northern Americans can't live with each other, and therefore the South ought to secede from the North.

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I am a Southerner and proud of it. I’m also a black American and proud of it, too. Is there an inherent contradiction? Not one that I can see.

A provocative column by AlterNet editor and senior writer Joshua Holland seems to hint otherwise. Holland interviews Chuck Thompson, a travel writer and the author of Better Off Without ‘Em: A Northern Manifesto for Southern Secession, a book of dubious merit based on his tour of the American South and his conversations with the folks who live there. Thompson’s thesis: Northern and Southern Americans can’t live with each other so the nation should consider a regional divorce.

In his interview with Holland, Thompson—who is better known for his comedic writing than his political scholarship—argues his book isn’t a tongue-in-cheek romp. Rather, he insists (a tad too earnestly for my sensibilities) that the book is a fact-filled effort to:

…get away from the traditional stereotypes of the dim-witted, mouth-breathing, Southern racist redneck and really look at what’s going on today. Find out why people are still having these issues with the South, and put some hard research and some facts and figures behind this general unease with the influence that the South has on the rest of the country.

He does this by making gross assumptions—grounded, of course, in crunched numbers of his choosing—about people who live in both the North and South. As Thompson said in his interview:

What really led to this call for secession was understanding that a lot of people from the South are just as sick and tired of people like Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid having an impact on their country as I am sick of people like Newt Gingrich and Jeff Sessions, Eric Cantor, Haley Barbour having an impact on my country.

Despite his protestations to the contrary, this is a joke book in the genre of The Yuppie Handbook, a silly little ‘80s-era paperback that sparked conversation about what it meant to be a young, urban professional. Not that there’s anything wrong with writing insipid tomes to cash in on social observations. At first blush, such piffle is entertaining, similar to how a Jon Stewart skit is amusing.

But just as “The Daily Show” has become a single source of informative news for so many people, Thompson’s book has a darker undertone that, if left unchecked, does damage to clear thinking. Worse, it reinforces the notion that differences among the American people should be rejected, not encouraged.

The South that I know intimately isn’t so easily defined in a red state/blue state mentality. That’s especially true as we realize the evolving state of race relations across the region and nation.

Researchers at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, (my southern alma mater) recently reported that a “browner, grayer and more culturally diverse population and workforce” will transform the nation in coming years. Specifically, they noted:

More than half of the nation’s population growth during the past decade (51.4 percent) occurred in Southern states, driven in part by an in-migration of an estimated 2.3 million newcomers from nearly all demographic groups—blacks, Hispanics, the elderly and the foreign born.

This trend is likely to continue and will alter the sociopolitical environment of the South. In short order, an Electoral College map will be more nuanced as the Mason-Dixon line blurs its hard border dividing the red states from the blue states.

To be sure, a blurred and mingling life is how Southerners already live across the region. Consider, for example, Brittney Reese, who won the Olympic gold medal for the long jump in this year’s Summer Olympics. She represented so many constituents with her athletic skill, becoming the first American woman to win the long jump since 1988.

According to the Associated Press, about 1,000 people turned out at the tiny Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport to greet her as she arrived back home on Sunday in Mississippi. Reese was clear in her remarks that her heart belonged in her native state, deep in the heart of Dixie. “I would like to just present this to y’all and show y’all what y’all have done,” she said, holding up her gold medal for the cheering crowd of Mississippians.

That scene might never have happened if the South weren’t a big part of what constitutes the United States of America. Secession? Hell, no!

Sam Fulwood III is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress and Director of the CAP Leadership Institute. His work with the Center’s Progress 2050 project examines the impact of policies on the nation when there will be no clear racial or ethnic majority by the year 2050.

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This is part of a regular column: Race and Beyond

For more from the same column, click here