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Matthew J. Parker: The Misplaced Paean to the South

Growing up in Connecticut in the 1970s, I had a fondness for Southern Rock, and went to many a concert featuring their likes, including Lynyrd Skynyrd, Charlie Daniels, Marshall Tucker, and ZZ Top. Yet despite my attraction to their music, I kept their politics at a palpable distance because I didn’t understand the racist aspect. Toward this end, I’ve never seen much that was sweet about Alabama, a state that is even now in the Supreme Court trying to gut more of the Voting Rights Act.

Not that this ongoing insurgence is surprising. But for my part, I was closer to the philosophical pining of Bob Dylan’s Oxford Town and Neil Young’s Southern Man than I could ever have been to, say, Charlie Daniels’ Dixie-inspired paean, The South’s Gonna Do It Again. Indeed, the latter drives home the point; the eight bands mentioned in the tune are all white, as if their music was born out of the hand brandishing the bullwhip rather than, as is actually the case, the gospel and blues that came cracking painfully from its opposite end.

But despite my reservations, I maintained a modicum of admiration for southern rebels—particularly their stance against the feds. It’s easy to forget that NASCAR evolved from southern bootleggers suping up their cars in order to run moonshine illegally along the backroads of the South. As an adolescent drug addict, I could easily relate because, for me, the feds initiated the worse abuses of the drug war, not to mention Vietnam and Kent State, and this during a time when the Southern Strategy was a mere footnote in the convoluted corruption of Richard Nixon and his goons.

What I eventually learned was that southern disdain for centralized authority is an extension of the post-Civil War rebellion against federal efforts to impart a level of equality upon the scarred backs of freed slaves. Up until the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, many Southern State policies, racist or otherwise, enjoyed immunity from local law enforcement. Worse still, the latter was often complicit in the lynching of African Americans, while at best they enforced the supremacist dictates of Jim Crow like sundown towns and the Convict Leasing System.

The war on drugs is emblematic of these policies, and the fact that I was once a Connecticut Junkie in Criminal Courts bothered these southern rebels not one iota. To them, I was collateral damage in their ongoing war against everything nonwhite.

Consider, for instance, the Trump Administration ripping children from the arms of their mothers and separately imprisoning both. How the rebel cheer echoed across the Southern States at this blatant act of bigotry. In the shadow of such cruelty we are now witnessing two governors, Ron DeSantis of Florida and Greg Abbott of Texas, engaging in more of the same. Their newfound practice of shipping immigrants to blue states is the South’s latest manifestation of racism. It’s too hard to swallow that Tea Party toting, rebel-flag-waving, Robert-E-Lee worshipping southern-rocking secessionists are suddenly such sticklers for federal law; that these rugged, self-identifying outlaws who represent 150 years of ongoing southern insurgence against the overreach of federal officials would lose their lunch because an elderly Mexican lady once lied on a job application about a social security number, or a Venezuelan seeking asylum from a failed commie state committed a misdemeanor by crossing the border illegally.

“We’re a land of laws,” echoes the disingenuous mantra of conservative voters which, in an unprecedented about face, puts the decrees of the hated feds above those of both family values and honest work ethic. Yes, this is the same group of people that cheered Nevada cattle rancher Cliven Bundy when he engaged in an armed standoff with law enforcement in 2014 over the former’s idea that charging grazing fees on federal land was tantamount to tyranny; applauded even louder when, two years later, Cliven’s son Ammon Bundy and his group of anti-government militias seized at gunpoint a cabin belonging to the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon and held it for over a month, the takeover again designed to protest the so-called absolute authoritarianism of federal land policy.

Yet immigrants who were brought here as children deserve deportation for crimes as minor as traffic tickets and smoking weed. Indeed, in a move as twofaced as the Tea Party griping about protesters, our southern rebels are demanding it. From pulpits to pews to soap boxes the cry has gone up to imprison and deport 11 million odd immigrants just for working here illegally, as if it was Mexico unlawfully employing them and not bona fide American businesses.

The cry also echoes a desire to hire not only more ICE and Border Patrol Agents, but so too more Homeland Security, ATF, DEA, and FBI—even for the building of more private prisons, immigration or otherwise. So distorted has the rebel yell actually become that it sounds something like this; “The feds got it wrong with prohibition and desegregation but gosh darn it they’re right on with the drug war and illegal immigration; for those we need to expand the federal government, give it more power and more authority to imprison, deport, disenfranchise, and otherwise usurp the rights of individuals.”

But perhaps the worst vial upon their snake oil sales-shelf is that phony elixir of Christianity they pass around, like a brown bag between winos – particularly the one-dimensional cherry picking of biblical passages that cater to division. Well, here’s another one for you: Proverbs 12:22: Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord. In light of the unambiguous precision of this passage, one has to wonder why chronic mendacity appears to be far less abominable than, say, a teenager coming out, or in need of an abortion – often on the latter for a very horrific reason.

But whatever case, this constant metamorphosis of creed is proof positive that the rebel thing is all a front. That at best their opportunists grubbing in the muck for any iota of political advantage that might keep them in power, even at the expense of the Constitution, the economy, their integrity, common decency, and the now aforementioned Shining City on the Hill. While at worst they’re just racists, pure and simple, worshipping mawkishly at Trump’s bogus bone spurs while echoing the song that the South is indeed doing it. Again. 

Copyright 2022 Matthew J. Parker

Matthew J. Parker’s first book, a graphic novel, chronicles his transition from prisoner and drug addict to the Ivy League, and his work has also appeared in The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Daily Beast, The Baltimore Sun, Guernica, and The Rumpus. He currently lectures at UC Berkeley.

A supporter of President Donald Trump carries a Confederate battle flag on the second floor of the U.S. Capitol near the entrance to the Senate after breaching security defenses, in Washington, U.S., January 6, 2021. A portrait of abolitionist senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts, who was savagely beaten on the Senate floor after delivering a speech criticizing slavery in 1856, hangs above the couch. REUTERS/Mike Theiler

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