November 04, 2003

A product of the segregated north

I've been following the story of the mayor's race in philly, where katz v street is big news. What I find most interesting about this story may not be what the rest of America finds interesting. What interests me in this race, this "race" race, with its thick dividing lines between very angry voters on both sides, is that I don't think this same situation could occur in the south.

The reason is that segregation is inherent within the cultural fabric of the northeast united states.

The reason is that the south is further along on the path of trauma recovery from slavery than the north.

The reason is that the south's denial broke a long time ago.

The reason is, the north is still in denial, and the institutional machinery and economics of the northeast rely on its remaining in denial.

From a neighborhood perspective, from a community perspective, the geographic boundaries in the northeast ARE the demographic boundaries. The level of segregation I have noticed--hell, experienced--in the northeast is astounding in the year 2003. You have city, black. You have suburbs, white. You have media personalities (anchor people) White Men (maybe a black or Asian woman thrown in the mix for boldness), and you have counterculture personalities (black, Hispanic). And it's not easy to move among those dividing lines.

The mayor's race in Philly, and the breakdown of voters geographically, and the us versus them mindset, is so typical of the segregated northeast that I wonder if it really surprises me at all. The whining over bullying and injustice from the Katz people won't surprise me if he loses, the outrage and explosive rage from the Street people won't surprise me if he loses.

This is coming from someone who lived in the northeast most of her life, followed by time in Iowa, Illinois, Virginia, and now Atlanta. I know, as a mom and wife in an extra-ethnic family the last many years, the difference between living in the north and the south. I know the mindsets. I know the innuendos. I know the covert. I know the barely seen and the unseen.

I've traveled through the south over the last decade. You want a test subject in race relations, send a black man, a white woman, and a mixed child trouncing across this country.

The difference is that in the south, integration has become inherent. Travel the country roads of Alabama, where you feel the hair prickle on the back of your neck as you look at some of those old, old, crooked branch trees, flashes like whiplash of men hanging dot the spaces behind your eyes. Shiver. Chill.

You walk into a backroad convenience store. You glance at the white clerk, old and wrinkled, you wonder about his history, his daddy's history. You get your bottled water and bag of chips. You walk to the register where your husband's waiting. You see that they're talking now. The old clerk's drawing him a map of some fishing spots, and suddenly they have something in common. An old man of color with a flannel shirt walks in, nods, off looking for a tie-down for his truck. Before long someone points to an article in the paper and a loud discussion starts about the government and know nothings and know it alls, and smiles, and "oh, go on!" hand waving, and nods and, when everyone's had their say, it's: "Ya'll take care now." And you're on your way.

It doesn't matter where you go, country or city, most of what you find in the south is people. People who talk. People who like to tell stories to people. People who like to hear stories. The northeast is to the southeast what institution is to blogging.

In Atlanta, in the larger more prosperous cities of the south, the color that determines power is green. And green is NOT synonymous with White.

People live where people live. Money lives well. No money lives shitty. Colors are blended on both sides of the have and have-not divide.

Once dubbed (and proudly so) "the city too busy to hate," atlanta's success as a diverse city works because ain't no color not focused on that green color.

In some ways that makes this city an anomolie in the south. In other ways, it's just the rest of the south on steroids.

I need to write more about this, because I have something brewing on this topic, which relates to the idea of trauma and race and this country. Which relates to what communities that have begun working through that trauma look like. Which relates to where we are as a people. Which relates to just about everything.

But first I must get to work.

peace, philly.

For more on race and politics and folk, read Shelley's Dixieland post.