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Is the South Still Prejudiced?

A Cartersville native examines modern day race relations in the region.

Earlier this summer, Kristy Spivey received a phone call informing her that the Kingston home she recently purchased had been vandalized. When Spivey, an African-American woman, surveyed the property damage, she was shocked and dismayed to find the letters “KKK” spray painted on her garage door.

Only in Georgia,” she subsequently told .

You don’t have to be a well-versed historian to recognize the state’s fluctuating track record with racial intolerance. The same environment that produced Martin Luther King Jr. also produced Lester Maddox, and even more paradoxically, Wayne Williams and Hosea Williams; simultaneously, contradictorily, we are a culture with serious, conflicting attitudes toward race relations.

The question is not, nor has it ever really been, whether or not Georgian society is “racist.” Racism is perhaps the most overused and misappropriated concept currently channeling through the American lexicon—by its very definition, “racism” is an outmoded, 19th Century pseudo-science that all but the most fervent of agitators (your David Dukes and the like) have discarded as archaic. The proper term for our cultural ill would be prejudice—the prejudgment of people based on irrational or unfounded fears and misconceptions. Obviously, there is no denying that prejudice remains rampant throughout our culture to this very day.

Of course, things are not as physically heated as they were 50 years ago. Widespread prejudice is no longer seen as “tolerable,” and it’s certainly not accepted in public venues by any means. Although police clashes and cross burnings may not be as prevalent now as they were half a century ago, that same sentiment lingers in the air, the scent of a long-burning fire that while quelled, is anything but icy embers.

Prejudice exists, although in a more furtive form than it was five decades prior. Blacks and whites commingle in , and work and interact in public on a daily basis, but culturally, they remain segregated. They go to different churches, they eat at different restaurants and they attend different concerts. Sure, there’s some crossover, but by and large, we remain a culture that’s equal but separate: same school, different lunch tables, same job, different neighborhoods.

The hardship Spivey encountered is an increasing rarity in today’s south; while there are some that like to drag around their prejudicial dispositions publicly, a majority of modern discrimination occurs behind closed doors. Prejudicial speech is more encoded than it was even 20 years ago; for every on-the-nose faux pas Don Imus and Rush Limbaugh make about “nappy-headed” basketball players and “bi-racial cookies” named after President Barack Obama, there are thousands more that are uttered in secrecy and passed around in well-guarded, forwarded emails. Our society has clearly determined that there’s no place for prejudice in public affairs; unfortunately, that’s not exactly a policy we hold in place for our private affairs, too.

We may say that we believe all men are created equal, but at the same time, some of us experience incredible unease fathoming our children marrying outside their race. We may say that we believe in the ideals of brotherly love, but at the same time, we feel wary traveling to certain neighborhoods and locales. We may say that we consider unrepentant race-baiters and bigots deplorable, but we may tell a tasteless joke at a party or laugh when we receive an email mocking or stereotyping people of a different ethnicity. We convince ourselves that such convictions and acts don’t make us prejudiced; in fact, one of our greatest social fears is that our utterances and behaviors behind closed doors gets leaked to the waiting world.

In other words, we’re hypocrites. We advocate and embrace a set of ideals when others are looking and sully and discard those ideals when we’re among like-skinned colleagues. That’s not to say that prejudice is an ingrained part of the southern experience as much as it is a general observation about American life; lest history be ignored, don’t pretend that the southeast region is the only part of the nation that’s had troubles dealing with race relations.

Prejudice, at least in the modern sense of the word, is dying out. With an ever-changing population, it simply has to: the United States is no longer a hegemony of empowered whites, and as such, the prejudices of the past will, and are, going to be exorcised as history continues. Racial prejudice, and most definitely its more radical incarnations, is something that can only exist under certain conditionals, and those conditionals are growing weaker and weaker each passing day in America.

There’s no excuse for the kind of suffering Kristy Spivey went through. Such behavior is regressive not only socially, but detrimental in terms of our communal knowledge and civility. It’s irrational, outdated and wholly inexcusable, an unnecessary throwback to our ugliest and most simple-minded natures. Perhaps the work of uneducated or misinformed malcontents, the crude scrawling found on that garage door in Kingston is a reminder of both our past and our future as a culture; that the ghosts of our pasts have yet to fully vanish, and that one day, we’re destined to bury such skeletons in the Georgia clay for good.

Bill Thrasher September 15, 2011 at 12:39 PM
It seems we have two options to consider as to the identity of the culprits that scrawled the letters in Kingston. One, they are white-sheeted dangerous adults who would gladly steal from minorities only and do far worse if given the opportunity, or two...they are just young punks who didn't even have the wherewithal to come up with something far more original. I choose #2.
Becky Hadley September 15, 2011 at 03:52 PM
Bill your comment may be correct however it does disturb me when you use the word "just" in your post. JUST young punks? Are you excusing their bad behavior? What would you say if it were young black punks who attacked a white person? We all need to do some soul searching...racism is alive a well and is shown everyday between ALL races...we have grown to polite to say it to each other faces...but it still exists. Btw, I am a white female 59 years old southern Baptist and not on any government subsidized program and never have been. I had to say that because I am often accused of such when I post (more racism and prejudice). I also will admit that if I see some black teens coming down the street I find another path and have also heard blacks call me the "white committee". First step of solving a problem is to admit there is one but we still have a way to go. When anyone out there find themselves wanting to respond to my post, you might want to think about why you are defending yourself no matter what color you are. There are many forms of hate.
J.M. Prince September 16, 2011 at 04:48 AM
Inexcusable behavior from any quarter, but neither the South in particular or the US in general is any more endemically racist than any other culture. There's just different targets and scape goats in other cultures, and a variety of different ways to express this. This unfortunate incident, no matter the source should not be seen as a 'stand in' to condemn any one culture or region. Sadly, it's all too common universally. JMP
Janice P September 17, 2011 at 01:02 PM
I agree with a portion of what you are saying Becky. "Racism is alive and well between all races". Racism is culture and culture is learned. It's a part of nature.
Bill Thrasher September 21, 2011 at 07:36 PM
you make a valid point Becky. I would stand by my "just" usage though. Through many years of law enforcement, at the State level and certainly here in Bartow, rarely did I ever see anything that I would call "dangerous racism". It was ignorance absolutely, and likely taught to them by their Parents. I also think it is pretty generally limited to scrawling some hate speech on someone's wall
Bill Thrasher September 21, 2011 at 07:36 PM
very well said Mr. Prince
Wanda October 11, 2011 at 12:44 AM
If I received an email with prejudicial speech, I'd wonder what I said or did to give the impression that I was of the same persuasion. I think being a recipient of said email gives pause to re-evaluate your own beliefs, actions, and speech.
kim September 10, 2012 at 06:43 AM
Well well well I think it is very sad that we are still in a place of hate of any kind it actually is very sad to a person of any culture look down on another because they are different Hate is a sickness and the only real cure is authentic love selah
Carl December 02, 2012 at 09:36 PM
It's funny how only whites are being noticed for such behavior, what about the victims of all the random flash mob attacks oh in which all the victims happened to be white or how about Black Panthers at the voter poles intimidating voters with clubs yelling" your gonna be ruled by the black man crackers" and when Obama came into office charges were thrown out. Black on white crimes are far more rampant than vice versa, only its never reported or prosecuted. I always ask myself when are whites gonna stop being submissive apathetic cowards your race is diminishing before your eyes. Do you seriously think when you become a small minority you will be afforded the same luxuries and opportunities as "so called" minorities as now? And I use the term "so called" because the birth rate just now deemed us the minority. You better think about the future of your children and your children's children and their exsistance white man instead of worrying about the football scores. It's not about hate its about survival. Will your kin survive? You better stop looking to society for consultation and approvals and read the writing on the wall before its too late and really look at society and what's happening to your people before its too late.. "we must secure the exsistance of our people and a future for white children"

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