We Are No Longer a 'United' States of America, and We May Never Be Again
There was a map designed a few years ago (that was recently passed around again) based on the book American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America by Colin Woodard, a reporter up here at the Portland Press Herald . It looks like this:
The map reflected the dominant cultures of each region of the United States, and Woodard suggested that these regional differences have only grown stronger. “Our continent’s famed mobility has been reinforcing, not dissolving, regional differences, as people increasingly sort themselves into like-minded communities.”
In other words, the red states are getting redder, and the blue states are getting bluer, because we all relocate into states that best reflect our cultural values.
The United States of America is no longer one country, culturally speaking. There are plenty of pockets of progressivism in the South — Chapel Hill, Austin, Fayetteville, Houston, New Orleans, Athens — but the dominant culture of the South no longer reflects the values of my United States of America, and frankly, I’m tired of being associated with the other America.
Today, the Mississippi Governor signed a bill into law allowing businesses to flat-out discriminate against gay people. And it’s not just gay people — it’s anyone whose “lifestyles violate their religious beliefs.” Somehow, I suspect the RV park owner who evicted an interracial couple this week in Mississippi will find a way to frame that under her religious beliefs, too.
Meanwhile, North Carolina recently passed a law, the first of its kind in the nation, that requires transgender people to use bathrooms that comport with the sex listed on their birth certificates. It also blocks lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people from enjoying anti-discrimination protections.
Similar laws are being considered in 10 states. You can guess where those 10 states are located. But you guys, it’s not about hate, it’s about heritage! It’s not about bigotry, it’s about religious freedom!
There are a lot of great people in the South. Progressive, kind, inclusive. Many of our fine readers hail from the South. But they’re in the minority now. And that minority is getting smaller. I’d love to argue that those people should go out and vote, and make their voices heard, but in a place like Mississippi or Alabama or Arkansas, their votes don’t mean a goddamn thing anymore outside of the occasional local election. It sucks to live in a state where your voice is basically meaningless. It’s part of the reason why I left: I can’t change those minds, and those minds are hardening and multiplying. It’s easy enough to find like-minded friends in a place like that, but the laws of the land are never going to reflect our values. All you’ll ever feel is disappointment because at the end of every election night, your state’s representatives are going to look like Ted Cruz or Donald Trump or Phil Bryant.
The Supreme Court presumably will eventually take care of laws like the one passed in Mississippi today, so long as the majority of the country continues to elect Presidents like Obama, Bernie, or Hillary, but as we saw when gay marriage was legalized across the country, it’s not going to change minds in the Deep South. And those states — many of which are already poor — are going to hurt even more when companies and business pull out because of discriminatory laws, as PayPal did today in North Carolina. Poor states are going to get poorer, and the educated and affluent people are going to continue to relocate to places with more opportunities, leaving behind stronger concentrations of bigotry and religious zealotry until states like Mississippi and Alabama and Arkansas won’t even be recognizable as the welcoming melting pot of America. They’re going to be left with big pots of stone soup begging the rest of America for carrots and potatoes and we’re going to have to use our vegetables as leverage to force them to change their laws. But we won’t change their minds.
I’m sure they’d say the same thing about us “Yankees” — as we used to call anyone who lived above the Mason Dixon line — but that’s not my country anymore. We are no longer a United States, because I fucking refuse to unite with anyone who would refuse service to a couple at a goddamn Cracker Barrel because they are gay. It’s 2016, and we can no longer accept transphobia and homophobia as anything less than a human rights violation, and Phil Bryant as anything less than a criminal.
Purchase American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America by Colin Woodard, which was recently reviewed in the Cannonball Read by Lainie Phigue.
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