Being from the middle of nowhere isn’t an excuse to be racist
There’s this cringeworthy moment that comes when you’re discussing a person who said something blatantly racist, and a friend chimes in with, “Oh, well they’re from (insert historically racist southern state)?”
It’s a pretty classic, lazy defense that’s getting more bothersome with each iteration. I’m from Kentucky, a state as red as they come, but my experience is that life south of the Mason-Dixon line isn’t all too different from life anywhere else—it’s not some bubble of childlike ignorance where everyone is stuck in the 1950s. Basically, being from the middle of nowhere/the South isn’t an excuse to be a s—ty person.
I don’t mean to downplay the effects of political socialization that comes from the families we grow up in or the regions from which we hail. These things obviously have an influence on the opinions you form and the ideology you eventually claim, but where you’re from does NOT have to define the person you become socially or politically.
At some point, holding onto problematic viewpoints you learned from your family—or “southern tradition”—becomes a choice. This is especially true in the case of those privileged enough to pursue higher level education.
In my experience, the people who have had the aforementioned excuse made on their behalf have a few key traits in common—they’re white, Southern, male Washington University students. Certain implications stem from these traits, but one rises above the others. Each time the lazy excuse has been used, the person in question has previously had every opportunity in the world to educate himself on right and wrong.
If students are intelligent enough to earn admission to Washington University, they’re intelligent enough to pay attention to what’s happening around them and to decide what side they want to be on.
These are people who have certainly encountered opinions that differ from theirs. Yet, when faced with the choice to learn about those differences and educate themselves or to stick with what they know, have elected to remain ignorant.
So, don’t give your friend some sort of “pass” because they’re from the South. Perpetuating the idea that racism is contained to the South allows an ignorance to grow that normalizes racism everywhere else. Making racism about problems in the South just limits the conversation and keeps real change from happening.
Stop making excuses for your friends’ problematic tendencies.