Reconstructing the New South

“Nashville’s going to be a progressive, diverse city and there’s nothing that you can do about it. Millennials moving from up north and foreigners immigrating from across the border have changed the city’s population and thus changed the city’s way of life – for the better. Nashville isn’t a Southern city anymore and is never going to be a Southern city again – good! Neither are Annapolis, Asheville, Atlanta, Austin, Charlotte, Dallas, Houston, New Orleans, Raleigh-Durham, San Antonio, and all of ‘Washington and Lee’s’ Northern Virginia, which is now just a suburb of Washington, D.C. That’s not even counting the Southern cities that just became outright slums, like Baltimore, Birmingham, Memphis, St. Louis, and Vicksburg. The South may have lost the war 150 years ago, but it is only just now being conquered.”

That was the gist of a conversation which I had with a family member’s (now-ex, mercifully) significant other. In spite of his distaste for the South, he was passionate about Nashville, just not for the historical, traditional Nashville – not for Nashville’s organic, homegrown culture – not for what originally made Nashville, well, “Nashville” – but for “nu-Nashville” – for “country-western” meets “cosmopolitan Nashville – for Nashville as just another city that could be anywhere, populated with people from nowhere. To him, Nashville was a good place to live not because of anything unique about Nashville, but because it had lots of modern amenities: “ethnic” foods, craft breweries, live music, and so on. His passion for Nashville was not the passion that we have for our hometowns, for the people, places, and “praxis” that shape our identities, but that of a booster or lobbyist for his product or client.

This unpleasant conversation came back to me after coming across “Reading the New South,” an op-ed in The New York Times by the Nashville-based opinionator Margaret Renkl.

Renkl recalls how, when she posted on Facebook an article of hers about the natural beauty of the Mobile-Tensaw Delta, someone commented, “Except that it’s in Alabama.” Stung by such an ignorant, arrogant insult, Renkl responds by promoting various “New-South” publications, which, at best, prove that South is not really as benighted as fellow Times-reading liberal elitists believe, and at the very least, prove that there are people like her who hate the South as much as Times readers do, too. As Renkl puts it, “These publications blast sweet-tea-and-moonshine preconceptions to convey the nuances of a region where people are rarely as ornery and dumb as they’re held to be in the national imagination.”

“Rarely as ornery as dumb as they’re held to be in the national imagination.” I’ll Take My Stand, this op-ed is not.

Renkl’s response to the hatred of her home is not to defend the South as the South. Her response is not to take pride in the achievements of the Southern nation – its contributions to the American union and Western civilization. Her response is not an unapologetic expression of Southern identity and solidarity. Renkl’s response to these ignorant, arrogant liberal elitists is to sell her own people down the river and make a separate peace herself. The “New South” espouses all the trendiest social critiques and hates itself for its ugliness and stupidity. To Renkl, being a proud Southerner in 2018 does not mean a sense of self-consciousness and self-confidence, as it does for every other ethno-cultural group in the world, but rather self-abasement.

The first publication in Renkl’s “New-South” showcase is the Oxford, Mississippi-based Oxford American, which she commends for “celebrating the artistic innovations of the region but refusing to gloss over its manifold shortcomings.” Oxford American is the oldest of these “New-South” publications, and in Renkl’s opinion, “it set the tone for all the publications that followed.”

“Why was my great-great-grandfather always referred to as ‘Robert Singleton, the Civil-War veteran who lost his leg at Murfreesboro, then went on to become Clerk of the Country Court,’ rather than ‘Robert Singleton, whose life was saved, twice, by the black man his family had enslaved?’” whines one author in an article from the Oxford American’s fall issue. “Moreover, what did all this say about the America Papa so revered?”

Renkl is right: this really does set the tone for the rest.

Next up is Facing South, a publication of the Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina-based Institute for Southern Studies, a civil-rights group dedicated to “exposing injustice, strengthening democracy, and building community for change in the South.” Facing South describes itself as “a voice for a changing South,” and has “recent articles on voting rights during Reconstruction, South Carolina’s present refusal to evacuate convicts in advance of Hurricane Florence, and delays in compensation for people sickened by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.”

The Institute for Southern Studies is about as “Southern” as the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Then there is the Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina-based Scalawag, which somehow manages to be even worse than it sounds. Scalawag “fosters critical conversations about the many Souths where we live, love, and struggle and aims to empower activists, artists, and writers to reckon with Southern realities as they are, rather than as they seem to be.” To put it in leftist terminology that Scalawag will surely appreciate, what they are doing is deconstructing and appropriating Southern culture to further an agenda of colonization. “Recent stories confront toxic masculinity, explain how to fight racism through the auspices of craft beer, collect a range of Latinx poetry from around the American South [a “Latinx” is not some sort of cat, but rather the gender-neutral form of “Latino”], and report on Syrian cuisine in small-town Georgia.”

There is nothing quite as Southern as feminist critiques of the masculine social construct, vegan chocolate dreamsicle milkshake IPAs, poetry like “my trans Latinx presence manifested in this world is a prophetic witness to God’s embodied presence in humanity,” and falafel off a food stand!

Gravy, published by the Oxford, Mississippi-based Southern Foodways Alliance, uses food culture to capture “a South that is constantly evolving, accommodating new immigrants, adopting new traditions and lovingly maintaining old ones.” The latest issue features “The Queer Pleasures of Tammy Wynette’s Cooking,” by Mayukh Sen, as well as a profile by Osayi Endolyn of an black bartender who invented five new cocktails to celebrate Black History Month (“Blood on the Leaves” and “(I’m Not Your) Negroni”).

Renkl is pleased to announce that these cocktails “definitely raised some hackles down there in Mississippi,” because what could be more Southern than subverting and degrading the South?

The director of the Southern Foodways Alliance is John T. Edge, who also contributes to the Oxford American as a “food writer.” In one article, “Dixie Vodka,” Edge carries on about how offended he was by a portrait of General P.G.T. Beauregard, the word “Dixie,” and other “Old-South” iconography” on a liquor bottle. Of course, Edge knew right away that Beauregard (who “fought to preserve the economic system that shackled black Southerners and made possible extraordinary white wealth”) and the Confederate flag (which symbolized “retrograde whiteness”) were racist, but he could not figure out whether using the word “Dixie” was racist, too:

The word Dixie is not necessarily malign. Black-power activist Robert Williams called his 1960s radio broadcast from Havana “Radio Free Dixie.” More recently, the University of North Carolina Press published Dharma Dixie, a book about Buddhism in the region. (A vegan restaurant in Orlando uses the same name.). Julie Weiss, who wrote an expansive book about the influence and impact of Mexican migrations on the American South, chose the title Corazon de Dixie. Those Dixie usages subvert the Old-South narrative…

So “Dixie,” that old-fashioned term for the American South, is offensive when used to refer unironically – or, God forbid, proudly – to the South, but is just fine when used by non-Southerners to deconstruct and appropriate Southern culture. Welcome to Renkl’s “New South” of Mexicans, Buddhists, vegans, and Communists.

“To define Southern literature,” Renkl recommends the Greensboro, North Carolina-based storySouth, which “publishes the best fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry that writers from the New South have to offer,” and particularly recommends storySouth’s poetry, which she assures us “is not your unlamented Agrarian’s Southern literature.”

The latest issue of storySouth happens to include the results of a poetry contest, featuring the award-winning “Dog Pissing on a Statue of the Buddha”:

            Hard to say who’s more content –
            the dog, in his favorite pose,
            or the Buddha, in his.

            Then again, maybe it’s me,
            seeing this emblem
            of perfect serenity.

            No matter the cat escaped,
            no matter how far off the food,
            the dog is leaving a sign

            that he was here
            in his sacred,
            most singular piss.

            The Buddha receives this gift
            as he does all others
            And I –

            I have to pause.
            The dog has his business.
            And the Buddha approves.

What an authentic expression of Southern culture! I can see why Renkl prefers storySouth to Donald Davidson’s “The Tall Men,” and Allen Tate’s “Ode to the Confederate Dead.”

The Bitter Southerner is “an irreverent Atlanta-based site that truly covers the cultural waterfront, celebrating the lunacy of genuine homegrown geniuses, lifting up the unsung heroes of the region, and peeking behind the veil of great cultural institutions, and all while holding power to account in a part of the world where power has too often lost its uneducated mind.”

That is Renkl’s opinion, at least. To me, The Bitter Southerner seems more like a therapy group where self-hating Southerners can proudly disinherit themselves for approval and attention. No wonder Renkl likes it so much.

Renkl’s current favorite “New-South” publication is the Louisville, Kentucky-based Southerly, which “covers the intersection of ecology, justice, and culture in the American South.” The founder of Southerly is Lyndsey Gilpin, whose nose-ringed photograph adorns Renkl’s op-ed. “Her weekly reports from impoverished and often oppressed corners of the South have given a microphone to people whose voices are rarely heard about climate change, environmental exploitation, or economic disparity.” Southerly, partnering with Scalawag and The Montgomery Advertiser, just finished a four-part series on public-health crises in the “rural” parts of the South that have been depopulated (and de-civilized) since the civil-rights revolution and globalization – although that is not quite their spin on “How Environmental Justice is Shaping a New Civil Rights Movement in the South”

Renkl quotes the Southerly mission statement:

This region stands to bear the brunt and lose the most from the effects of climate change. It is experiencing massive economic shifts from a changing energy industry. The South is the fastest-urbanizing area of the United States, but it is also the most economically distressed. Southerners deserve a publication that covers the nuances of their environment, history, and communities without being condescending or stereotypical, without parachuting in from large metropolitan areas. The rest of the world deserves to know about the creative ways communities here are adapting to these changes, and the challenges that come with that.

“You could almost call it a mission statement for celebrating – and transforming – the South itself,” squeals Renkl, revealingly. To Renkl, the two are one and the same: to celebrate the South is to transform the South and to transform the South is to celebrate the South.

Renkl’s whole plea boils down to, “Why, the South ain’t so bad. Look here at all these ways that it’s not even like the South anymore, plus look at all these other Southerners like me who hate the South, too!”

Renkl’s most famous op-ed, “How to Talk to a Racist,” reveals just how shallow she really is:

NASHVILLE – There are still white Southerners who honestly believe that American culture worked better for everyone, white and black alike, under segregation. There are still white Southerners who question how bad slavery really was. When an enslaved black person’s health and strength are needed to guarantee the slaveholder’s livelihood, this argument goes, it just wouldn’t make sense to whip them or starve them or rape them or work them to the point of collapse.

Southerners aren’t alone in believing such mendacity, but the South is where slavery and segregation metastasized, so it may be more concentrated here. Wherever this insidious delusion takes hold, however, it requires a gargantuan ignorance of history to maintain, and there’s a lot of ignorance afoot in the land right now. More people here in Tennessee drive cars bearing license plates emblazoned with the Confederate battle flag than ever before. A strong majority of Southerners – 61 percent – are committed to keeping their Confederate monuments on public land.

I have exhausted my ability to understand why, deep into the 21st century, I’m still hearing otherwise good-hearted people use the same arguments that white Southerners used to discredit “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” more than 150 years ago: It couldn’t possibly have been that bad. But worse in many ways are the white people who will tell you point blank that the world today – the world they actually live in and see with their own eyes – can’t possibly be as unfair as black people say it is.

Maybe this is what happens when a person’s only “news” source is the alternative universe of “Fox & Friends.” Or maybe they’re just all racists.

O.K., they’re definitely all racists. But here’s the thing: They don’t believe they are. And the problem with writing off people who don’t recognize this country’s pervasive and enduring culture of white supremacy, much less the ways in which they themselves benefit from it, is simple: Being called a racist almost never causes a racist to wake up. Being called a racist almost never causes a racist to say, “Oh, wow, you’re right.”

I get that it’s hard not to scream “Racist!” at a racist. If you’re a white person who wants to be an advocate, it’s both infuriating and demoralizing to know that the people causing all this suffering are people who look just like you. That much is true about being a white liberal in a culture of white supremacy.

Renkl is a museum-quality specimen of an ignorant, arrogant elitist. She does not actually know anything about slavery herself, just what she has been told that she knows, which is enough for her to sneer at anyone who thinks differently as “mendacious” and “deluded” (to the extent that her self-righteous emoting can even be called “thinking”). What Renkl thinks she knows about “how bad slavery really was” comes from agitprop by true-believing fanatics and an echo chamber of other guilt-ridden white liberals. In short, Renkl is viewing slavery ideologically, not historically: because of her modern prejudices, she cannot understand how slavery could have been anything other than evil whites whipping, chaining, raping, and lynching blacks, and anything to the contrary is not just utterly unsympathetic to her, but literally incomprehensible as well.

For crying out loud, Renkl treats Uncle Tom’s Cabin (a maudlin melodrama typical of antebellum feminine literature) as if it were a riveting documentary and “Fox & Friends” (a sleepy morning show of politically correct Republicans) as if it is a platform for “hate speech.” Americans need a better class of so-called elites –Jefferson and Adams’ “natural aristocracy of virtue and talents” – not moronic and fragile “Outer-Party” drones like Renkl.

One of the strangest developments in American politics has been the convergence of leftism, or “Big Government,” with capitalism, or “Big Business.” The result has been “the party of SJWs and CEOs,” in the words of VDare’s Steve Sailer, or “a high-class, high-tech, and high-capital glamour coalition,” as American Greatness’ Michael Anton puts it. While corporate executives now promote the most degenerate forms of left-wing identity politics, from “diversity” to “pride,” radical leftists now rally for the economic interests of corporate executives, from free trade to mass-immigration. Wall-Street and Silicon-Valley plutocrats (whose beliefs are closer to Ellsworth Toohey’s than Howard Roark’s) not only patronize the Left with their billions, but also use their financial and technological powers to influence information and events. Tucker Carlson (who, along with Laura Ingraham, is the only person worth watching on FOX News) has been calling attention to this strange phenomenon, particularly how tech companies like Google control what people think by controlling what they see.

Likewise, the radical leftists of the “New South” are collaborating with the capitalists of Corporate America, whom they otherwise hate for liquidating anything that cannot be commodified and bulldozing anything if it is good for business. Here in Tampa, Florida, a beautiful Confederate monument stood outside the Hillsborough County Courthouse for 106 years before coming under joint attack not by the people, but by left-wing pressure groups and big-business special interests.

“Antifa” protestors from the Democratic Socialists of America and the Tampa Maoist Collective marched through the downtown and mobbed the statue, with signs reading “Black Trans Lives Matter,” “Confederacy = Treason,” “Immigrants Make America Great,” “Even White People are Tired of White People’s Shit,” “Shut Down White Supremacy,” “You Fascists are Bound to Lose,” and “It is Right to Rebel!” Soviet hammers-and-sickles and LGBT-pride flags and fists were on display, while Confederate battle flags and Nazi swastikas were defaced. At the same time, feckless officials fretted about how the controversy was going to repel potential investments, even though Tampa is one of fastest-growing metropolitan areas in the country (with the world’s largest Confederate flag at I-75/I-4). “As we look to compete on a global stage, having those memorials of a dark chapter in our history is not helpful,” opined the mayor, a far cry from when the mayor in 1911 declared that the monument “will stand forever as a testimonial of our undying love for the cause that we of the South believe was right, and of our pride in the substantial achievements of the hosts who through those terrible years made records on land and sea unparalleled in the history of the world.”

Despite the efforts of three county commissioners, the board voted to keep the statue standing anyway, probably sensing that that public opinion was against removal (indeed it was, by 58% to 27%, according to St. Pete Polls) and that no money was actually at risk. When a local activist for The Tampa Bay Times – correction, “journalist” – started soliciting the opinions of the local professional baseball, football, and hockey teams, however, the three agitators on the board were eager to reopen the issue with new leverage. “We support the removal of the Confederate memorial,” they announced. “We do not believe it is a true and accurate depiction of the values that make Tampa such a great, progressive city.” Appeasing the Rays was particularly high on the commissioners’ agenda, because the county was in the process of bidding on the baseball team’s new stadium (a $900-million taxpayer-financed commercial monstrosity smack dab in the middle of a historic district to replace the last $323-million taxpayer-financed monstrosity built on prime real estate only 20 years ago). As a new vote approached and the pressure intensified, the United Daughters of the Confederacy, the ladies who had, over a century ago, raised the monument in honor of their fathers, brothers, sons, and husbands, spontaneously surrendered: the president of the Florida Division sat down with the press to say that she supported removing the monument.

Even then, with pressure from far-left mobs and billion-dollar businesses, as well as the untimely collapse of a key “heritage-defense organization,” the commissioners still did not have the votes to remove the monument. It was only when the ex-coach of the Buccaneers offered to finance the removal of the monument himself that one of the commissioners switched her vote, giving the mobs and the suits what they wanted. The monument is now tucked away in a family’s private cemetery, right off a highway and next to a Mexican restaurant. As the Old-Right thinker and writer Sam Francis put it, “Multinationalism capitalism” is “multiculturalism’s silent partner.”

Renkl has no loyalty to the South as it was or is, and, in fact, her “New South” represents a second “Reconstruction” – not just physical colonization of the South by aliens from up north or across the border, but the intellectual and spiritual colonization of the South by alien ideas and beliefs. She does not see her home as a “given” which must be honored and preserved, but as a “proposition” up for debate. If Renkl has her way and Southerners continue to be replaced and redefined by alien peoples and alien propositions, then soon the South will no longer exist. The names on the map will stay the same, though not for very long, but the people who made those places what they were will be gone.

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