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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

The fine line between polite southerner and discriminatory voter

Published: September 7, 2012
Section: Opinions

My relationship with my home state of North Carolina is a complicated one. It seems that no matter where I go, be it the Middle East, Europe or Brandeis, the stigma of being from the south is one that doesn’t come out in the wash.

I didn’t grow up in a particularly southern household. I didn’t eat grits for breakfast and I didn’t refer to the last meal of the day as supper. Both sets of my grandparents hail from New York, so there has always been a bit of Yankee running through my bloodstream. That being said, living in the south rubs off on you.

The south is far from perfect. But living there did instill within me some very influential traits. I found the lack of warmth and politeness between strangers when I first arrived at Brandeis unsettling. Doors weren’t held open for others and people rarely said thank you. The worst was in Usdan, when most Brandeisians seemed to have left their manners under their dorm room beds and were incredibly rude to the staff.

So although daily social interactions in the south make southerners seem as sweet as pie, it is in the voting booth that their real colors show. While I appreciate the healthy respect of politeness being raised in the south gave me, I carry the dark mark of all the evils the southerners before me have committed throughout America’s history. It isn’t always easy to be proud of being a southerner, and increasingly, I am finding it harder and harder to stick up for my great state and the states that surround it.

North Carolina is a state of mixed political history. North Carolina went for Bush both in 2000 and in 2004, but swung for Obama in 2008. We have had a Democratic governor since 1993. And, most impressively, my hometown of Charlotte is the host city for the Democratic National Convention occurring this week. The privilege of being the host city undoubtedly brings anger to my Republican neighbors, but my liberal friends cannot contain their glee.

As I age and become more politically aware, however, I find that my neighbors, who waved so kindly to me as I walked to the bus stop, are in the voting booth helping to institutionalize discrimination into law.

This past May a state constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage was up for vote in North Carolina, and voters overwhelmingly chose to do so, thus embedding discrimination not just within the threads of southern culture, but into ink in North Carolina’s constitution. The last change that had been made to North Carolina’s constitution before the Amendment One vote this year was in 1875 to ban interracial marriage.

While it may be easy to paint the south as one conservative block, it is incorrect to do so. Among all the conservatives are little progressive pockets standing up and fighting for equality. And although the conservatives continue to win battle after battle recently, they don’t go down without a fight. The grassroots campaigns to which I have been exposed are filled with people who possess a dogged determination and optimism that these new discriminatory regulations are only temporary setbacks. All the cities that are the homes to the major universities in North Carolina voted in opposition to the amendment, giving the impression that as the younger generations become able to vote they will do so without the discrimination that seems to be present in their parents’ and grandparents’ hearts.

Things are just as bad in other surrounding southern states. South Carolina recently passed a Voter ID law that, although it may not mention discrimination and race explicitly, it makes inferences to it throughout the text itself. Texas governor, Rick Perry, in a horrible blow to women’s health has defunded all the Planned Parenthoods in Texas. In his futile and misguided attempt to sanctify and preserve human life, he has endangered the lives of thousands of Texas women who relied on Planned Parenthood for annual health screenings and access to birth control.

When I look at the south, the future seems bleak. I am saddened when I think about all the negative changes that are happening to my state. Although I did not vote in favor of the Voter ID law in South Carolina or to ban gay marriage in my own state, I will always carry that shameful piece of North Carolina history with me no matter where I go.

Despite the fact that I lack the southern twang that accompanies every southerner put on television and that recently my state’s actions have been embarrassing, I am proud that I have been able to glean the good from what my state has to offer. It is my greatest hope that this November, when my neighbors and Republican friends head into the voting booth, they remember that the people they so easily dismissed earlier this year in May are the same people who hold the elevator door as they rush to their mid-morning meeting and extend some of that street politeness to their political decision as well.