Why can’t progressives reach white Southern men?

By Lynn Parramore

Why can't progressives reach white Southern men?

(Credit: AP/Haraz N. Ghanbari)

This article originally appeared on AlterNet.


The South’s comfort with the GOP is understandable, even predictable. But it shouldn’t be inevitable

Ever since Neil Young sang about him, the white Southern man has been the symbol for all that is wrong with America to urban lefties. He is a redneck. A gun-toting, rebel flag-waving racist whose sinister activities wreak far more havoc on the country than, say, the wily Wall Street financier. If you can’t hate the white Southern man, who can you hate?

I grew up with white Southern men. Some of them hard-core Republicans. They have been my classmates. My neighbors. I’m related to lots of them. Having been raised in North Carolina and attended the University of Georgia, it’s impossible for me to see them as strangers.  And while they can irritate me no end when they say and do dumb things, I cringe when San Franciscans like Mark Morford wax elitist and paint them as a monolithic band of aliens whose intolerance is only matched by their ignorance.

I’m from a middle class background, a product of the liberal enclave of Raleigh, NC. But since I went to public schools, I often found myself hanging out with kids whose lives didn’t look like mine. When I was 15, I remember attending a Harley Davidson picnic with my friend Roxanne way out in a rural field that we accessed in her boyfriend’s pickup truck. I was a little fearful — these were supposed to be the rednecks the Morfords of the world had warned me about. But I got a surprise. The manners of these working class guys were largely superior to those of the frat boys who groped my friends at Duke University parties. They liked Reagan, and baseball, and Creedence Clearwater Revival. They didn’t have horns; most of them were gentle and generous. They called me “Cover Girl” because of my fresh-scrubbed appearance and seemed bent on treating me as an ambassador from another world. There was honor at stake; they didn’t want me to go back home and tell my friends about how rough they all were. The more conservative Southern men have a thing about honor and self-respectIf they see that you’re not talking down to them, they will want to have your esteem, and show you their best selves, which are often hospitable and kind. If you can’t, well, that’s a different story. You’re likely to get the dark side.

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