When I first saw the title of this book, “Better Off Without ‘Em”, about the North vs. the South, I thought yes, we probably are better off without the North.
Then I saw the subtitle: “A Northern Manifesto for Southern Secession.” Nice, eh? Seems the author, Travel writer and former Maxim editor, Chuck Thompson, has a different perspective than we do.
Maetenloch at Ace of Spades blog suggests the title should be “Rednecks in the Mist: Those Horrible Horrible People”.
Yes, that’s Thompson’s belief. The Wall St. Journal’s Barton Swaim reviewed the book which,
On the first page, the author wonders why the American electoral system must be “held hostage by a coalition of bought-and-paid-for political swamp scum from the most uneducated, morbidly obese, racist, morally indigent, xenophobic, socially stunted, and generally ass-backwards part of the country.” You expect him to let up, to turn the argument around, to look at the other side of question. But he never does. For more than 300 pages, Mr. Thompson travels through the South observing customs, outlooks and people and subjecting them to an unremitting stream of denunciations.
Yes, that’s why in Memphis we have a black mayor, black police chief, black school superintendent, black councilmen and a Democrat member of Congress representing us who is white, but longed to get into the Black Congressional Caucus.
In six essay-like chapters—on the South’s religion, politics, race relations, public education, economic policies and its obsession with, as he thinks, the region’s overrated college football teams — Mr. Thompson tries to show that the American South is so culturally detached from the rest of America as to constitute what really ought to be its own country. He deserves some credit, in these days of lazy punditry, for actually traveling to the places he writes about: Memphis; Columbia, S.C.; Athens, Ga.; Mobile, Ala.; Little Rock; and a lot of little places in between. But typically he just makes a beeline for some small-town gathering, a church or a bar, finds someone with cranky opinions, gets into an argument about politics or religion, and—at least in his own retelling—slays his opponent.
It would be interesting to read his report on our fair city, although the book review gives us a glimpse of Thompson’s impression.
Places like Little Rock and Memphis, he says, “are arranged along the lines of Third World horror shows; wide streets lined with opulent, plantation-style homes sitting just around the block from apocalyptic Negro wastelands.” Leave aside Mr. Thompson’s rather too superior descriptions of poor black neighborhoods (did he really use the term “Negro”?). More disturbing is his refusal to take seriously any evidence that Southern racism has diminished, even when that evidence comes from African-Americans themselves…
He describes visiting two black neighborhoods in Memphis, Hollywood and Chelsea:
“In Watts, Roxbury, Harlem, South St. Louis, I’d felt the angriness in the air … It wasn’t so in Hollywood and Chelsea… They must have been angry; they had every excuse for anger. Yet it was an anger which hadn’t yet crystallized into that automatic hatred of the white stranger which I had met in the ghettos of the North; or at least, the hatred was elaborately masked. I received the odd curious glance, accompanied by a faint smile, as if I’d lost my way and needed street directions to get me home. Several times people went out of their way to make me welcome. Stay and talk. Stay and see.”
Swaim continues his review:
You begin to sense that something is seriously awry when the author, evidently unable to find enough cranks and simpletons to fill out a whole book on the South, keeps looking beyond the Confederacy’s borders for material. First he zings House Speaker John Boehner for some offense. Isn’t Rep. Boehner from Ohio? Yes, from Cincinnati, but that’s just across the Ohio River from Kentucky, so he counts as a Southerner. We hear about a public-school teacher who urges his students to believe the Bible infallible. This takes place in Cleveland, but because the teacher had once attended a seminary in Kentucky, it’s an instance of Southern “biblical literalism” infecting the entire country. Mr. Thompson derides U.S. Rep. John Shimkus for citing Genesis as a reason not to worry about global warming. Isn’t Mr. Shimkus from Illinois? Yes, but he is from “an area of southern Illinois settled almost entirely by farmers from Kentucky.” By the book’s halfway point, it’s clear that Mr. Thompson’s problem with Southerners isn’t that they are insular, angry or prone to illusions. It’s that, with exceptions, their political views are insufficiently left-wing…
He is aware of reports in the New York Times and elsewhere that black Americans are moving to the South in record numbers. A black New York native living in Oxford, Miss., tells him, “I love it here.” But Mr. Thompson dismisses what he calls “breathless predictions of a post-racial South.” They just make him look harder for racism—and of course he finds it.
We are sadly used to this kind of thing. Anytime anyone on TV wants to indicate that a character is a simpleton, that character suddenly sports a Southern accent. Immediately the audience connects. It doesn’t matter how many brilliant people we contribute to the U.S., this stereotype stands and is indoctrinated.
Obviously the author of this book is obsessed. Want to bet that if the South was exactly the way it is, but the politics were Left, he would have found another outcome?