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Driving South, Part II (contents may offend)

Previous thread was getting too long, so starting new one to continue. there is quoted racist and offensive language in this post.

clarksdale, mississippi:

Earlier today toured the Old Courthouse Museum of Vicksburg, which has the exhibit of the Civil War bullet which supposedly passed through a soldier’s private parts, then hit a woman in hers, and made her pregnant (!). Precisely the kind of spooky, dusty old kind of place that I like to find. This museum also once had an exhibit on the Ku Klux Klan, but when I asked about it, I received this rather equivocal response, softly spoken by the guide, without looking into my eyes but rather at the floor, that,

“Yes, we used to have that exhibit. But you know, most exhibits in this museum were donated to us, and some are loaned. And there’s trouble when it’s a loan, because they can ask you to return it, and that’s what happened in this case.”

Well, you can’t say that he avoided the subject, but you can’t say that he answered my question, either.

Then came north in the rain and wet to Clarksdale, and found a bar called “The Den” owned and operated by what seemed to be a very happy, and boisterous, 72 year old widowed white man. I walked into a dingy old hall with a lot of battered orange vinyl, and with hardly a moment to buy a beer and sit down, was confronted by him with,

“Do you know what a nigger is?”

followed by a long list of tired, stereotypical, fanatic, paranoid epithets that sadly are not surprising, but were brutal nonetheless in their violence and vitriol. i didn’t say much, and restricted my own remarks to the occasional question or observation. I said that I noticed that Clarksdale is a very poor town, with most of the shops boarded up.

“Everything started going wrong when the nigger children started going to school with whites. After that everything fell apart. Once, every store on this street was open. Not any more.”

I asked, “Do black people drink in this bar?”

“There’s one or two niggers come in here once or twice, I can’t stop them, that would be against the law, and i would get in trouble, but they don’t come here.” (laughter)

The tone of this whole conversation was one of general hilarity. He laughed and guffawed a lot and seemed genuinely to have a good time drinking beer with me, late on a Sunday night. Perhaps, it was the laughter which upset me as much, or more, than the words.

I don’t want to imply that this self described “red-neck” represents typical or acceptable white Mississippi or Southern opinion. There is much that is promising, and complicated, that I have seen these last couple of weeks. But the shadows of evil stretch quite long, in some dark corners.

I left the bar, reminded, eerily, of Bosnian or Kosovo Serbs, or Israeli settlers. This is the residue and desolate landscape of racist, totalitarian Mississippi, forty years after it ended, in daylight.

by [a former member] at 2005-02-28 03:17:23 UTC (ed. Mar 12 2008 ) on the road, south , United States | Bookmark | | Report spam→

Know, unfortunately, I understand how and why some organizations (like KKK) act and organize themselves so freely. They don’t even realise that they’re way of thinking is offensive and insane. To speak like this to someone that just arrived from nowhere means that no only they think like this but they think is totally normal and common sense!
That make me sick!
Alan, as there is “red-neck” bars I guess there is “black people” bars, did you go to some to know what the conversation is like?

by [former member] | 28 Feb 2005 03:02 | Milano, Italy | | Report spam→
Clarksdale in the morning was, for this blogger, quite hungover. The beautiful, ancient, neon Greyhound sign and bus station turned out to be a defunct visitors’ center. (another confused series of images in my mind here, Freedom Riders, burning buses) To get another perspective, we went to the Delta Blues Museum where the exhibits seemed to stress how talented black Mississippi musicians have fled as soon as they could, for Memphis and Chicago and other points north, for the last hundred years.

My final stop in Mississippi, I decided, would be Ole Miss, in Oxford, the site of James Meredith’s registration as the first black student there in 1962, amidst an all night riot which killed two and wounded thirty or forty. The dominant feature of the campus is the building called the Lyceum, with its antebellum white columns, which was instantly recognizable from the old photographs of that battle forty-three years ago. I was pleased to find the plaque right in front, which straight forwardly described those events. Oxford town itself was a culture shock after a week in the Delta. Fancy coffee shops, a great used bookstore, lots of good looking and well dressed young students of both sexes and all races walking around. Finding William Faulkner’s house was easy, but sadly it was closed on Monday. Nonetheless we wandered the grounds where he lived for thirty years.

To answer Giovanni’s question, the black establishments that I went to, whether they be bars, restaurants, or what not, were, despite their often poor conditions, essentially the same as any other place. That is, as an obvious stranger, I was treated with normal politeness and normal distance. Never did I feel uncomfortable, and I should point out that in many ways, public or social interaction in the South is far more integrated than in New York. People eat in the same restaurants, work next to each other in the same underpaid jobs, and generally have less awkwardness than most New Yorkers would have going into a bar or restaurant mostly frequented by people of another race or language.

I should also say that the South is not unique in its contradictions and monuments. One could make a tour of New York, visit the various sites, from the World Trade Center ground zero to the Triangle Factory Fire (now NYU’s main building on Washington Square) or the Audobon Ballroom where Malcolm X was killed or the United Nations with its fading 1950s architecture, and come up with any number of observations and wry, ironic comments. What made, for me, such a trip in the South interesting is that, especially in the Mississippi Delta, in so many of these places, there is the sense that time has stopped and there is a stillness and beauty, whereas in New York, you are surrounded by the buzz of the present.

And then, with some reluctance, it was time to drive north. The landscape as we entered Tennessee instantly became less Southern and more like the rest of America, and once again the ubiquitous strip malls dominate the roads. Snow started falling so it was a quick night in Smithville, between Nashville and Knoxville, and today, drove 855 miles back to New York in thirteen hours.

Next, photos from the trip….

by [former member] | 02 Mar 2005 01:03 (ed. Mar 2 2005) | on the road, south, United States | | Report spam→
grrrrr…i wonder someimes, are the kkk/white supremacists so offensive because they are racist, or offensive because they are so gauche and naive as to openly say what they think? racism…can be so subtle that it has less substance than a waft of perfume, but the stench can hit you solidly hours after.

i’d rather have someone straight out call me “nigger”, because then i know what i’m dealing with and can make the choice to change their mind or leave. subtle, patronizing, sabotaging racism is far worse because you can’t fight it openly. i’m glad that you guys are offended, but i hope that you actually know some black people and treat them fairly.

by [former member] | 02 Mar 2005 13:03 | chicago, United States | | Report spam→
Here’s the funny part, i mean, i’m a Chinese guy, right, driving through the deep South. and this fellow in Clarksdale somehow looks right through that, not that he ignores it (he wanted me to know that he thought that Asian women are “fine, damn fine” and so on, which prompted from me a friendly warning to him not to fuck around, and he switched the subject back to his favorite tirades), anyway, here’s this old, grotesque, white caricature of a racist, right out of a newsreel from 1960, and he thinks that I and my buddy Santiago who I was travelling with, would agree with him, would think the same way as him. So it’s not white vs. black only or white talking to white, it’s a white man talking to an asian man and a hispanic man.

by the standards that he was once part of, we definitely qualified as “outside agitators” or “beatniks” and, in the bad old days, might have merited not-so-discreet observation and harrassment from the Mississippi Citizens Council or the State Sovereignty Commission. Mississippi spied on over 80,000 of its own residents and any number of outsiders who visited, in those years.

Now of course race IS complicated in america, i was raised in and live in New York, supposedly the world’s most cosmopolitan city, but i would be lying, and everyone would know i was lying, if i pretended that everything was just wonderful in New York and that we are so much more liberal and better and purer than these extremist types down South.

Relations between blacks and asians have had some terribly low points in New York, and growing up on these streets I certainly had my share of that friction and conflict. Just a month or two ago, while photographing an assignment in Harlem, three or four black teenagers hit me on the head while making nice comments about chinese people (the pretending to speak chinese, the “slant-eyes” stuff, etc.). I was talking on my cellphone, which flew out of my hands and cracked open on the concrete. I chased them, and wanted to return the favor in kind, but they were too fast for me to catch.

Relations between whites and asians, too, have had their moments of violence. a couple of years ago, i was drunk in the West Village and stumbling in front of a bar, and a half dozen white, athletic, frat boy types accosted me with the same comments as the black teenagers and i was ready to fight them all, we were yelling curses at each other and i was about to crack the beer bottle in my hand over someone’s head, and then maybe they felt guilty or bad and walked away.

And what would the moral of these stories have been, except that it doesn’t take so much to get people trying to kill each other? certainly i didn’t respond with peace, love, or understanding, but with a reactive anger as senseless as theirs.

I’m sure that my best intentions could come out the wrong way, and strike someone as “subtle, patronizing, sabotaging racism.” i was a bit hesitant on how to write of my experiences in Mississippi for this reason, but went ahead and did so as directly and as sensibly as I could.

by [former member] | 02 Mar 2005 14:03 | New York, United States | | Report spam→
Man, the fact people have to be careful with what they think or say, have to be politicaly correct and all of that it’s insane! It’s one of the reasons why news and Media are becoming bullshit. I mean if I write something and it offends 100 readers and the editor in chief throw me out that’s a problem. People have to be offended sometimes. And they have the right to ask for explanations and to not agree, But I shouldn’t write to for the reader but to express my person.
I know you so I know also that you are a certain type of guy: agreat guy by the way. Knowing you it’s easier because if something is misunderstandable I’ll know what you meant. Who doesn’t know who writes, at least in this comunity should ask for explanations in case of possible misunderstanding! People should be free to feel free to say what they want without beeing judged right away. I mean if not we’ll just speak about the weather.
Man I thank you for telling us your truth: I feel like at least I had a glimpse of one reality of the south translated by your eyes. Waiting for the pics I salute you.

by [former member] | 02 Mar 2005 16:03 (ed. Mar 2 2005) | Milano, Italy | | Report spam→
onetime? a white guy told me that hispanics and asians were white. it freaks me out sometimes- the SINGULARITY of being black. really, dark, african black. cuz that’s what i am and i have had to take crap from people of my own race who were lighter. why? wtf? so a while back i decided- screw what’s outside of me, i’m gonna change me and love me. nobody’s stupid word is gonna keep me from loving who i am.

so now? i’m a republican, vegetarian (soon to be vegan), african american photographer chick who slacks and listens to alternative rock (and jazz, and hip hop- in fact? if anyone’s going to the krs-one show at the metro march 18th i’m going after my opening). i am me, period. if anyone has a problem? well, i measure myself against it. can i solve it? can i change a hardened racist into accepting, nay, championing! me? whoa,talk about gaining power and influence!

i actually truly like racists because they give me a chance to prove my worth, as well as winning one for the gipper. liberals are usually a pain in my butt- always wanting to be congratulated for having me around. i have to scrape and show gratitude for every backhanded compliment. i hate it!!!!! i hate politically correct! just be courteous and polite, fer gosh sake’s. and hire me if i’m better. and like me if i’m nice to you. and don’t rip me off or try to appropriate my style/subjects and then tell me you thought of it first…

i am black. i like me. i like my life, my work, my jobs, my friends and my white (well, he’s kinda greek, and i suspect him of being canadian) veggie/vegan graph designer punk/hiphop boyfriend, and i like being alive. i’m not offended by much…because at various times i look at my african american broters and sisters killing each other, hating each other, hurting and harassing each other and i feel sorry for white people cuz they take all the blame. when will we help and accept each other?

by [former member] | 02 Mar 2005 21:03 (ed. Mar 2 2005) | chicago, United States | | Report spam→
We? Never. Maybe the son of the son of the son of the son of the son…. of our son and that, just if earth gets there.

by [former member] | 03 Mar 2005 05:03 | Milano, Italy | | Report spam→
you see? typical passive liberal thinking. we are alive NOW and can make changes within ourselves that ripple out to others and inspire them. why put the changes off onto generations in the future who won’t know anything about any of this? it’s like the environment- better use it all up now and let future generations clean up our mess.

the thing about these white supremacists is: they put their whole heart and soul into the hatred of “minorities”. they plot and plan, carry out assasinations,do whatever it takes to make their voice heard. (altho? my personal feeling is that if they really wanted to be alone, well- there are acres of land all over america, not to mention small islands for sale where they could just GO and be alone without us nasty “minorities” to annoy them. sometimes i think that if all the black people left? they’d follow us cuz they wouldn’t have anything to do anymore.;-D) but since the end of the civil rights movement, it’s like everybody got their little nugget and stopped protesting. there are little uprisings here and there, but no real cohesive movement for deep, sustainable change. change that benefits us all and addresses the anger, hurt, diappointment, fear that racism has caused everyone in america. and that includes new races that emigrate here and are affected, forced to choose sides, warped by america’s crazy racial past.

i am not satisfied with a little bit, or enough for a black girl (and that’s another thing- how come it’s always ‘black girl’? like my skin color precludes attaining adulthood…) i want EVERYTHING! and i want my everything NOW!!! i am alive NOW, i am shooting NOW, i am (relatively) young NOW and i am not waiting for untold generations…i would rather leave them something to aspire to than one more thing to be ashamed of.

i believe that it is up to each and every individual to make life better for those around them. to educate others and to be educated by them. i am educated by everyone here, by this conversation, by the fact that because someone created the internet all kinds of people all over the world can exchange ideas, argue, and connect. i don’t believe that racism will ever completely go away? even if we were all the same color someone might have something that is coveted by another. but i refuse to wait and see, or put it off til tomorrow. my life is being lived RIGHT NOW and it’s worth as much as anyone else’s.

by [former member] | 04 Mar 2005 11:03 (ed. Mar 4 2005) | chicago, United States | | Report spam→
First of all I’m not passive. Second I’m not liberal, whatever this really means. Third all these people is needed because there is a lot to do. My Gran Fathers and gran mothers didn’t work just for themselves they did for their family, so that I could have a better life. And I’ll do similarly. Not the same because times have changed.
I’ll do what I have to do, and what I think is right to do. That doesn’t change the fact that I’m pessimistic about what the most of people do. The tendencies don’t seam to prove me wrong. I hope that everybody with their own little help we’ll do something before I become ashes again, But it is not to see it that I do it, it’s just because I think it is right like that. You want it all? Hope you’ll get it, I’ll be the first one to be happy. I Just hope you’ll not be too disappointed.

by [former member] | 04 Mar 2005 17:03 | Milano, Italy | | Report spam→

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