A Yankee's point of view: some Southern traditions are not worth holding onto



I was born and raised in New England, and you can probably tell.

But despite my admitted Yankee tendencies, I have loved my time here in Tuscaloosa. My college experience has confirmed most of the positive things I already thought to be true about the South: the people are indeed more polite, the pace of life seems more relaxed, the weather is nicer, the women are prettier, and the football is better. In these areas, my friends’ experiences at Northern universities just can’t compare.

It’s not all sunshine and magnolias, however. There are still some things that happen down here that I just can’t wrap my Northern brain around.

For example, I will likely never understand why some organizations on campus think that true brotherhood is founded fundamentally on the ability to make freshmen, who are all too eager to please and fit in, suffer physical and verbal abuse for weeks on end. And, until last month, I couldn’t understand why the administration of such a prominent modern university refused to take a stand against these rampant and blatantly obvious hazing violations.

Though the administration did eventually act - after being prodded by this newspaper - you’re kidding yourself if you think abuses of this nature won’t continue in the future – but they will only continue because campus culture allows them to continue.

Worse still, I can’t understand why men and women at the University choose to socially segregate themselves based on skin color.

On a campus where de facto segregation in sororities and fraternities is rationalized by “tradition,” I am often left wondering what “tradition” really means. In the state of Alabama, it certainly means “Bear” Bryant and “Rammer Jammer” and dressing up for Gamedays; but it also means George Wallace and Selma marches and letters from Birmingham jails.

This obsession with “tradition” seems to be the final and most stubborn impediment to overcoming the South’s reputation for racism and injustice, a legacy that still rings too true today. When it comes to matters of racial equality, the last thing this university and this state need is more of the same “tradition.”

Finally, I can’t understand why voters in this state – who are undoubtedly intelligent and hard-working individuals – failed to sufficiently educate themselves in preparation for last week’s elections. Because so many Republicans couldn’t take the time to do a minimal amount of research on state and local races, a certifiable lunatic is now Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court.

Honestly, if you go into the election booth with the preconceived conviction that you will vote “straight ticket” for either party without educating yourself on the issues, you should probably do yourself and your fellow citizens a favor and just stay home.

I don’t believe Roy Moore was elected intentionally, or even that the majority of Alabamians support his radical beliefs; Roy Moore was elected because Alabamians were too apathetic to do their homework and make an informed decision. That is the greatest tragedy of the Nov. 6 elections: A demagogue is now in power because of indifference and willing ignorance. Now the whole state – Republicans and Democrats, well-informed voters and misinformed voters, blacks and whites – will suffer equally from this man’s judicial irrationality.

I get it; Southerners consider themselves rebels. I imagine that is why Alabamians voted to keep outdated and racist language in the state constitution, and I assume that is also why they irrelevantly decided to nullify Obamacare mandates – federal government be damned.

But while some of our Northern neighbors capitalized on the elections to make strides toward meaningful social progress, the South remains stagnated decades behind the rest of the country in so many unfortunate ways. Both on and off campus, I find myself continually reminded of our acceptance of social mediocrity.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Southerners today have two paths before them: On one hand, they can accept modern segregation and continued social backwardness, label it “tradition,” and comfortably turn away, or they can instead channel that distinctive rebellious streak and fight for the real progress that is so desperately needed in this region.

I acknowledge that I am an outsider here, and my Yankee opinions could very well fall on deaf ears. But, as someone who loves this University and loves the people of this state, I truly hope that’s not the case; I hope things can change. I believe things can change. But change must start with us – the young students, the educated, the privileged.

It is our responsibility – and the stakes are far too high to shy away now. We can do better, Alabama. We must do better.

 

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