Look away, look away, look away, Dixie ... no, really, RUN AWAY?

More than is usual, I’ve been thinking a lot about the US South these past months as I’ve worked on the Doug Jones campaign, particularly about my own reactions to both the campaign and the US South. As I’m clearly deeply invested, I’ve expressed opinions elsewhere and those posts inform my thoughts now.

And I think I’ve come to some conclusions that have been gestating for over 20 years. With the exception of a 2-year foray living in Indianoloa, MS (birthplace of BB King), I’ve exclusively lived in university towns in Alabama and Mississippi: Oxford, Starkville, Tuscaloosa. Mr. Jilly and I are here because:

  1. We are from the South, respectively far eastern Kentucky 20 miles from Butcher Holler (aka Coal Miner’s Daughter) and everywhere from Pulaski, VA to Rossville, GA and in between because my father is a retired United Methodist minister and we moved A LOT; and,

  2. This is where the jobs for us itinerant academics were. More Mr. Jilly than me – he teaches in an MFA/book arts program and frankly, there are 2-3 of those programs in the country so we are thrilled he has a job. We are here for the long haul.

I share all of this to say that I understand, in ways I had not before, that I mostly have had a rarefied existence in the South. I’m surrounded by academics most of the time, and well, you can imagine that their politics don’t lean towards Trump. It’s an uneasy existence because I interact daily with all sorts of people that I find objectionable, yet somehow like.

My son was born in Mississippi. He was a surprise as Mr. Jilly finished his PhD and I’ll be honest, I do enjoy the white wine. So, at my first visit to one of the few obstetricians in this Mississippi town, I expressed my worry that I had harmed my then-unknown fetus by drinking. In a very thick accent, the doctor allayed all my fears in a moment I will never forget: “Have you been laying up drunk the past 4 weeks? No? Well, you’ll be fine.” (I had, in fact, not been “laying up drunk” – I had had a couple of glasses of wine and was a nervous first-time mother.)

At the same obstetrician/gynecologist office a couple of weeks later, I watched a receptionist loudly question an elderly black lady in the waiting room about a problem she had for the sole reason of embarrassing her because the receptionist felt empowered to do so. It was awful. And I did nothing. I’m still ashamed.

For reasons I’m sure I will analyze for years, this election of Doug Jones has made me face my own privilege in ways that are deeply uncomfortable. I’ve not thought about that elderly African-American woman in many years, and yet, I’m haunted by her now. That doctor gave me comfort when I needed it, in vernacular I would find humorous and understand, and he also gave tacit approval for his employees to treat other women in ways I find horrific.

We are all in our own bubbles, in this forum and our lives, be it in Starkville, MS, of all places, or elsewhere. If this election has given me anything (OTHER THAN PURE JOY), it is that any of us with privilege need to examine our actions. I wish like hell I could go back to that to moment in the doctor’s office. I’m no white savior, but goddammit, I could have said something.


I think we all have these moments, but the best we can do is be better in the future.


I hope so. I really do. I don’t ascribe to St. Peter standing at his pearly gates with a scoreboard – but the universe takes notice of our inaction. So we beat on, boats against the current, born back ceaselessly into the past.


Indeed… I have to say, I have similar experiences to yours, growing up in North GA, living in metro ATL now, in what is clearly a safe bubble of safety. And of course, if we’re not carefully, we can miss that awfulness if we don’t actively seek to tune in to it.

I think, as far as that moment with that woman, all you can do is resolve to do better in the future, remind yourself of it and remember for later. I know it can’t make you feel better about that time, but it can certainly propel you (and me, and everyone who reads this maybe) to think and try better.


As a Birmingham, AL, resident,with my grandparents in Montgomery, I’ve thought about race issues most of my life. I have since lived in New Orleans, Washington DC suburbs, Atlanta, Wilmington NC, and NY.

What has struck me over the years is how genial the racism is in the Deep South. How we just accepted that all the maids and the people at the fast food restaurants would be black. How the brutality of slavery and Jim Crow was papered over with a veneer of “Southern Heritage.” How there was this story that Rosa Parks was just a tired lady who got sick of riding in the back of the bus instead of a civil rights activist who risked a rape and a beating by standing up to drivers who treated black women like total crap, all in a bus crammed full of drunk white people. How my landlord to my Senior Year apartment would treat her maid like her best friend - except her best friend wore a white maid’s uniform all the time.

It’s nice that everyone is starting to point out that, you know, treating people like shit isn’t nice. And if they are acting friendly it’s because they are scared.

My new mantra is: compliance is not consent. Just because I said yes doesn’t mean I agreed. I actually have to be given a real choice for it to be meaningful.


In Birmingham? Join this:

My mother’s good friend.


I’m not sure I feel particularly guilty about my white privilege. Sure I have it – even more so because my parents were both highly educated and valued scholarship, something I absorbed. I got through high school, college, and grad school (to PhD level) despite major health problems, then spent a career trying to promote public health with research and regulation. I’ve always been cognizant of how my background gave me a head start. So am I problematic because of that?


I grew up in Tennessee. For a brief time, about a year, I went to a school where as a white person I was a minority (~20%). It was a real eye-opener experience. But in my memory, sexual hangups seemed bigger than racial. The gay black people, they had it really hard. Even the straight ones had serious issues with dating across race lines.

I don’t really know where that thought leads. I guess it’s just a random anecdote.


Moving to the Deep South has been a harder transition than I thought. The poverty, racism, crumbling infrastructure. The day to day is just not as pleasant. I really want us to stick it out. LA is doing a lot of criminal reforms, my husband is studying for this state’s bar, and he has extensive criminal justice experience, and experience at the nexus of race, class, and law. He can do really great things here. But so much of me wants to just flee home to MN, or even TX, where I can use a sidewalk and not be molested by dogs or walk alone at night without half the streetlights being out.

I think guilt is the wrong way to frame it. I do a lot of mentoring with low-income women, POC, DREAMer students. There are aspects of those experiences that I can’t grok because I don’t live them. So there’s time for me to talk and time for me to listen. Sometimes my contribution needs to not be “Try this …” but “Is this a workable solution, or do we need to go back to the drawing board?”


When I moved from Columbia, MD to Wilmington, NC, I went through a strange transition. You could not find two more opposite places as far as how the governments run.

Columbia, MD is a privately owned city. All thirteen towns were planned out in the 1960s to foster specific community goals. Many of the people who live there were part of the original group of people who moved there to help create this new city of dreams. One of the big ideas was to plan a community to be more inclusive. Every town has its own town center, which includes a community building. By design, there are (or were to be) no churches, just interfaith centers with temporary religious props that can be set up for each service. Street signs for businesses were tightly controlled.

When I closed on my house in Columbia, the agent gave me three large binders. One with rules for my townhouse community. One with rules for my town. The last with rules for the city. Rules about the color of stain you could use on your deck, how high the fence needed to be around a pool, what kind of vehicle you could and could not park in front of your house, where you could put a skylight in and where you could not. Pages and pages and pages of rules.

I moved to Wilmington, NC. The first place I rent a house is in a fancy golf course community - right next to a trashy trailer park. Half the development is empty, the result of some kind of dispute or lack of money by the developer to promote, I can’t remember why. After about a year, I buy a new home. When I close on this house, the lawyer hands me a single slip of paper with a single rule about not using some of the land at the very front of the property because maybe one day the developer will build that sidewalk they promised to build when they planned the community 40 years before. During the time that I was looking at houses, I learned that half of the communities I was looking into didn’t have any fire hydrants, because developers ran the town and didn’t want to take on the expense. One of the swankiest developments had had its 4th home burn down - no hydrant to douse it out. I gave directions to my daughter’s preschool by churches - turn down this street and at the 4th church turn left. There were no community centers, no idea that there could even be such a thing.

When I lived in Columbia, there were all kinds of fights about the rules. There was a nasty lawsuit going between my town house condo board and a neighbor who had installed a skylight in the wrong place. There was a secret service agent who harbored deep resentment because he’d had to paint his porch from forbidden red stain to ugly poop brown or risk a suit himself, possibly risking his employment. It was easy to start up a yoga class at one of the community centers, and there was a ton of planned space for parks.

When I lived in Wilmington, there were hardly any fights over rules. The papers had all kinds of information about the ways the developers had screwed over people - the fancy marsh development that had ongoing sewage disposal issues resulting in raw sewage going into the delicate ecosystem. During the time I was there, one of the most lovely properties was given the green light to put in yet another golf course - which meant lots of chemicals running off of the golf course into the marsh water, and all those old people who wanted perfectly manicured lawns with the Scott truck pouring chemicals onto their lawns, too. It was just a matter of time before the greedy developers burned through all the land and destroyed the place. But no one had any power to do anything about it.

In Columbia, we had lots of neighbors of all colors. In Wilmington, the black people had literally been run out of town on a rail in the early 1900s; there was a very small, very poor black area of town with horrible schools. Very few people seemed to think about diversity or feel they could do much about it; in Columbia it was a big conversation, though over time they seemed to be losing the battle for an inclusive city.

I see a little good in both their approaches; I wish there were a good middle way. It was a weird experience go from one place that was all rules all the time to another place that saw no reason to ever have a rule.


As a white person, you would say that. As would I, at the time, because at least the sexual hangups affected me. But the racial stuff is much bigger than it looked, and I’m trying to unpack it and figure out how big it actually was.


The racial hangups and the sexual hangups are part of the same thing for us. We get locked into complicity as an easy way out. When we make the decision to unlock these hangups, every step becomes very difficult. We don’t have a framework to live within any more.

Clearly, most white men stay within the hangups, whether remaining complicit with the violence or actively perpetrating it.

I am afraid of that idiotic framework. The patriarchy, the oligarchy, they have no understanding that the future might be better for everyone contributing. They only see things grinding to a halt due to their own inadequacies and they’re just scrambling to be sure they end up on top. So they’re driving the world toward apocalypse and they think that’s going to work out well for for them. Delusional.