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:
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,
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.