By John Ballard
Despite all my complaining and condescension about where I live I am still a son of the American South. Born in Kentucky and reared in Georgia, I belong to a rare breed close to the endangered species list, the Southern Liberals. People like Molly Ivins and Clarance Jordan were my heroes. But at some level I am also offended when outsiders say bad stuff about the South when they don't know what they're talking about.
In the tradition of John Steinbeck, whose Travels With Charlie chronicles a journey across the country rediscovering America in his declining years, Constantino Diaz-Duran is on pilgrimage and on foot, walking from New York to Los Angeles "to celebrate his eligibility for citizenship." I haven't followed his journey closely and probably won't, but I can assure you that this description of his discovery of The South is totally authentic.
I have learned... that my journey, while unique in its own way, is quintessentially American. We are a nation of individuals who act like we�ve got it all figured out, but really, we�re just in the process.
The South, for all its faults, is at least self-aware. I�ve heard racist remarks, and plenty of them�as a New Yorker, my eyes bugged out the first time I heard someone casually use the word �Oriental,� and when someone remarked about �all them Jews [we] have up there.� No one here pretends that there�s no racial tension, and yet I�ve seen more interracial couples here than anywhere else.
What I�ve realized is that prejudice here is abstract and collective in an almost (I hesitate to use the word) benign way. What I mean is that southerners will run off at the mouths about groups�about abstract �theys��but when it comes to one-on-one interactions, the racism is superficial. A guy will rant about black people, and use the N-word, only to later call his best buddy, who happens to be black, and rant about something completely different. It�s an odd kind of colorblindness.
In the South, people know where they stand even if they�re not entirely sure where they�re going. And that is where I find myself.