The South: Its Attitudes and Changes, Its People

By Bettie Green Stokes

Vol. 2, No. 5, 1980, pp. 10-11

It seems to be a national concensus that the South has come into its own and is now a part of the nation. Through the social revolution and the death of Jim Crowism (1950s and '60s), a new image appears in full bloom. The majority population of the South has ridded itself of deep feelings of guilt and the largest minority population has raised its head from a cringing posture. The smog of bigotry is lifting, and on a clear day some see broad horizons for the South.

Southern politicians, officials, and other concerned citizens are campaigning and speaking out in a forthright St atesmanship (or stateswomanship) manner. Coming out of Alabama, "the heart of Dixie," are officials ushering in a new rhetoric, declaring that the state of Alabama has long since dropped the racial issue. There is now a call for "a new beginning" from Alabama Gov. Fob James, and for "the brotherhood of man" from Sen. Howell Heflin.

We cannot declare, however, that 300 or more years of attitudes and customs have been swept away, leaving no residuals, no reprecussions. There remains much in racial attitudes which could prove explosive.

The South is a multi-racial area, much like the nation and there are some characteristics common to the region:

-The racial distribution is consistently spread throughout the Southern states;

- According to 1975 statistics, there is notable poverty among all races;

- Each race has its own special interest group in addition to those that exist in support of numerous causes.

Despite the common traits, there is a separate struggle of the races, so intense that every group


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in the region has its special racial interest group.

For Whites, there are two groups: The Nazi Party, that declares all Black Americans are inferior, and seeks to purify the nation by purging it of Blacks and Jews; and the Ku Klux Klan, which unfurls a somewhat different banner today, deemphasizing its "white supremacy" creed of the past, but demonstrating that same philosophy through its vigilant stance for law and order. Organized to the hilt, Blacks are seeking and often arrogantly demanding, "all that Blacks are due and have been deprived of over the centuries." At the same time, there are other special interest groups throughout the population organized for a special cause: ERA, abortion, gay rights, prisoner's rights, and environmental protection to name a very few

Each wages with a degree of zeal that shows no caring for others and leaves the impression of concern only for its own isolated interest, thereby developing an opposing hostile group. This fragmenting eventually creates something like the game of tug-of-war where there is little object other than to pull against in order to hold the line.

It is significant to note that the racial special interest groups serve to emphasize separatism. Attitudes which each fosters continue to accept racial separatism. The separatism jargon of all groups keeps aglow that old image of segregation. It opposes progress, in that it encourages clannishness and isolation.

While cause groups unite and form successful coalitions around "causes", they have made little dent in the wall of racial separation that is being built.

To redirect the trend, techniques should be developed that will foster negotiation. These should involve communication across racial lines, providing a means of getting to know and appreciate one another. Such communication would promote an opportunity for individuals to know the worth of each other and to salute the human dignity of one another. If this kind of interpersonal relationship could begin to develop, such an approach could move attitudes from the present racial separatism towards wholistic citizenship responsibility.

Any organization concerned about the welfare of its constituency would do well to direct considerable organizational know-how toward involving its grass roots members in interracial communication. It takes intelligent action by all the people for real progress. The greatest good any organization can perform is to objectively try to inspire and insure a high level of literacy, information, and self-esteem, not just among its "leaders", but right down to the grass roots. This is a crucial time, and "leaders" would do well to reevaluate their techniques, attitudes, and reactions toward other racial groups. It is incumbent upon all racial groups to create a more fulfilling future through knowledge of ourselves and our country's history.

Formerly the president of the Alabama Women's Political Caucus, Bettie Green Stokes is a Black woman who has been involved in organizations supporting the civil rights movement, women's rights and civil liberties.