Let's Talk About Alabama

Roy Moore is a scumbag, and the successive revelations we keep receiving as his story evolves range from heartbreaking to appalling. It’s absolutely terrifying how the Alabama GOP has opted to continue to defend his predatory behavior. It’s shocking that we’re just now learning that Moore was banned from a town’s mall because of how common his behavior was. It’s terrifying that a grown man would prey on teen girls in this way. It’s an affront to decency that 29% of Alabama voters say that they’re now more likely to vote for Moore.

We must criticize this with all the rhetoric, will, and organizing power we have available. We must not let this heinousness go by. But we must also continuously interrogate our own criticism to understand where we may be failing in our own solidarity, and the fact is that an enormous amount of criticism of the South and of Alabama in particular ranges from anti-liberation to oppressive to openly eugenicist.

Let me make something really clear to you: everything you think you hate about Alabama is really something you hate about capitalism, and when you put the burden of your ire on the working people of Alabama you play straight into the 300-year agenda of the plantation class. Alabama’s working class is racist today because 300 years ago, the plantation class needed to keep the poor white folks from noticing their abusive working conditions, and so fomented a hatred and a sense of superiority over the black slaves. Alabama is undereducated today because the plantation class and their spiritual descendents needed to ensure that the working classes--both the early white and the eventually emancipated black folks--never received the intellectual tools necessary to systematically oppose their capacity to accumulate and leverage power. Alabama practices a toxic form of Christianity today because the plantation class hijacked the faith of the working class to inculcate in them the obedience necessary for the plantation class to oppress us all. Every single one of these problems is a mechanism by which the people of Alabama are systematically oppressed. Every time we launch a critical salvo at the working people of Alabama, we re-entrench their oppressed, regionalist identity, and we contribute to the immobilization of their people and their continued oppression.

This does not yet even account for the most dangerously toxic trope of coastal anti-Southern oppression. References to inbreeding are a staple of anti-Southern classism, but that staple participates in a blatantly eugenicist, social Darwinist explanation for the South’s social ills. That narrative claims that there’s something genetic, something in the blood of Alabama that accounts for these failings, and that Alabama’s material wretchedness is the proverbial sins of father being visited unto latter generations. This is wrong, it isn’t in the blood: it’s in the halls of power. It’s in the board rooms and the State Legislature, in the Courts and School Boards and public/private partnerships, it’s in the monopoly licenses and the exploitative farms.

We must rethink how we approach Alabama and the South as a whole. What we see in the South is a mass working class that has been historically oppressed, and that oppression is leading to predictable results in favor of the hegemonic power wielders. The Southern white working class is a true natural ally of other oppressed groups. Solidarity is being built as we speak across lines of gender identity, color, and class in the radical South, but until that solidarity extends out of the South into the national and international strongholds of anti-oppressive organizing power, the people of the South are fighting an uphill battle.

It is incumbent upon those of us who organize for social change outside the geographical context of the South to work against that regionalist oppression in our own communities. The only anti-oppressive response to this set of social conditions is exactly what the anti-oppressive response always has been: education, agitation, organization. This work begins in the places and institutions where we already have power, where we have the foothold to begin. We need to educate our coastal allies on the real historical conditions of the South, we need to develop sensitivities to the mechanisms by which the South has come to be a stronghold of reactionary oppression, we need to understand the material means by which the plantation class has undermined the solidarity consciousness of the working classes across racial and gendered lines.

When we participate in the anti-Southern narrative, we’re participating in an anti-working class narrative: a long-term, highly-effective systematic oppression. We’re ceding enormous amounts of territory and political power to the enemies of liberation, to those whose power relies on entrenched racism and patriarchy, and we cannot allow that to continue. We must view the South as a territory for organizing radical change, and we must not give in to anti-Southern oppressive narratives.