The Future Is Happening in Tennessee
Keep your eyes on the South.
I cannot recommend this essay by Tressie McMillan Cottom highly enough. It’s about the expulsion of Reps. Justin Jones and Justin Pearson from the Tennessee House—but it’s really about why the rest of America should keep one eye on the South:
We like to look to the horizon instead of to the soil because we bury the people we do not care about in the South. It is where we have put migrants and poor people and sick people. It is where we put the social problems we are willing to accept in exchange for the promise of individual opportunity in places that sound more sophisticated. . . .
I keep my eyes on the South for a lot of reasons. This is my home. It is the geography of this nation’s original sin. Nothing about the future of this country can be resolved unless it is first resolved here: not the climate crisis or the border or life expectancy or anything else of national importance, unless you solve it in the South and with the people of the South. . . .
The South is not exceptionally racist. The South is quintessentially American in its racism. The distinction is clear in how, of the three representatives in question, Tennessee expelled the two Black men, while the third, a white woman, held onto her seat. The strategies of disenfranchisement are clearest where the racial animus is strongest.
And so I watch the South to keep my eyes on the Central Casting of the American democratic imagination and to know where the script our country is writing is going. We are obsessed with the protagonist Trump. If he can overcome his legal troubles. If he can maintain his hold on the G.O.P. . . .
But it’s not the story that we will look back on as the one that shaped our lives. That story is about historical forces, not character actors.
Looking at this, our friend Ted Johnson says, “As the South goes, so goes America. It's an unescapable truth as old as the nation itself.”
I’d never really considered this idea. But it’s almost certainly correct.
That’s one of my cultural blind spots. I’m a white guy who grew up in New Jersey.