I love being a Southern progressive.
I was born and raised in the South. My family on both sides originated in northeastern North Carolina, and many relatives still reside there, as well as in my home state of Virginia. I drank well water until I was twelve, and spent many afternoons playing at the Sessoms Produce Stand that my grandmother worked at until her death in 1997. And, unfortunately, I came up with an….intimate knowledge (and hatred) of the Confederate flag (if you ever meet me, I will regale you with a particularly hilarious story about the time I brought home a magnet with the old Georgia state flag from a field trip).
My progressivism is shaped by my experiences and the things that I have seen. It is shaped by being a Black man in the South. It is shaped by having grown up in a working-class family. It is shaped by driving around places like Alabama and Mississippi and seeing human beings living in apartment buildings and houses that appear to be on the verge of collapse. It is shaped by witnessing the shunning of GLBTQ people in communities simply for being who they are. It is shaped by the constant war against women’s agency being waged in statehouses throughout the South and elsewhere. It is a tapestry of humanity and life that forms my progressivism, and fortifies it.
As Flavia Dzodan once said, “My feminism will be intersectional or it will be bullshit!” The same should go for our progressivism as well.
Given that, you can understand how prolific my anger was while reading the following passage written by Clete Wetli, the chair of the Madison County Democrats in Alabama, for an editorial on al.com:
The Alabama Democratic Party is accepting its identity as a party of progressive values and principles that aims to transcend the cliché politics of class and race.
All I could think was:
(For some background on the shambles that is internal Democratic Party politics, read this. And this. And this. And this. And for the sake of this piece, I will leave my thoughts about the whole Joe Reed vs. Mark Kennedy struggle aside.)
Human identity is not a cliché; it is a defining feature of who we are as individuals. Privilege and oppression is tied to our identities, and they can profoundly affect the course of our lives for better or worse. Likewise, class affects access to a quality education, gainful employment, and political agency. Any progressivism that is going to succeed in making inclusive change is going to recognize these facts, and work to eliminate the various privileges and oppressions that hold true equality and progress back. Conservatism in Alabama was built through the systematic oppression, fear, and exclusion of Black people; to paper over that history and its effects and try to combat it with a sort of “colorblind” progressivism is ridiculous, to say nothing of ineffective.
For example, Joe Reed believes the party needs a white chairman to attract white voters, but that is a misguided assumption that, sadly, strengthens stereotypes and fosters ongoing racial division. …
Why not focus on progressive ideas and policies, instead? Why not work on branding the party to show its stalwart support for diversity, inclusion and progress?
A progressive inclusion celebrates and embraces diversity. It recognizes that we all come from different stations in life, and that people enter social justice and progressivism from different vantage points. Involving ourselves in the politics of not only race and class, but also sexual orientation and gender expression are essential to building a movement for progressive change in the South. The choice between “focus on race or focus on policy” that the author lays out is a false choice; Southern history has shown us that oppression was not colorblind or classless, so why should our vanguard against oppression be so?
If the conversation surrounding race and class in the South has been oppressive and exclusionary up until now, then let’s work to change the conversation and its participants. But to say that progressivism should somehow engage in an erasure of race or class? If Clete Wetli believes that this comprises a “revolution”, then I don’t wanna dance.