Illustration by Gauraang Biyani

The South: More than Bigots and Republicans

In many of the conversations I have had on this campus, conservatism and the South now serve as semantic equivalencies to racism and idiocy.

Oct 9, 2016

Since attending NYU Abu Dhabi, I’ve become a little ashamed of being that girl from the South. On campus, whenever someone refers to my region, the context is consistently negative. It seems that the only time the South is brought up in classes is to lament about the failures of U.S. American society. It is the catch-all for systematic political failures, from gerrymandering to gun violence, and to criticize the beliefs and motivations of those with an ostensibly lesser political affiliation.
In the largely hyper-liberal environment of NYUAD, we tend to denigrate the beliefs and opinions of conservatives. Conservative ideological views are automatically deemed less valuable and less legitimate by the campus’ self-anointed inteligencia. If you’re from California or New York, the shock of your political transition to NYUAD is undoubtedly less pronounced than if you grew up in rural Alabama or Arkansas.
In the wake of the upcoming U.S. presidential election, the anti-Southern rhetoric has heightened. The South is a singular mass of ignorant bigots. They bow at the feet of Reaganomics and Jim Crow. They belong decidedly in Hillary Clinton’s "basket of deplorables".
In many of the conversations I have had on this campus, conservatism and the South now serve as semantic equivalencies to racism and idiocy. This is not to point fingers; I am guilty of painting where I come from with this same proverbial brush. It is much easier to imagine that the only reason someone could own a gun or oppose a woman’s right to abortion is because they are ignorant and misogynistic. However, this caricature of the South is dangerous.
Broad and nuanced views of other perspectives are undermined when simplistic notions like this are the norm. By perpetuating this portrait of the South, we effectively undercut all levels of productive debate and conversation that could have existed otherwise. When we dismiss someone’s beliefs so easily, we lose out on what might have been a learning experience.
It's all well and good for liberals to wring their hands and mutter to themselves about those nonsensical conservatives who are voting for Donald Trump in November 2016, but wouldn’t we make more progress in both the political and ideological sphere by attempting to understand one another?
I am a registered Democrat in the state of Texas, and I have lived there my entire life. Texas, a state larger than many individual European countries, is overwhelmingly conservative. When polls were published giving Trump a mere six-point lead over Hillary Clinton, political pundits everywhere were in shock. Texas is by no means a swing state, and the idea of a Republican having anything less than a double-digit lead this close to election day is shocking.
Trump is polling in Texas with an average of around 43 percent compared to Clinton’s 36.7 percent. Although the reliability of these numbers is limited — as very few polls are ever put out in Texas because of its political dependability — when put in context with where other Republican candidates typically stand in major races, it is deeply surprising. Clinton seems to have reached the expected ceiling for Democratic candidates in Texas, hovering in the thirties. Trump, however, is polling more than 10 percentage points lower than Republican candidates in both the last Texas gubernatorial race and the 2012 presidential election.
The reason why Trump is doing so poorly is the same reason that the majority of Texans did not vote for Trump in the Republican primary. Trump’s brand of conservatism does not represent many individual’s Southern conservative beliefs. To some, Trump’s rhetoric represents a grotesque simplification of conservative values. Texans are concerned about illegal immigration, but they don’t consider all Mexican immigrants criminals and rapists. Texans worry about protecting themselves and their families, but they wouldn’t raise the idea that Second Amendment supporters might take matters into their own hands to prevent Clinton from assuming the presidency.
In essence, it is important to perceive each other’s complexities. There’s no problem in disagreeing with someone, but we should aim for a more compassionate discourse that respects the right of each side to have an opinion. We should recognize that there are legitimate reasons and concerns that might not be immediately apparent to us, but matter deeply to others. The people I come from are not idiots, however conservative they may be. My parents are not racists and my brother is not a bigot. I should not feel the need to make this clarification, and yet I know it is necessary. While it is no secret that the South has its issues — and that racism and ignorance still exist in many parts of the world — writing off an entire group of people because they merely have an opposing political affiliation is illiberal by definition.
Jocilyn Estes is Opinion Editor. Email her at
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