The American South as Scapegoat

colonialism: The colonial system or principle. Now frequently used in the derogatory sense of an alleged policy of exploitation of backward or weak peoples by a large power.

Colonialism is a set of unequal relationships. In the bad old days of the European exploitation of India and Africa, the unequal relationship was set up and maintained by placing a European-controlled government in charge of the native peoples. Read George Orwell’s essays “Shooting an Elephant” and “A Hanging” to get a notion of the type of relationship that existed between the colonial governors and the governed.

This same sort of unequal relationship exists within countries that have not actually been colonized, but which tacitly recognize that some citizens are “more equal” than others.

I have, (as far as I know), coined the term regional colonialism to describe this type of unequal relationship within a country. It’s the attitude that the people who live in certain regions are superior to those who live in other regions of the same country. City dwellers scorn country dwellers. East Coast residents perceive themselves as being superior morally and intellectually to the residents of the Midwest, or the South. The governing denizens of Washington, D.C. consider themselves superior in every way to everyone else in the country.

It might be argued that every group of human beings feel themselves to be superior to those outside their group. In some sense, perhaps, but not in the sense of what I’m designating as regional colonialism.  What I mean is the insidious attitude of regional superiority that is actually nurtured by writers, teachers, entertainers, newscasters, and other influencers of culture.

Regional colonialsm exists in all countries: the stereotyping, ridiculing, and moral posturing that creates the illusion that those who live in the area of central government and commerce are superior to everyone else, morally and intellectually.

I am particularly aware of how regional colonialism works in the United States, chiefly in the ridicule and stereotyping that is applied by residents of the north and northeast to those of us who identify with the southern regions.

The attitude that the southern states have a monopoly on ignorance, bigotry, and violence is reflected in literature, entertainment media, and news coverage. It has even seeped into international perceptions.

This post was prompted by a comment by a character in a BBC mystery presentation, an episode of Inspector Lewis.

Lewis and his partner, Oxford-educated Hathaway, are investigating the murder of a woman who assisted a student in obtaining an abortion. They are trying to discover if the murder was motivated by anti-abortion sentiments. Hathaway is incredulous. “This is Oxford, England,” he says, “not Oxford, Mississippi.”

The scriptwriter came up with a neat epigram for his character to utter, but just how fair is it to equate the mentality that produces anti-abortion violence with the southern United States?

Let’s look at some statistics on abortion-motivated violence.

Of six murders and one attempted murder committed by anti-abortionists from 1993 to 2009, two murders were committed in Florida, and one in Alabama. The other three murders were committed in the states of Kansas, Massachusetts, and New York. The failed murder attempt was also in the state of New York.

Of ten incidents of bombing or other violence against abortion clinics from 1984-2007, five were carried out in southern states; five were not.

Incidents in southern states:
1984 Pensacola Florida
1998 Miami, Florida
2005 Palm Beach, Florida
2005 Shreveport, Louisiana
2007 Austin, Texas

Incidents not in southern states:
1999 Sioux Falls, South Dakota
2000 Concord, New Hampshire
2000 Rockford, Illinois
2001 Tacoma, Washington
2006 Rochester Hills, Michigan

Isn’t it time to stop mindlessly perpetrating regional stereotypes?

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