Why does Chuck Thompson hate black people?
Just when the percentage of African Americans living in Dixie reaches its fifty-year high, Thompson writes Better Off Without 'Em: A Northern Manifesto for Southern Secession. Coincidence?
Of course, the author never comes out and admits his prejudice. He employs code words.
The good news is that I've deciphered his encrypted tome. The Rosetta Stone to understanding Better Off Without 'Em involves recognizing Thompson's use of "Southern" as a code word for "black" -- a practice akin to his younger white hipster brethren using "Canadians" as a sub rosa slur for African Americans. This is that subtle racism that university professors have been warning us about.
The Oregon (2 percent black) by way of Alaska (4 percent black) writer contends that "southerners were always less well educated," noting the region's dismal standardized test scores and poor high school retention rates. "Unless we're willing to separate ourselves from our lowest common academic denominator," Thompson warns, "we'll forever be a nation sitting around waiting for the slowest kid in the class to catch up." The author condemns the South's "hungry hippo parade," "unhealthy eating habits," and "waddle-prone masses." He observes, "Louisiana leads the nation with 11.2 murders per 100,000 people -- nowhere near lowball New Hampshire, which kills off just 1.0 per 100,000 citizens."
Of course, Thompson can't say he likes New Hampshire because blacks constitute one percent of its population and dislikes Louisiana because it contains more African Americans than every state but Mississippi. He can't bring himself to utter social heresies, so he obsesses over the region, while ignoring the race, that scores lowest on the SAT and drops out of high school at the highest rate. He can't say that four in five black women are overweight or obese, making African Americans the fattest people in Fatso Nation. So he uses that code word -- Southerners.
It's hard not to connect the dots to see the ugly picture Thompson seeks the reader to trace. "Of the seventy-seven U.S. counties that are majority black or African American," he tells us after 100 pages, "all are in the South. On the Louisiana border, Claiborne County, Mississippi, has the highest percentage of blacks in the country, with 84 percent." These are the counties he seeks to erase from the U.S. map, right?
For Thompson, the Bible Belt is the noose strangling America. Exasperated by what he calls "KKKristianity" and "Book of Dip$#!+s creationism," Thompson confesses: "It's too bad we didn't just let the South secede when we had the chance."
The closest the book comes to admitting the South's contributions comes in its bizarre plan for separation. Better Off Without 'Em concedes America wouldn't be better off without Northern Virginia: "Sorry, Virginians, it's a lot of money and educated people to lose, but most of y'all don't consider that part of the state 'southern' anyway, and neither do the rest of us." Presumably, Washington, D.C. stays in the Union, too. Thompson forces Texas, with its booming economic and population growth, to remain as well: "I have not treated it as part of 'my South' for one reason: we can't afford to lose it." But Thompson exiles the rest of Dixieland.
Even a Yankee unable to pronounce the letter "r" can articulate the charms of the drawling South. America's military heroes, from George Washington to Alvin York to Dakota Meyer, have disproportionately come from below the Mason-Dixon line. Whether one drinks Coke or Pepsi, Jack Daniel's or Jim Beam, one drinks to the South. Has the CNN travel writer traveled to Savannah, Charleston, or Nashville? The musicians who invented rock 'n' roll -- Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, Little Richard, Fats Domino, Jerry Lee Lewis, the Everly Brothers -- all hailed from the South. It's also a fact that the South has better fiction: Flannery O'Connor, Zora Neale Hurston, William Faulkner, etc.
Who but a hater wants to discard all that?
The old anti-Southern tic, meshing with the geographical stations of those looking down and those looked down upon, resembled traditional snobbery. When I ran into the First Lady of Alabama, for instance, she playfully instructed that upon my return to Massachusetts: "Tell them that we do wear shoes." I could only respond: "They won't believe me."
This isn't what's going on in this hateful -- strangely mistaken for "humorous" in certain circles -- polemic. The snobbery here is of the looking-down-at-you-from-below variety, of the kind "white trash" once used to humiliate accomplished blacks. The South has gained factories, jobs, people, and political clout at the expense of regions more interested in taxing than producing. It's thriving, while places like Thompson's Oregon or my Massachusetts are, if not dying, then at least shadows of their former selves. Better Off Without 'Em is player-hating.
Perhaps the author regards it as unfair to deconstruct his screed against the South as a thinly-veiled racist tract. Alas, Thompson comes to resemble those he crusades against. He concludes that Lincoln was wrong. He buys a Ku Klux Klan robe and hood for $100. He strangely opines that Sarah Palin -- a governor of Alaska like the author's dad -- would "look pretty good in a swastika." He even calls one school teacher "the only black person I've ever met." My bad -- he calls her "the only black person I've ever met who hates Chris Rock." After painfully reading a book that habitually distorts a region containing 100 million people, I couldn't help but go native and strip the context from one phrase of a 75,000-word tirade.
One wonders if Chuck Thompson, crusader against bigotry and backwardness, went native, too.