Sunday, July 23, 2006

Red State Driving Zeitgeist

Driving is a word that has a variety of meanings and derivations. There's driving your car to the store or driving your family on vacation and all the symbolism of personal freedom associated with the automobile. In fact, the phrase "he or she's in the driver's seat" is an indication of a heightened degree of control. But there are also involuntary images of driving such as being "driven" out of town or being "driven" to drink or take drugs.

Driving was an important image in the Lexington (KY) Herald-Leader today. The Herald-Leader has a major story on blacks being driven out of towns all over the the South and border states like Kentucky. Blacks were driven out of Corbin, KY during the 1920's and black parents still tell their children not to drive through Corbin when they get their licenses. Blacks tell their children not to drive through my town of Morehead as well. One of the legacies of segregation is that the South and borderstates are a checkerboard of places where blacks can feel safe, relatively safe, unwelcomed, or banned. In a few cities like Atlanta, blacks are in the political driver's seats. In other places like Louisville, KY, blacks feel relatively safe although Louisville has had the same problem with the police shooting black men as Cincinnati. In places like Corbin or Forsythe County, Georgia, segregationists are still in the driver's seat and blacks drive there at their own peril.

In Morehead, segregationist good old boys were in the driver's seat until about fifteen years ago. Blacks and Yankees drove through here at their peril. But that group has passed on. Now it would be more accurate to describe the 98% white town as a checkerboard where blacks are welcomed in some stores, with some people, and with some police; not so welcome with some stores, people, and police; and completely unwelcome with others. About 15-20% of the cars at the Wal-Mart parking lot carry Confederate flags and other Confederate memorabilia. Slavery and Segregation still reign in their cars and their hearts. Things have improved for blacks here, but not nearly so much that they can ignore the wariness taught them by their parents. Living, and driving, freely is still something that escapes black people in Red States like Kentucky.

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