TW: racism, homophobia, transphobia, misogyny, rape culture, rape, domestic violence, etc.
This town is a cesspit of all that is wrong with this entire country. A microcosm of the hate, ignorance, poverty, religiosity, meanness, insularity, and dehumanization that has characterized the rest of the nation for the past two years.
The only difference is, it’s never not been on the surface, here. I mean, I know it’s always been there, everywhere. Here, though, it was never hidden. They never had to hide. They never needed Trump and his white supremacist, misogynist ties to parade their hatreds around in public with pride. And they were – are – a point of pride. The guys driving the mud-splattered pickups with the lift kits – and, often as not, homemade Krylon camouflage paint jobs – compete to see who can be the most publicly hateful. The confederate flag bumper sticker is child’s play. The vanity plate with the same thing, emblazoned with sayings like, American by birth, Southern by the grace of God, Rebel by choice, are a matter of course. The winners of this hate game, for as far back as I can recall, were the ones who had the flagpoles in the back of those despicable pickups, the hateful white starred blue cross on its red field flying in the wind of speed, the bigger the better. Some of the flags are as big as, or even bigger than, the cabs of the trucks themselves. They seem to defy physics, alongside decency. The drivers wear their realtree baseball caps with the bills bent almost in an upside down “V”, fishhooks and budweiser caps attached gods know how. They rev their engines and squall tires pulling out of parking lots in such a way that I always think – and often say – So sorry about your tiny penis.
This kind of hate is easy for them, here. There aren’t very many black people in this shitpot town. At the last census, the numbers were less than 4%. Only 5% were Hispanic or Latino, and less than 3% were any other race besides white. Overt racism, here, doesn’t have many consequences. It’s one of the reasons I left with my kids, when I did. They needed to know something I didn’t, growing up – that not everyone looked like them, and that treating people badly because of that was not only shitty and wrong, it was stupid.
Homophobia and transphobia are also pretty easy for them to get away with, here. It’s expected, in a town where probably 80+% of the population is evangelical, and believe that not being cishetero is a one way ticket to the eternal fires of hell. In 1996, I was the one of two non-hetero women I knew, and one of only about eight or nine non hetero people of any gender. I didn’t know any transgender people until I was well into my twenties, and far gone from here. They all left here as soon as they could, running like their hair was on fire and their ass was catching, in the local parlance, and never came back.
The female population here, in 2010, was exactly half. Fifty percent. But somehow, that didn’t stop – and still doesn’t stop – the misogyny from being as large a part of the local identity as the racism and homophobia and all the other bigotry. It’s a smorgasbord of hate, all you can eat. Or stomach. Those old bumper stickers with Ass, grass, or cash, no one rides free are still not old, here. The womenfolk are still oft referred to as the womenfolk, and they’re expected, de facto, to take care of the kids and the house, whether or not they work, which most of them do, often being the sole breadwinner and sole functional housekeeper and parent.
It’s what made it so easy for me to recognize that rape culture was a very real, very present thing. Catcalls are still not challenged, here, almost ever. Men and teenage boys still high five one another in public places – not even confined to locker rooms – about that drunk, passed out chick they all managed to bang on Saturday night. Husbands and fathers still treat wives and daughters like property, and sometimes their mothers, too. Property to be dealt with, and disposed of as they see fit, when they feel like it. Or ownership transferred, like livestock. Boys on the football team who raped another boy with a broomstick as a part of what seems to have been an ongoing, traditional “hazing” ritual, gone only slightly wrong from its intended ends, were only charged with misdemeanor assault. Like kids who’d had a quick shoving match in the schoolyard. Women and girls who are raped sort of just… know there’s no point to telling anyone. Best case, someone might shake their head and wonder aloud what is wrong with the world, these days, as if it hadn’t always been like this. Worst case, the victim is blamed by police, blamed by family, blamed by boyfriend or husband, shunned by friends, family, church, or anyone else who’s important in her life, and treated like a pariah, as if she’s wearing a scarlet letter “V” on her chest, wherever she goes.
In this town, the evangelicals have always run the show, back when nobody called them evangelicals. Then, they were just different forms of Baptists. Freewill Baptists. Independent Baptists. Independent Freewill Baptists. Some variations, with the occasional Pentecostals thrown in for good measure. In this town, churches have been screeching at their parishioners for decades that we didn’t come from monkeys, and that believing in such bunk was grounds for… you guessed it … hellfire and damnation.
They’ve also been preaching hate. Straight from the pulpit, pure, non-watered-down, high test hate. When I was ten, my dad’s second cousin preached from his pulpit that the hommasexshuls were going to bring on the rapture with their sinful ways, that their Sodomite behavior would bring Jesus down from heaven, full of rage and ready to party like Mao Ze Dong. He preached from his pulpit – to a small congregation which included children as young as three – that black people were supposed to be slaves, and that’s why our nation was in so much trouble, to begin with. That their blackness was a punishment from god for Noah’s son, Ham, who gazed upon his drunken father in his nakedness. He preached from his pulpit that Catholics and Atheists (nearly indistinguishable in the eyes of most more hardcore evangelical types, for reasons which utterly defy logic) were hellbound idolators and heathens, ruining everything with their secular ways, which just might include such horrors as Satan worship, cannibalism, and ravishment of “our” women, not to mention corrupting the fragile and malleable minds of the youngens. He preached from his pulpit that women were born evil. They couldn’t help it. They were born carrying within them the root of the sin of all mankind, and it was a man’s duty, as a father or husband, to root out that evil, no matter what it took. Daughter wearing makeup? Beat her with a belt. Wife daring to question her husband’s judgment? Same thing.
Immigrants were supposed to come in only as servants, required to be indentured until they’d earned the right – always and only given by a white man – to be treated with anything even resembling dignity.
And Islam? They were so alien as to not even matter, aside from the occasional sneer of “sand-n*****,” tossed out without a moment’s hesitation. Because, you know, all Islamic people were Arabic, and Arabic people were just bizarre and impossible to comprehend.
That was back in the eighties and early nineties. Children, here, pounded on bibles outside elementary schools, screaming at their classmates that they were whoremongers and sinners, bound for a lake of fire. Children as young as five, both doing the screaming and being screamed at.
And the world largely ignored places like this. The rest of the country occasionally looked on in bemused horror or benevolent condescension. Because they were better than that, doncha know.
Except they weren’t. We weren’t. And those of us who knew better ignored them while they grew, as a movement, while their numbers swelled… until they took over. Until they found themselves a demagogue who had fuckall to do with their poison religion, but knew precisely how to use the hate it generates to whip them into a feeding frenzy of hate.
This place was once a sundown town.
This place’s past is quickly becoming our nation’s future.
And none of us are ready. Most of us still aren’t taking this seriously. I can’t count how many times I’ve heard someone – almost always a cishet white man – say something along the lines of It won’t get THAT bad. There are checks and balances. There is more than just Trump. The rest of us, by and large, don’t say such things. We see that the checks and balances were taken over, already, well before Der Trumpenstein was elected. We see that our entire government is in the hands of the enemy, and that we’re all in danger.
And we see that we’re not ready. That we should have been, but we’re not. Aside from a very small minority, largely made up of BIPOC and queers and transgender people and a handful (relatively speaking) of white women who’ve been active for a while, who’ve been in the know for a while, nobody was prepared for this to get this bad.
I’ve lived this before. This country is now the town where I grew up. I ran as soon as I could, and was devastated when I had to come back, but there’s nowhere to run, now. All of us are living in that place, now.
And we have to fight. We have to be better prepared than we are, and fucking fast. We have to stop giving them inches, stop compromising, stop allowing our moral and ethical snobbery (but we have to be better than them! We can’t stoop to their level!) to get in the way of the single most important thing we’ve ever, as a nation, needed to do – defeat this. No matter what. No matter how. Whatever it takes. However brutal and frightening that may be. We’ve handed the keys to our country to its lowest common denominator, and we have to take them back, no matter what it takes… or we’re all going to be living in the church I grew up in. Where all is hate, and all is suppression, and nobody who isn’t straight, cisgendered, white, male, Christian, healthy, and financially stable will be safe. To some degree, it’s always been this, everywhere. But even those who recognize this must also recognize that this? This is worse. This is not only endorsed by the most powerful, it’s being intentionally, publicly, unashamedly pushed by the most powerful.
And trust me. You don’t want to live where I grew up. No matter who you are.