To be honest, I had shoved the Ginia Bellafante feature at The New York Times — “Abortion and the Future of the New South” — so far back into the “think piece” folder of guilt that I almost forgot that this “Big City” masterpiece still existed.
In this case, the term “masterpiece” is defined as a piece of first-person journalism that has to be in the running as one of the greatest summary statements of Gray Lady-speak ever put on paper.
I mean, Rod “Benedict Option” Dreher — a former Brooklyn resident — had already produced this truly fab summary statement of what’s going on here. Before we get to the latest response to the Bellafante opus — at Scalawag, hold that thought — let’s let Dreher kick off this thinker-fest:
I’m so sorry. Really, just very sorry. Here entitled Yankees like the NYT’s Ginia Bellafante thought the American South existed to give Millennial Brooklynites a place to reproduce Park Slope, but more affordably, and now we’ve gone and ruined it for them with our deplorable social and religious views.
Ah, right. All that icky religious stuff. That really messes things up for “Tess” and other relocated New Yorkers. Here is the essential Times-talk overture:
Tess wanted her own kingdom, and New York — forbidding, impossible — wasn’t going to let her build it. The start-up costs for the baking and catering business she envisioned were going to be too high; the rent on her apartment in Bed-Stuy was increasing. When she moved in it was $1,800 a month; just a few years later, it was approaching $3,400.
This young woman was a citizen of the New South now. Her business, Tess Kitchen, was thriving. Her New Orleans apartment, at $1,900 a month, had three bathrooms.
I called Tess on the day that the Louisiana House Health and Welfare Committee backed legislation to prohibit abortions once a fetal heartbeat was detected. This came 24 hours after Alabama passed the most restrictive abortion law in the country, one that does not allow exceptions for rape or incest. That followed the passage of another restrictive abortion law in Georgia.
Living in a very liberal city in a very conservative state is a trick mirror. “You really forget that you are in the Deep South here,’’ she said.
Need more? It’s all about the word “backward,” you see. You see the people who are, to New York-raised reformers, still yearning for the “Old South” are still fighting the Civil War.
“The New South’’ was a term conceived in the aftermath of the Civil War to suggest a set of aspirations of some southern elites who hoped to rebuild a backward and devastated place into a world better aligned with Northern urban values.
Over the many decades, it has acquired various layers of nuance, but today it tends to call to mind a string of cities from Charlotte, N.C., to Austin, Tex., that have essentially been Brooklynized by way of a progressive social culture and a tweaked fidelity to some of the South’s more marketable traditions.
Basically, the “New South” would be a great place if it would only be more mature about moral and social issues and evolve into the place that Acela-zone young adults want it to be.
With Bible Belt and heartland abortion laws swinging to the cultural right — a legal wave that may force a U.S. Supreme Court compromise favoring centrist laws closer to the norm in Europe — Bellafante fears that the bloom is off the Southern rose for good. That will be bad for enlightened corporate folks who thought they could create a new Brooklyn-Bible Belt fusion.
Let’s go back to Dreher:
I concede that it’s interesting to talk to progressive Northerners who moved South, thinking that the Grand March of Progress would inevitably make the benighted (but cheap) metropolises of Dixie into non-deplorable locales — but who are learning that they, in fact, live in the South.
What chaps my butt about the piece is the assumption by the author (and those she writes about) that the South ought to assimilate to the dominant progressive culture. The message of this piece is, If you Christianist troglodytes don’t let us progressives have our abortions, we’re not going to move there and contribute to your economies.
Like I said, this is must reading for those who enjoy — Is that the right word? — exploring this kind of first-person magazine preaching.
So what pulled this out of the guilt file and back into play?
That would be the Scalawag essay by the Birmingham, Ala., scribe Katherine Webb-Hehn that ran with this rather blunt headline: “ ‘Brooklynization’ my ass.” Her work, don’t-ya know, has “whose work has appeared in The New York Times, The Bitter Southerner, In These Times, The Nation, PANK and elsewhere.”
In other words, she is real. She’s on the cultural left. And she’s mad anyway. Here is the essential bite to digest:
Southerners, mostly those of us with a uterus, are furious. We’re heartbroken and tired. We don't agree with this ban. What we don’t need right now is outsider condescension or dimwitted reactions. ...
Bellafante claims the South stands to hemorrhage its onslaught of recent outsider residents because of abortion restrictions. That may very well be true, though I doubt it, because the South — surprise! — has more to offer than a reasonable cost of living. Our laws have always been excessively regressive. We know that. You know that. This knowledge hasn’t stopped people from moving here. The South has many of the fastest growing counties in the U.S. It’s home to the largest population of LGBT folks. And while we still have block-to-block, town-to-town racial segregation, the South is not a monolith of white folks like many other places in the U.S.
All of these folks make the South’s culture much more beautiful and complicated than Bellafante’s suggestion that our cities have been “Brooklynized by way of a progressive social culture and a tweaked fidelity to some of the South’s more marketable traditions.” Though plenty of companies might find ways to monetize glossy versions of the South, as Ballafante suggests, let me go ahead and say our traditions are not for sale.
Now, this Scalawag piece isn’t that interested in the religion and culture part of this drama. But Dreher — obviously — is willing to go there.
So read all three pieces. Print them out. Mark up the parts about religion and take some notes.
What a trip.