Friday, November 2, 2012

You Can't Go Home Again

I just finished writing a book about the South, and I've been watching the Presidential race polls closely--not because there's any doubt about which way the Deep South will go. The South is Romney Land, as this map from the  from the New York Times' 538 blog makes clear.

In the 20 years since I've lived in the Deep South, it has grown steadily more conservative and Republican, while I've grown steadily more liberal and Democratic (for lack of any other party that better represents my interests). I guess that's why these days, when I go back home (as Georgia will always be to me, at some deep level), I meet a cold and alienating climate. If I were to move back to Georgia--as my husband and I have talked about doing, maybe, IF we ever get to retire--I would be living among people who speak with the Southern accent I love, cook the foods I grew up eating, share the same sense of the importance of extended family, and have many of the same memories of the distance we have come in terms of race relations. But I wouldn't be at home: I'm pro-choice, pro-gay marriage and pro-Obama--unless, that is, I stuck to living in a handful of urban enclaves where people of my ilk tend to congregate.

The latter is what Bill Bishop's book The Big Sort is talking about: we are all living these days "in Balkanized communities whose inhabitants find other Americans to be culturally incomprehensible." Divisions these days aren't dictated by geography, the way they were in the days before the Civil War, because we no longer live in an agrarian economy. But geography still reflects the fault lines of politics, religion and class that divide us--and the South, as it always has, reflects the most extreme of those divisions. I can still go home again, but I'll never feel completely at home there anymore.

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