Posted by: bkivey | 3 November 2010

Culture Clash

I spent a couple of days with my sister and her family in North Carolina this past week and got an earful on the Yankee invasion. I’ve heard this refrain before but it seems every time I visit the tension is ratcheted up a notch. Although my heritage is Southern I have to say that there are valid reasons for the mistrust and hostility toward the carpetbaggers.

The primary historical source of friction has been the difference in the way Southerners and Yankees deal with other people. A Southerner will treat you according to how you act; if you treat a Southerner politely and respectfully you’ll go far, a Yankee treats you according to how much money you have; the lower on the economic ladder you are, the more a Yankee will look down on you. Yankee’s say it’s just business: it’s not, that attitude is crass and rude, I don’t care who you are.

Yankees tend to think of Southerners as socially and intellectually backwards, an attitude that’s apparent in their never-ending praise of how much better things are where they came from. This is not an endearing trait. I have some questions for those who move to the South from elsewhere: Did someone put a gun to your head and force you to move here? No? So there must be something about the South that’s more attractive than where you used to live. If I came over to your house and started trash-talking your home and how you live, do you think that you’d find that attractive? No? Then why the hell do think that’s acceptable behaviour?

I got first-hand experience with this attitude while I was waiting for my sister at a beauty salon. A couple of women were talking about the election and one of them expressed disappointment in how things were going for her candidates when I mentioned that I’d voted a couple of weeks earlier (Oregon uses mail-in ballots that go out toward the end of October). Ms. Disappointed looked at me and said “You must be one of those white male early voters.” Say what? This woman had never laid eyes on me, didn’t know anything about me except that I was obviously a white male, and yet she was prepared to, and did, render a derogatory public opinion about me. That was not only rude, but immature. A polite, mature person would have made small talk about the differences in voting in Oregon and North Carolina or some such, and it would never occur to a Southerner of any type to make such a statement.

The current hot-button issue in North Carolina is the public school system. North Carolina is rightfully proud of it’s public schools, and in fact uses them as a recruiting tool to attract talent to the area. The key to their success is that enrollment is distributed according to family income: each school is limited to a certain percentage of children that qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. Beyond that limit the remainder of children must come from families higher on the economic scale. This means that your child may not get to go to the neighborhood school and may have to ride a bus or get a ride to another school. It also means that a child may not go to the same school throughout their elementary years, for instance. As inconvenient as the system may be, it does mean that a given school will have children from diverse economic backgrounds and makes for a more consistent educational experience as well as more well-rounded children. It is a system that has worked well for decades.

The latest influx of Yankee liberal interlopers have decided that what North Carolina really needs are ‘community-based’ schools in which all of the kids in each neighborhood attend the same school. Thus all of the poor kids attend school together and all of the not-so-poor kids (and you know which category the newcomer’s kids fit in) go to school together. This is an idea meeting with much resistance, not least because one need only look north to see how well this has worked in states above the Mason-Dixon Line. You might think that folks would be happy to move to a place where public schools actually work pretty well and leave a proven system alone, but you would be misunderstanding the liberal mindset, which is that nothing they’ve screwed up once can’t be screwed up again somewhere else.

This problem is not confined to the South. The same situation is happening in the Northwest where Californians unhappy with the results of policies they voted for for years are migrating north and attempting to get the same policies enacted in neighboring states. One of the beauties of the American Federal system is that each state can, within broad limits, conduct it’s own social policy experiments. Given the results of decades of liberal policies in the Northeast, upper Midwest, and California, one might think that the proponents of those policies might learn from the experience. Instead, like irresponsible children, they won’t clean up the mess they made, but are happy to move on to someone else’s house and ruin it.

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