Isn’t this how it truly is? Inescapable truth collides with modern lofty idealism.
“Civilized” aspects of our being are always a veneer, something that is cultivated to allow us humans to build and prosper within civilizations. But it doesn’t run deep, nowhere as deep as the primitive portions of our being that call out for respect for shared blood, soil and sweat.
People like to dismiss such talk as “tribalistic,” as if it’s somehow avoidable. As if it’s a relic of bygone years that no longer matter, that no longer have a place at our civilized table. To those people, all I can say is that you do not understand human nature. Not deeply. And you will be in for a great disillusionment before all is said and done.
This is a topic that I ponder on often and am conflicted about. Not because I can’t understand but rather because I can. It is a bit terrifying to comprehend that so much of what we take for granted today may not withstand the turbulence on the horizon. Much of what we’ve come up dreaming about are just that — dreams, and little else. Wishful thinking. Naive and unrealistic.
The maternal side of my family (that being the genealogy I am familiar with) has roots in the South stemming back 250 years. Who knows when we first arrived on this continent from Western Europe? One record I looked at over a decade ago of a man sharing my Papa’s surname was brought over and directly placed in indentured servitude where he died. Unsure if he was part of my direct bloodline since so much has proven untraceable. Churches have burnt down, records have been destroyed. But he was the first with our name recorded on this continent, and he died as little more than a slave. My family records dating as far back as I’ve been able to locate have shown we were not slave owners either. Were too poor to be so. Arrived in Mississippi poor in the mid-1700s and managed to stay that way. And yet people blame us anyway, calling out our skintone as if that alone can tell you much of relevance about a people.
I’ve grown up in a society that speaks down about the U.S. South, denigrating us as a bunch of racists historically and presently. We’re taught this in our school curriculum, especially up north where the narrative largely goes unchallenged. We were taught to see ourselves as “rednecks,” “hillbillies,” “crackers,” and basically the scum of this country. The war fought for secession has forever been rubbed in people’s faces and used to vilify folks with the false claim that all was fought over slavery, that we were never about anything other than supporting and defending the plantation owners and their economic interests. It doesn’t make sense, but people repeat it, generation after generation, without questioning its validity. They continue to denounce us as racists despite the South remaining the home of the highest population of black people in this nation. You would think if Southerners were so racist that their descendants would’ve moved away over the last 150 years to escape the racial tensions — would’ve relocated to the Midwest where far fewer black people reside outside of the major cities. And yet they don’t. Blame it on stubborn pride if you must.
I personally know better. I’ve learned over the years how many people talk out of both sides of their mouths. How they pretend to care about people whom they would never agree to live near. How their politics parade as if concerned about those deemed to have the most unfortunate circumstances, when in reality they don’t give a damn. It’s just posturing. A way to make themselves feel good and look good to others. A reason to pat themselves on the back for being so “progressive.” Yet they don’t really want to know about the cultures and the history and what continues to bind people’s hands.
And now, these same types of people wish to push for and celebrate evermore “diversity” and “multiculturalism.” While they reside safely in their suburban cul-de-sacs and gated communities. While they secretly look down on us who they see as dirty, backwards, uncivilized. You know they are looking down on black people too. They just like to pretend the opposite is true. They look down on Hispanics also, feigning concern for them while reaping the benefits their “cheap labor” produces.
That’s what so much of this is really all about: economics. That was true in the days leading up to the Civil War and remains true ever since. Agrarianism versus the rise of Industrialization. The need to drive people out of small community-sustaining and self-sufficient or otherwise subsistence modes of productivity so that they would flee toward big cities and become cogs in some corporate system. This is what I mean when I keep repeating that slavery never ended, it just changed shapes. What was once called slavery is now rebranded as cheap labor. What’s the real difference? Now the workers are more expendable, more easily replaceable, and their employers are no longer responsible for housing and feeding them. Do you see that? Externalization happened. What was once the slave owners’ responsibility is no longer of concern to the modern employer.
People like to say that capitalism ought to be unregulated by the government, but if not for consumer protections fought for and enshrined in law working conditions would’ve remained terrible. When early capitalists could get away with working people to the bone, they did. No more concern about whether a person lived or died on the job because another person was waiting to take their place. Forever another person in waiting. The necessity to chase the all-mighty dollar fuels everything in modern times.
Hence why borders are being threatened once again. The desire for cheaper labor persists. Hence why American companies packed up and moved to Mexico and China since the 1980s where they can produce cheaper products with less government oversight and then turn around and sell those products back to us for a higher profit. Walmart destroyed many small towns in favor of this scheme, including my own hometown. And yet we’re not supposed to talk about that, lest we be labeled as socialists or communists.
The labels keep us from honestly reckoning with what’s happening around us and up over time.
But back to our blood bonds to our ancestors… There is something within plenty of us that howls back toward history. Can’t escape its cry, its call for an awakening to where we’ve come from and where we stand now. We’re being taught to divvy up and see one another as problems and oppressors, when in reality we’ve all been played. Furthermore, why should we be made ashamed of our histories and our tribal instincts? Because we were not all on the same team didn’t mean that we were automatically enemies originally. But now we’re becoming so. Now we’re instructed to see one another as mere demographics, labels — a new form of tribalism, this time divided according to politics and class. But many of us remain in the same place we’ve always been, unmoved by these shifting tides. Still not far from the bottom, holding no significant claims to power, watching as we’re being whipped into competitive frenzies and encouraged to attack others in not much better positions than ourselves.
Plenty of us long for a simpler life. For simpler relations instead of being cast adrift in a sea of strangers and opportunists. People possess a need to create communities and to draw boundaries and to protect and conserve, yet all of that is being actively undermined. Though it’s not as if human nature changes overnight. Because we’re being forced into new circumstances doesn’t erase our primal needs. Because society and its expectations have changed over time says nothing about who and what we are and have always been and still remain. A culture or economy may “evolve,” but human evolution is much slower. It doesn’t become what we wish it would be. And I doubt all the social and genetic engineering we devise will be able to surmount that Truth.
Time for work.