I have long been a reader and supporter of the magazine – since the old days, when it was just about booze – but I believe those days are finally coming to an end. Since the magazine moved beyond drinking culture and cocktails into a more generalized South, there has always been a nasty undercurrent that plagues all non Black writing about the region – overcoming my racism, my father’s racism, loving racists, loving being sort of racist, sly racist jokes, unintentional dog whistles in written or other visual language – but this most current essay is, for me, a final straw.
Whereas previous Racism as Pornography essays have held some sort of self awareness, some concern at the behavior of those involved, some recrimination, some statement oftrying to do better even if failing at it, Ellen Ann Fentress’ essay “Are You A Seg Alum Too? Let’s Talk” contains none of it. Paragraph after paragraph of blasé attempts at cutesy-fying up incredibly horrible statements, crimes and extreme racial violence only make the editor’s pen seem complicit in letting Fentress spend a whole essay outlining and enjoying the power and privilege she has gained through her education and her status as an alumni. In one sentence, Fentress stresses that she hated her new school, “but not because we were racially enlightened – I won’t insult you with a cover up story – but because the school was big and chaotic”, and then four sentences later, says “Back then, I felt bad about my school’s obvious purpose. I silently fretted, I’d be asked, point-blank, by someone who was black what school I attended.” She further explains that she need not have worried, for how could she have ever met a person who was black. I’m not sure which sentence to believe, and therefor, I’m sure I can’t believe anything the author is saying. The bizarre coding at the end, by someone who was black is even more concerning. Can the author not say, black people? What knots is she so tied up in that she has to structure the description of the majority populace of this region this way? The few times people who were black appear in her story (which in of itself is rare, segregation is nothing but obsessive about every single waking second I spend on this earth, walking around, not being white) they are strangely constructed tools, who may not even be real, as in the case of the unfortunate school janitor who sees an 13 year old white girl come dressed to school as a Klansman? As if he hasn’t seen it before, or since? She goes on to admit that this memory is probably fake, which is perhaps the reason that he is not a person who was black, but African American.
Editor. It is 2019. Our region has been weaponized by those who would see entire groups of people forcibly removed from this land, if not this country, if not the face of the planet. By continuing to publish, elevate, and disseminate pieces like this and the other stories that fall into Racism as Pornography and lite segregationist apologia, it further serves that purpose. It gives comfort to racists and others like them that they are not alone, it reminds white northeastern liberals that the South is the hellscape they always imagined it to be. I, for one, am sick of it. It ruins my day. It reminds me that, for every one piece about someone’s racist dad, I must do the math to remember how many people’s racist fathers are around me, dealing with my insurance paperwork, ignoring my phone calls, not being called out by their children, or any other real time scenario.
At the end of WWII, as part of the denazification process, Germans clamored for “Persil Certificates” (Persilscheine), certificates that would show that this person had opposed or fought against the nazi regime. Persil, of course, was a laundry detergent, that claimed to wash “whiter than white.” I hope Ellen Ann Fentress has earned her Persil Certificate from your paper.