Column: Memo from a red state ambassador

What first comes to mind when the state of Alabama comes up in discussion? Beer-swilling NASCAR fans? Confederate flag-toting racists? Junked up trailer parks waiting for a tornado to swing through?

Or maybe it’s a beautiful place dotted with scenic mountains in the north. Stunning white beaches to the south. And hard working, gracious and loving people in between. Or maybe that’s just my take.

I’m certainly no expert, but I do know a bit about the place. Born in Druid City Hospital in Tuscaloosa, Ala. on September 27, 1985 and raised in the tiny town of Moundville, I’ve spent almost 20 years in the state. I’ve seen the good and the bad, the ups and the downs. And, believe it or not, there’s a lot more good than you’d think. But of course, I’m a little biased.

While I’d like to tell everyone to forget everything they’ve heard about my home state, some of the stereotypes are true. We are still dealing with the ghosts of segregation. Poverty, especially in the area where I live, abounds. Inequality is a daily fact of life. Suffice to say, there are a lot of things I’d like to change about the state.

However, one broad, sweeping change could do the state a lot of good: a change in the culture of stagnation.

Let me explain. A few years ago, my parents were selling the house I grew up in. It was in a rural area, and we only had a few scattered neighbors. Some of these neighbors quietly came to my parents to ask one small request when selling our house – to not sell it to a black family.

Now, these were not evil people. They were friendly, cordial people I had grown up with. I had played in their backyards, had sleepovers with their children. These were wonderful people – yet people who were tragically afraid of change.

In 2003, the people of Alabama voted against a modest tax proposal that would have saved state government from near insolvency and given all decent students a chance to go to college on the state’s dime. Just this past year, we voted against a constitutional amendment that would have removed segregationist language from our state’s highest law because it might have raised taxes.

The majority of Alabama voters do not hate blacks or children. They hate the idea of change. Just as their forefathers did when the end of slavery was approaching; or when Brown v. The Board of Education began to end the second-class citizenship status of blacks; or when tortured legalese claims a common sense amendment based on the principles of basic equality might increase taxes.

So they fought to protect slavery. They fought to protect segregation. And they fight to protect an unjust tax system. All of these issues come in a coat that stinks of racism, but under the surface lays a pervasive and overpowering fear of change.

So how can the citizens of Alabama change this culture of stagnation? Do we even want to change?

The burden will fall to my generation. If the state is to venture forth boldly into the 21st century, it will be up to my peers to lead the struggle against the specters of our past. We cannot allow the same fear of change that has bound our parents and grandparents to silence us into an unaccomplished nothingness.

To succeed, we need to change the things that need changing – like the tax code and education – yet keep the things that need to stay – like our emphasis on community. But overall, we must convince our fellow citizens that change is good and a vital component for a thriving environment.

So for now, I’d like you all to forget some, perhaps most of what you have heard about the great state of Alabama. Perhaps one day you’ll be able forget everything.

-The writer, a sophomore at the University of Alabama studying this semester in Washington, D.C., is a Hatchet columnist.

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