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Columns

The South Is Not Your Scapegoat

By Ellie H. Ashby, Crimson Opinion Writer
Ellie H Ashby ’24, a Crimson Editorial editor, lives in Adams House. Her column "From Houston to Harvard" runs on alternate Fridays.

Growing up in Texas, I only wanted to leave. This desire is a rite of passage for all high school students from the South who end up in the Northeast. We all want to flee the close-minded and traditionalist coffin of the former confederacy and find refuge among the revered Northern progressives. And I think it's a good tradition to have, for in the South, going against the political and social grain triggers an energetic bout of critical thinking.

But then I actually left.

I made the long trek from Houston to Boston, toting my naïve optimism that the North had figured it out and was the place people told me it would be. But Houston and Boston are more alike than people realize — broken cities full of broken people who often let their brokenness get the best of them. Yes, the states of Texas and Massachusetts may be different colors on the electoral college map, but the people of the North are not better than the people of the South. They are more of the same.

I learned about this enigma slowly over the course of my first semester in Cambridge. And as I did, I deconstructed the binary I’d internalized of the South always being “bad” and the North always being “good” — the binary the New England’s social media progressives pavloved me into believing. The South has problems (major understatement, I know). But what I did not realize before moving to Boston was that the North has the same exact ones. The justice system is inefficient and unjust, people can be closed-minded and unkind, and policies are discriminatory and unhelpful. The capitalist interests of companies run a city, not the people, and there are good people working through the mess to make something beautiful and more equitable out of it.

I call this the “Houston to Harvard” mindset — a mode of thinking that discards the fabricated binaries of life for a spectrum of complicated truths after a long period of disillusionment.

Can you judge someone for not knowing what light is when they were raised in a cave their whole life? Many of us would answer no. But simultaneously, many of us would answer that an individual is entirely responsible for any and all of their political and social beliefs, regardless of the environment or family in which they grew up.

This is what a black and white binary enforces: thinking that there is no excuse for thinking a certain way or having certain beliefs, and that passing harsh, unyielding judgment is an acceptable — and in many circles, the only acceptable — response. And while I do not agree with many intolerant beliefs more prevalent in the South, I can also understand why a lot of people in my hometown think the way they do. I understand (again, I do not agree) because the binary of everything in the South being bad and the North being a golden sanctuary for social justice was extinguished within me, making room for cognitive dissonance and an intricate spectrum of gray.

I do not mean to excuse the trauma and violence people inflict (discriminatory slurs, cultural appropriation, racial profiling) with the simple justification that they were “raised that way.” I’ve also known many people who have been able to deconstruct the beliefs and mentalities by which they were raised — friends and family that have fought against the societal and political grain for the sake of their identity or what they believe to be right.

But I also say that judgment is the easiest emotion to access because it exists in opposition to critical thinking. In seeing something you do not agree with, it is instinctive to react in a manner fueled by that initial emotion. But such a response reinforces binary thinking.

It is so easy to throw yourself behind the gut response of condemnation when Texas essentially outlawed abortion last week. It is so easy to throw yourself behind the gut response of unbridled anger when vaccination rates in Southern states fail to rise. It is so easy to throw yourself behind a self-indulgent feeling of pride at your own states’ progressive behavior and a consequent denunciation of anyone you feel like does not fit that mold. But in doing so, you avoid the nuances of individual human experiences and thereby erase the texture of the issue itself. Categorizing entire groups of people through snap judgements contributes to the formation of echo chambers, confirmation biases, and all manners of twisted truths.

What the “Houston to Harvard” mindset taught me is that dismissing the South as intrinsically “bad” is unhelpful. It’s a disposition founded upon convenience and situational truths. I am sick of the North using the South as its scapegoat in order to preserve its progressive image. There is so much more to this conversation than the convenient binary of the South being “bad” and the North being “good.”

People are complex, and fitting masses of unique individuals into superficial categories is dehumanizing. The people of the North are not better than the people in the South. It is much more complicated than that.

Ellie H Ashby ’24, a Crimson Editorial editor, lives in Adams House. Her column "From Houston to Harvard" runs on alternate Fridays.

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