To demonstrate our racial righteousness to the media commisars, are we younger Southerners required to agree that our gray-haired kinfolks are irredeemably tainted? If so, forget it. We know better. We know these people, we love them, and in most cases we grant them grace, knowing that they too were twisted by the evil of racism, by a world into which they were born, and which — contra Mr. Faulkner — has passed and is passing away.
In a 1957 letter, the Southern Catholic novelist Walker Percy, who openly opposed segregation when that wasn’t easy for a white Southerner to do, conceded the wickedness of the peculiar institution, but warned that anti-racists could not win if they attacked “not only segregation, but (the Southerner), his people, and his past.”
“Perhaps the best imaginable society is not a countrywide Levittown in which everyone is a good liberal ashamed of his past, but a pluralistic society, rich in regional memories and usages,” Percy wrote. “I sincerely believe that the worst fate that could overtake the struggle against segregation would be its capture by a political orthodoxy of the left.”
It’s still true today. I hate the stain of racism that is an indelible part of my heritage. But those with untroubled consciences who insist that to hate racism requires regarding our family, friends, and neighbors, as moral lepers do not understand what honor and loyalty mean to Southerners.
These militant culture warriors are placing abstract ideals over flesh and blood reality. That too reflects an impoverished moral imagination. But then, Southerners have long considered that to be the graceless Yankee way. If this Deen episode reinforces odious Northern stereotypes of Southerners, then I assure you the feeling is mutual.