By Deborah Love
This week has been “Alabama Week” on The Daily Show, a week devoted to the mocking of Alabama and especially its recent political scandals. I suspect many Alabamians have laughed along with Trevor Noah, half from nervous embarrassment and half from frustration. The hostile spotlight on Alabama brings my thoughts back to one memory from a time when I interned with Senator Jeff Sessions as an eager college student, excited to make a positive difference. One of the first phone calls I received was from an angry man who asked me where I was from, to which I quickly replied with a proud and positive voice, “I am from Alabama.” The man responded “You’re a barefoot, inbred, pregnant woman.” The man continued to yell before eventually hanging up. When I looked up his area code I realized he was not from Alabama. So I wondered why he thought such horrible things about a person he had never met. I thought it was strange that he hated the politics of my state so much he would insult a stranger.
I realized later on that this man’s prejudice and hatred of me was based solely on a sort of collectivist logic. By using that term, I don’t mean merely leftward progressivism – collectivism is the idea that people can be reduced to, and explained according to group interests. It is an idea which promotes stereotypes, prejudice, and hatred. We can all think of examples that permeate the current political and cultural dialogue which are based in this fallacy. If you look on social media you will see political or cultural discussions quickly escalate to these broad stereotypical conclusions that judge an individual or entire group from a collectivist lens. Following are some examples that I have recently seen online. Rebekah Caldwell Mason is like many other women in Montgomery politics. Republicans are all corrupt. Black men are all thugs. Millennials are lazy and want everything for free. Democrats hate America. Libertarians are pot heads. Conservatives are extremists. The media is all liberal and biased. These statements are the result of acceptance of the idea of collectivism; they are not based in reason. We all know that there are caring, loving, smart and well-intentioned people in each of these categories. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”
The acceptance of this tribalist sort of collectivism has led to a negative perception of Alabama. The people of Alabama are not synonymous with the state government. Mike Hubbard nor Robert Bentley upheld their duty to the people of Alabama, and they both misled the public; but Alabama is much more than its government. The entire state should not be judged by a few very powerful people. As an Alabamian, I am proud to be from Alabama. I am proud of what private individuals in Alabama are doing right this moment. Our religious institutions, private philanthropic organizations, schools, neighborhoods, and families are all made up of individuals. We are the full sum of each and every man, women, and child, divisible, unique, of value and merit, but with mistakes included .
Progress more often comes in form like a general current, as each individual Alabamian every day makes decision after decision, and act after act. Sometimes these decisions and acts are not the best, but if, as I believe, most days good people do good things, the general tide of progress will rise ever higher and higher. This is thanks to the merits of individual people, each making innumerable positive decisions each and every day. Alabama’s identity does not reside within the Governor’s mansion, but with each and every individual Alabamian. It is because I reject collectivism and collective guilt this week I can still say that I am glad to be an Alabamian. It may be trite to reference the band Lynryd Skynryd, but the outsiders from Florida had a great point – the actions of “the Governor”, or indeed any politician, cannot be held to condemn an entire people.
Deborah Love is Executive Director of Eagle Forum of Alabama, a Conservative grass-roots public policy organization dedicated to sound public policy solutions in Alabama and Washington DC.