A Divided Land

This week at trivia night, a friend of mine observed that she hadn’t seen any African Americans at Hey Joe’s (which hosts the event).  That got me thinking of all of the places I’ve visited over the past few months.  It was impossible to disagree with her observation.  

Now Delta State is something of an exception.  Our student population is made up of a good mix of people from all walks of life as are the faculty and staff.  But when it comes to social events the story is different.  Take Otherfest, a local music festival, for example.  I spent most of yesterday there.  There were at least several hundred people attending.  I don’t have any figures, but the sea of white faces did not shake what was becoming increasingly obvious: the Delta is a divided land.

Everyone knows of the history of racism in the South.   After having lived here a few months it’s clear that the legacy of that is still on display.  To a large extent white people and black people seem to live in seperate worlds, mostly interacting at large chain stores such as Walmart.   But simply seeing those divisions does not imply that racism itself is still as prevalent as it once was.  Yes old habits die hard.  But I have yet to see overt racism.  Then again my world is populated largely by transplants from elsewhere.

And it’s still more diverse here than I initially expected.  There is a Chinese community which is large enough to have its own cemetery down in Greenville and donate money to the Delta State University Archives.  Teach for America also brings in plenty of folks from elsewhere as does the college itself.  I myself am a prime example of that.  In other words, the picture is quite literally not black and white.

In some ways the force of tradition is at work here more than anything.  When you grow up a certain way you have certain assumptions that you don’t really question.  However these sort of unconscious biases are not at all unique to the South.  But down here it could very well mean that certain divisions are baked into the proverbial pie and continue simply because customs have a momentum all their own.   

So the bottom line is the Delta is a complex, sometimes contradictory place.  People are friendlier to each other yet inhabit largely homogenous social spheres.  They don’t know any other way of life other than their own, but have influenced American culture in important ways.   Learning all of this has certainly been an interesting experience.  But I look forward to learning even more.

Article by Mike

Mike is the Head of Discovery Services for the Delta State University Library. He has lived in Cleveland since May 2013.

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