Thursday, June 21, 2007

Power Down South

I'm going off the grid, moreorless, for a couple of weeks. I want to reconnect and commune with the beach, the mountains, my daughter, and friends and family outside of Georgia. If I can't incorporate such extreme basics of my existence into what I do as I move forward in business and media endeavors, then what's the point? I want to do some serious thinking-on about The South too, about where do southerners come into the Big Picture of a transforming media landscape? And for what purpose?

I woke-up thinking some oddly positive thoughts about one day not prefacing everything regarding The South with those catch-all phrases trotted out in the news about us, such as "lagging behind", "catch-up to the rest of the country", "dead last"... you get the point.

The sobering reality was that I turned on the morning radio news and was immediately blasted a national news story about the soaring infant mortality rate among blacks in Mississippi. This after having just read a long piece in the excellent Southern Cultures Magazine about South Carolina chronically "lagging" (there's that annoying word again) in economic development due to its chronically undereducated populace.

S.C., as futurist at least, seems to be unable to envision an educated populace; thus state government continues to cut education funding for the sake of low taxes. For instance, less than a quarter of the adult population holds any kind of higher education degree, undergrad and beyond. On the other hand, S.C. does have one of the lowest taxation rates in the country. Around 10% paid to the state per resident.

Then there's always race... In a recent interview with the Charleston paper, The Post and Courier, as she departs for Seattle's school system, Charleston's school superintendent, Ms. Goodloe-Johnson, a black woman, spoke frankly about race and the legacy of slavery on the education process in the South.

Q: You've lived in Texas, Colorado and Nebraska. How does Charleston compare?

A: It's by far the most segregated and racist, and I think that's a function of the South, too.

Q: How would you say the legacy of slavery, particularly in this community, affects the school district?

A: I think it had a dramatic impact that sometimes isn't seen. Because there's a lot of times I would say to my husband, 'That is plantation mentality.' And by that I mean that people tend to be too complacent. They sit back and allow things to happen to them, and that's slavery. I would tell people all the time, 'Slavery is over. Nobody is controlling you. Nobody is telling you what you can't have. Don't allow people to disrespect you and tell you what you can't have.' That's plantation mentality, and it's so obvious here. But I don't think people see it.

Q: What's an example?

A: Let's talk about failing schools. We should not be in a situation anywhere where kids are not given what they need because they don't have parents who have voice or who have political clout or come to school board meetings and make noise. We have a responsibility to ensure that poor kids, that black kids are educated well. We shouldn't have the kinds of divides that we do. And that's all about people not having voice. Just think about, if everybody had voice, how different the school district would be. Because people would not have sat back and settled for things. Or, people wouldn't allow for schools — why do we allow schools to fail for 10 years and then fight to keep the structure? Help! I just want to scream! Don't fight for failure. Fight for what's right for kids. Fight for excellence. Fight to be at the table to be a part of the conversation. Nobody is enslaved anymore. This is 2007. You can go and do anything you want to.

The complete interview with Ms. Goodloe-Johnson is here.

With so many regionalized, crushing issues coming into play for The South, who's to say where we go next? Backwards or forwards? I just know it all needs thinking-on from those who can and from those who do -- think about The South that is, and from the social media perspective while we're at it.

No comments: