I was raised in a state that taught me to sing its praises—to strive for its debutante corsets and bend my body to worship its purist ideals.
I was raised in a state that made it clear from the start how my being “foreign” kept me from being able to contribute to discussions that mattered. Starting with history and ending with culture.
I was raised to pledge allegiance to flags, to football teams, to men who mastered the fine art of killing foreign bodies in countries we never learned to pronounce.
As I grew older, I met more progressive-minded Alabamians that encouraged me to think outside the please-accept-me immigrant box.
I relished the moments of safety inside nice, liberal bubbles that made the majority of my state’s citizens feel so far away—and harmless.
When I became a naturalized citizen, I began the long journey of loving a country without making excuses for its crimes and cruelty.
I learned to stop defending the indefensible.
I know the history that prides itself on excluding me is also the history for which I am responsible.
I know the price of not being likable and not playing “the game” is exclusion from polite circles where power is concentrated. This is true for any leftist, anti-imperialist female in the south.
This is how the stakes are drawn.
This is how we line up to angle for influence.
This is how we commodify dissent into “acceptable” forms that keep others feeling comfortable.
To the friends who condemn me for staying here, you talk a good game of privilege that assumes I’d abandon other women to the mess in which I (as a voting, tax-paying citizen) am complicit.
To the friends who tell me to go back to where I came from, I’m sorry my poster upsets you but I’m not here to offer peace of mind that my silence or disappearance would give you.
To the friends who want me to say Alabama is just like the rest of the country, I can’t do that without selling out countless of humans who live in the gagged regimen of polite southern silence where we go along to get along. Which is what makes all of this injustice possible.
Should I critique the deep misogyny of southern life in a way that makes it seem like only elected officials are responsible?
Should I make it easy to say the gregarious mega-churches are innocent?
Should I pretend that so many people I love don’t support Trump in this state—and don’t support misogyny so deeply that we barely avoided voting a child rapist into office?
Why do you get to decide what Alabama means for me?
What about your life, body, or career enables you to be the expert on my experience?
And isn’t that the point, finally? My job. My role as good immigrant and southern girl. My commitment in the effort to maintain a cherished ideal of southern life that is warm and welcoming and hospitable and no more racist or xenophobic or self-destructive than states where the majority votes against xenophobia, racism, and misogyny.
I’ve spoken about this before. I will speak about it again. As an American. As an Alabamian. As a woman. As a citizen of this warming planet.
I will hold my state accountable for lies we are asked to live. Daily. Constantly. Without mercy or reprieve.
My voice is NOT the problem. My criticisms of patriarchal life in the south are NOT the problem. The problem is a system so deeply rooted in allegiance and loyalty that even my liberal friends find themselves invested in its appearance.
As for those whose experience in the south is different from mine, believe me when I say that I am glad. This is a place where everyone should feel welcome and seen. This is a state with room enough for all kinds of humans beings with varying hopes and dreams.
If I didn’t believe goodness was possible, I wouldn’t fight to expose the seams where cruelty dwells, and nests, and breeds.
Gladness aside, I hope that we all hold our government and communities accountable for the laws and the culture that punishes humans for their birth.
I hope that our energies are focused not on rescuing the mythologies of “a good south” or a “liberal south” but on dealing with the reality of a merciless south where the institutions of justice and social aid are as complicit in racist, sexist outcomes as the laws that keep them that way.
I stand in the Customs Line with “nothing to declare” on my lips.
Inside that “nothing,” however, is a struggle between the need to belong and the need to tell the truth.
I hope you find it in your hearts to forgive me.