Bob Zellner: Violence in Arizona and the South

 The attempted assassination of Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords reminds me of growing up in the South where violence seemed to be as American as cherry pie.

Children in the Bible belt were to be seen, not heard. Our little world was separate from adults for the most part except for the occasional housekeeper or baby sitter.  When company came for dinner, children sat at a separate table, often waiting for adults to eat before we were fed. 

When chicken was fried, we got necks, backs, the feet and occasionally chicken head.  Someone somehow ate all parts. Depression gripped the South and food was not to be wasted.  I didn’t know what second-class citizens were but we younguns were definitely that. 

Religion, philosophy and politics were discussed, if at all, out of earshot of children because, “Little pitchers have big ears.” Infidelity, violence, and scandal of any nature were discussed in hushed tones - never in the open, like today.  Our little ears, however, were full of everyday violence like the public lynching out from nearby Dothan, Alabama.  When I was five, special trains brought five thousand whites to watch the murder of a black man. Children were encouraged by their parents to stick forks in the charred flesh of the victim after he was dragged through the streets behind a pickup. 
Daddy’s “nervous breakdown” became the Zellner’s hushed up scandal.  Methodist ministers didn’t have emotional problems. An “eccentric” bachelor uncle or maiden aunt locked away in Southern attics, wearing Confederate gray or antebellum gowns, ubiquitous in literature, shows that mental disorder was something to be ashamed of.  The prevalence of mental illness made appearance paramount. Frantz Fanon explained imperialism and the resulting mental disorder among oppressed people. Thorough study of the mental illnesses of oppressors has not been attempted.

Dad’s KKK membership was, no doubt, the cause of his breakdown.  He was trying to be a minister of the gospel while practicing racial discrimination.  Although his Klan connection was never mentioned, Dad’s dilemma, like the American one, was professing one thing about race while doing another. Half the population lording over the other half, taking the best of everything while leaving the rest to make do on scraps, was bad business indeed.  Dad also concluded that holding black people down also impoverished white people.  Rich people, happy to let poor white trash do the dirty work, laughed at both.  They had always controlled blacks through terror, slavery being maintained only by a constant state of violence against the enslaved.  One human enslaving another is an act of war.

The rhetoric and reality of violence and war, consequently, permeates our history and our politics.  Sarah Palin, however, should apologize for placing crosshairs over the district of Congresswoman Gifford.  Ms Palin defended herself by saying she is only playing politics as usual.  Making herself the victim, she claims she suffered a “blood libel,” an insult to Jews who actually suffered.
Listen tonight to our great President Obama as he binds    the wounds inflicted in Tucson.  His political style is the opposite of the current crop of rightwing haters.  With real commitment we can all work together to bring peace to politics.

Bob Zellner January 12, 2011

Teacher, activist and author Bob Zellner lives in Southampton.  Bob Zellner's Blog