May 04

Nashville, TN

by in North America, Tennessee, United States

In Nashville, I was finally able to pop the cherry on my 100 strangers project with an especially interesting stranger #1 (if he is to be believed). Nashville is called “The Music City” and for country music it definitely is (The Grand Ole Opry is here), but I think it’s significance for popular music has fallen over the years. Everyone we met was universally friendly and this general friendliness is slowly beginning to rub off on us city slickers from the North. However, the white/black socioeconomic divide in Nashville was wider than I’m used to seeing. We weren’t there very long but I didn’t see a single affluent looking African American all day.

I went to the Tennessee state capitol and again the black/white divide story repeated itself. The state legislature is THE hall of power and influence. Today, a high school class was using the capitol to practice their Robert’s Rules of Order in the real McCoy. I counted between 60-70 students and not a single black one among them, in a city where African Americans comprise 29% of the population. A lack of minority voices may be one of the reasons Tennessee lawmakers were so quick to adopt the paranoid bill against the mythical threat of creeping Sharia. Sadly, this is a region with a storied history of bigotry. Tennessee is the birthplace of the KKK and is the state where MLK was assassinated. The legacy of bigotry continues to this day. Murfreesboro, a town where the site of a new mosque was recently vandalized and targeted in an arson attack, is less than 30 miles from Nashville.

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And then there was the case of the Moslem (or is it Islamist?) foot bath that wasn’t, when Tennessee lawmakers freaked out because they thought a new mop sink in the state capitol was an ablution facility installed out of consideration for Muslims. Well, Tennessee lawmakers should know that I met with Imam Obama at the DC Muslim Brotherhood chapter before our road trip and he personally entrusted me with the mission to further sharia-creep in the great state of Tennessee by performing wudu (ablution) in their state capitol’s Sharia compliant Islamist foot bath. Oh, and mission accomplished!

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Jokes aside, it’s frustrating that the South where folks are warm, friendly, hold the door for you and profess family values has so much bigotry, whereas the North where people are cold and even rude to one another has a far better record of tolerance and inclusiveness. What drives this? Is it the heritage of a once slavery-driven economy and resentment over defeat in the civil war? Is it that they have fewer immigrants so less experience with diversity and less appreciation of the common humanity that all people share regardless of how different they appear? Could it be that the affluent and powerful classes don’t want to surrender their economic and political advantage to the historically disenfranchised, fairness be damned, and so push racially divisive narratives to prolong the institutional inequities that favor them? It’s probably all of the above and more.

Also, anti-immigrant rhetoric and violence almost always flares up during economic slowdowns (as can be observed in Greece and a few other crisis-hit European nations) so the longer the economic hardship triggered by the global financial crisis lasts, and the worse income and wealth inequality becomes (which has been the trend over the past several decades), the more fertile the ground will be for bigotry to take root and spread. Here’s hoping for prosperity, tolerance and inclusiveness instead.

I should make clear that I have nothing against Tennessee or Tennesseans. Racism and bigotry exists everywhere. I only wish that bold leaders that prioritize justice above politics would emerge in this state and others like it so that people of all races, religions and sexual orientations are treated as equal citizens.

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