Being an African American in Alabama- Should I be worried?
April 21, 2004 10:48 AM   Subscribe

This is an extension of a question I asked 5 weeks ago. I am going to Auburn University in Alabama tomorrow and would like to know, as an African-American, if there'sanything I should be worried about. I haven't been down south in a long time and I have no idea what the climate, so to speak, is at the moment.
posted by Slimemonster to Society & Culture (19 answers total)
I'm in North Carolina (son's in Alabama at the moment) and until someone comes up with more precise information, I would simply suggest you hang out in citified areas and stay out of the rural ones. Some of the really rural places scare me as an out-of-town white woman, frankly.

But since I'm NOT African-American there may be things that I'd be oblivious to, so take what I said in that vein.
posted by konolia at 12:12 PM on April 21, 2004

What are you worried about? I don't understand your question.

If you're worried about crime or harassment: No one will arrest you for being an escaped slave. The police will not turn their fire hoses on you. No angry mobs will form to lynch you on sight, and all hotels and restaurants will take your money. Take the same precautions you would take in any other city. Is Seattle really that isolated from the rest of the country, that this could be a concern?

If you're worried about the social environment: No one will ask you to sit at the back of the bus. Few people will notice the color of your skin when walk into a room. Honestly, you're visiting, not moving: grow a thicker skin for a day.

I've traveled abroad a lot, and I've had stores double their prices because of the color of my skin. I've had taxi's drive off rather than take my money. I've heard more racial epitaphs than I can count. I've been the target of crime and violence and hatred because of how I looked. But, at the end of the day, race only has the power that you give it. Relax, forget about it, and don't go to bars with drunk idiots who might turn violent. That's all you ever need to know when traveling.
posted by gd779 at 12:41 PM on April 21, 2004

I'm with gd770. I'm not african-american, and I don't know how long its been since you've been to the south, but I'd have no worries if I were you.

Now if you're a frequent visitor to mefi, you might have the idea that every truck has a rebel flag flying from the back and Klan meetings are held twice a day. Please keep in mind that most members of metafilter have either "visited the south once" or apparently take their opinions from old history books.

Could you run into a racist? Sure, as you well could in California or New Hampshire. In fact, if you come looking for racism, you'll probably find it. But if you come with an open mind I doubt you'll notice much difference except for the food and accents.

Really, I understand your concerns, what with Alabama's reputation and all. But it is questions and opinions like these that help propagate old stereotypes. It almost sounds like we're talking about a third-world country.

By the way, I live in Birmingham, Al, whose population is 73 percent black.

I would simply suggest you hang out in citified areas and stay out of the rural ones.

If that were the case, he'd be in trouble as Auburn University is in the middle of rural alabama in the middle of nowhere.
posted by justgary at 1:50 PM on April 21, 2004

My younger brother attends Alabama A&M and he seems to be doing quite well.
And as a born and raised Seattlite and Black American, I understand the rest of the country does seem quite scary-but go forth and conquer, brother. Vaya con Dios.
posted by black8 at 2:03 PM on April 21, 2004

But it is questions and opinions like these that help propagate old stereotypes.

How does asking a question propagate a stereotype? I'd say it's exactly the opposite, because an asked question presents an opportunity for the correction of misinformation, if necessary.

Yeah, there are a lot of stereotypes out there about the South -- and some of them are based on past history and/or a kernel of truth, so I can understand why someone unfamiliar with the region might be concerned. I initially was, when I moved here from New York. I really don't see how it hurts to ask.

Slimemonster, I'm a black woman in North Carolina and haven't had any problems in urban areas, but have gotten that sinking uncomfortable feeling in the pit of my stomach a few times when stopping for gas or food in tiny towns... nothing too bad, just stares, unfriendliness, etc. The fact that I was with my white boyfriend might have had something to do with it, though. As for outright violence, I wouldn't worry.
posted by purplemonkie at 2:10 PM on April 21, 2004

The idea that the South is somehow more racist does a disservice to the whole U.S.--the South gets the endless bad rap and the rest of the country gets to think somehow things are better racially speaking where they are. Googling for recent cross burnings brings up Arlington, Washington(north of Seattle), Adena, Ohio, and Chesterfield Township, Michigan. Racism and racial violence can happen anywhere.
posted by lobakgo at 2:51 PM on April 21, 2004

I'd be more concerned if you were a cow, in which case you should cover your ass.

/bwhahahahahaa (Roll Tide Roll)

I'm from Alabama, and you have nothing to fear, especially from college towns (but maybe deep rural small towns though). Scared of you? Shit, black fraternity members in the south are possibly the scariest force ever to honky rich kids.
posted by Stan Chin at 3:15 PM on April 21, 2004

Response by poster: I didnt mean to offend anyone but both my parents went to college in Alabama and they've boatloads of horror stories so no offense, but i dont think it's an invalid question to ask if times have changed.
posted by Slimemonster at 4:38 PM on April 21, 2004

I'm from the South, and I think the question is absolutely justified. I wouldn't worry about Auburn, but I would recommend sticking close to major highways when traveling.
posted by jjg at 5:04 PM on April 21, 2004 [1 favorite]

Slimemonster, how did Idaho turn out?
posted by Hildago at 5:10 PM on April 21, 2004

lobakgo, i was going to bring up the Adena Ohio cross burning.

I live near there and your article is from the local news station i watch. when i saw it on the news yesterday i couldn't believe how asinine people are here can be. but it is a very small minority. basically just one ignorant person. that stuff doesn't happen often at all.

the kkk came through here a few years ago and had way more people at the rally against them than supporting them.
posted by Recockulous at 7:45 PM on April 21, 2004

I'm originally from Texas (~white woman FWIW) and have some mixed feelings about this question. Mostly, I don't think you have anything to worry about. But if someone's purse comes up missing, the story might change. Some of the 'progress' is strictly rhetoric.
posted by kamikazegopher at 9:01 PM on April 21, 2004 [1 favorite]

Maybe you should stay out of the African-American neighborhoods, since those are the areas where you are most likely to be killed or robbed, demographically speaking. I mean if you are worried about your safety, then black-on-black crime should be your first worry.
posted by monkeyman at 10:00 PM on April 21, 2004

Response by poster: Idaho turned out alright, Hidalgo. Good memory. I stayed in my hotel facility mostly and I only got two lengthy dirty looks which could have been for any reason from my race to my age, so what more can i expect?
posted by Slimemonster at 10:01 PM on April 21, 2004

How does asking a question propagate a stereotype?

I agree that asking a question is an opportunity to educate, and I never said this was an invalid question.

But just the fact that it is being asked will lead some to believe it is true. Some people will see the question and not even bother to read the answer. They "know" what the South is like.

And others who once drove through or lived here in the past will come in and give supposed validation to these concerns.

So sure, I'd rather the question be asked than just thought. Still, I'll be just as happy when the question won't have to be asked, though I don't see that happening any time soon. As with most stereotypes, the idea that Southerners are a bunch of rednecks just waiting for an African American to cross their path will die hard.

I've never claimed that racism doesn't exist in the South, and in certain aspects (as perhaps with interracial marriage) it may be slightly behind. But some of the comments in this thread have no merit whatsoever, yet some people will mistakingly accept them at face value.

If a taxi driver in NYC doesn't pick up an African American at night, or a NYC cop assaults an African American at headquarters, or LA cops beat an African American motorist, people point at the individual. The cop is racist, that taxi driver is racist. But run into a racist in the South, and well, the whole region is racist.

Some of the really rural places scare me as an out-of-town white woman, frankly.

And there are places in NYC, Seatle, Boston, Wyoming, etc. etc. where an out of town white woman alone should be scared. There are places in every part of the country I wouldn't go. This isn't a statement exclusive to the South.

I'm from the South, and I think the question is absolutely justified. I wouldn't worry about Auburn, but I would recommend sticking close to major highways when traveling.

I'm sorry. That comment is just insane. When exactly did you live in the South? The 60s? I'm not trying to be rude, but this type of comment is what keeps the stereotype alive.

As I said before, Birmingham is 73 percent Black. I promise you a high percentage take back roads daily. I work with an African American woman whose daughter attends Auburn. Almost weekly she takes a trip, alone, to see her daughter and attend a sporting event. She takes back roads, even at night, to avoid traffic.

Do you have anything to back up the claim that African Americans should stick to major highways? Is there a rash of racial beatings or slayings on Alabama back roads that I don't know about? I'd love to see a link to them. I'd say his chances of getting attacked on a back road are about as good as getting hit by lightning.

Seriously, anyone visiting anywhere they are unfamiliar should stick to main roads, but insinuating that an African American (more than any other race) visiting Alabama should stick to the main roads is not only ignorant but laughable.

It's really a shame to see so many well-educated, open-minded members of metafilter who are so quick to speak out against just about any type of stereotyping yet have no problem not only maintaining but helping spread stereotypes of the South from the civil rights era.

As someone already said, just use common sense. The same common sense you would use anywhere you visit. Wether it be NYC, Vermont, or Portland.

99 percent of the people you will run into on your trip will be wonderful people. If you happen to run into a member of the 1 percent, see them for the ignorant person they are instead of as a representative for the whole South. As far as racial violence, you won't see it, so there's no advice to give.

Hope you enjoy your visit.

Some of the 'progress' is strictly rhetoric.

As it is everywhere.
posted by justgary at 10:15 PM on April 21, 2004 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: um, thanks justgary. It seems my questions have a way of getting at people (read the one i asked about Atkins a while ago...). But thanks, I'll try to have a good time. Where in Seattle should an out of town white woman be scared, by the way?
posted by Slimemonster at 10:46 PM on April 21, 2004 [1 favorite]

Hey Slimemonster...

My point was not that white women in particular shouldn't go to certain parts of seatle, but that when travelling alone there are always parts of town where one should avoid. If seatle is void of such a high crime area I stand corrected, but it goes for most cities.

There are places in Birmingham, a good size city, where violence is very high, and a person would do well to avoid, but it has nothing to do with racism. You would be much safer on a rural back road than in these parts.

Sorry if I come off strong. There's nothing wrong with your question. I was just fearing the answers.

You'll have a good time in auburn if you enjoy towns built around a college. If not, be prepared to be bored, and to see a lot of cows. ;)
posted by justgary at 11:09 PM on April 21, 2004

Response by poster: Believe me, i was not the least bit put off by your comments. I'm actually a little put off by cows though (childhood experience issues) but that is another topic for...yeah...
posted by Slimemonster at 11:21 PM on April 21, 2004

Where in Seattle should an out of town white woman be scared, by the way?

My guess would be around 23st & Madison on a weekend...maybe.
posted by black8 at 2:05 PM on April 22, 2004

« Older Web-based Scheduling Solutions   |   How do you protect your eyes when using computers... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.