Editor's Note - Different doesn't mean less authentic
Just look at Bryan Barber and Ben Allen
Before longtime politician Zell Miller went bonkers, he sometimes acted like a forward thinker. As governor, for instance, Miller tried to wipe the Confederate battle emblem off the Georgia flag. So he convened a stacked debate to try to convince legislators the flag should be changed. It produced one of the most revealing exchanges on race in the South I've ever seen.
Sly guy that he was, Miller selected a not-so-bright, countrified nerd to represent the pro-battle-emblem contingent. When an eloquent black lawmaker argued that the battle emblem was a racist symbol, the countrified nerd responded with something to the effect of: "Well, you'd understand better if you were a Southerner."
Rage boiled into the face of the lawmaker, who pounded into the nerd the point that he was just as Southern as anyone. And, if you know anything about Southern history, it's a difficult point to argue.
I thought about that exchange as I read this week's cover story by Carlton Hargro on videomaker-turned-movie-director Bryan Barber (p. 34), as well as Tony Ware's profile of music producer Ben Allen (p. 79). Barber's from California, but he's tied in with a homegrown Atlanta hip-hop community that's as authentically Southern as country music. Allen's a white guy from Athens who primarily works with African-American artists.
One of the great things about the way the South has changed in a pretty short time is that more folks have come to acknowledge our culture's black and white roots. Instead of denying the deep ties between two often-separate communities, we claim both heritages, and often aren't at all self-conscious when we cross lines to produce work that draws on those traditions. That's not entirely new. But we're more honest about it now than back when people pretended Elvis invented rock and roll.
Miller didn't manage to change the state flag. His successor, Roy Barnes, gets credit for that step forward. But the debate Miller started laid bare the backward thinking: Some people still can't imagine that those who are different might belong just as much to this community as they do. But nowadays, most folks can imagine that.