Just before the end of the year, the small Marion County, Alabama town of Winfield passed a unanimous resolution declaring their community “a City under God.” The Marion County Journal Record, which is the closest analogue to a ‘liberal media’ organization that you will find in the county of 30,000, published an approving editorial, and Mayor Randy Price says that everything was fine until those darned atheists learned about it on Facebook and started making fun of Winfield.
The resolution was the city council’s way of taking a stand against the chaos and violence Price sees in today’s world, such as the recent riots in Ferguson, Mo., and shooting of police officers in New York, he said.
“I feel like we need to stand up for what is right,” he said. “Our forefathers said ‘One nation under God’ and we went so far away from that. There are not enough godly people involved in day-to-day decisions.”
Can’t you just see Mayor Price begging liberals to leave his city alone, Chris Crocker-style? ‘Leave Winfield alone, you bastards!’ But did I mention that the population of Marion County is 95% white? Now read that first sentence again, and this time ponder the assumptions underlying Mayor Price’s statements to AL.com:
the chaos and violence Price sees in today’s world, such as the recent riots in Ferguson, Mo., and shooting of police officers in New York
Notice that people of color being murdered with illegal choke-holds may not count as “chaos and violence” in Price’s world. Nor is he seemingly disturbed that white police officers kill black teenagers with a hail of bullets and then escape any consequences because white prosecutors have their backs. Apparently, only black people protesting the violence of a white supremacist system, or police being killed by a deranged black man, count as “chaos and violence” in the mind of Mayor Price. He is hardly unique among white Americans. When he says that more “godly people” need to be in power, is Mayor Price thinking of an angry, white god?
I have lived a lifetime in Alabama, and can claim many friends from in or around Hamilton (the Marion County seat). They all describe their relief at escaping the economic stagnation, oppressive cultural atmosphere, and overweening piety of communities like Winfield, where the mere act of, say, reading the wrong book in public can result in social ostracism, economic isolation, and even threats of violence from religious bigots who are dangerously sure of their own righteousness in the eyes of their angry, white god. And those are the mildest stories they tell me. I could probably write a book about the myriad reasons southern children have for never going home again.
Some of this is not a new phenomenon — the young are always trying to leave the old behind, and rural America has been exploited for generations by corporate profiteers — but the last couple of decades in the South have been characterized by a creeping religious absolutism that has transformed ‘conservative politics’ into reactionary extremism. In other words, the further that places like Winfield get left behind, the more their residents retreat into denial and magical thinking, and the more oppressive they become. As history professor Matthew Avery Sutton puts it, “they believe they have a responsibility to act as vehemently, as radically, as urgently as possible” to impose their view of the world on every aspect of public life.
The subtext of Mayor Price’s remarks is that he thinks of Winfield as a sacred place (“owned by God”) that is safe from the world, or at least from its satanic influences, and that must maintain its purity as a godly community in order to remain safe. Underlying the false harmony and order that excuses this ‘divinely-appointed’ system of white privilege, there is a disturbing rejection of diversity and modernity. Price wants no cosmopolitan progress in his community, for it might draw divine wrath.
He would rather have the protection of heaven from the demons of his imagination.
This article has been updated to correct where autocorrect un-corrected the spelling of Winfield.