Upon return to my native Georgia after 10 years away, I had the privilege of driving clear across it. I found something particularly odd about the names that crossed my path.
In his book, "On Paradise Drive," David Brooks places special importance to the names Americans choose for their communities. I agree with him that we can gain some insight into the desires, goals and dreams of a society based on the names given their communities.
The naming of Georgia's towns and counties hold some prominent examples. Athens was chosen as the name for a university site, the new center for the study of classical Greek thought. During a period of secessionist sentiment, Unionist sympathies were obviously prominent among the mountaineer settlers and the founders of Union County.
Since the civil rights movement of the 1960s, a new kind of community has taken prominence across the Southeast and nationally: the secluded subdivided suburban neighborhood. They are so prevalent in fact that the visitor to Dahlonega, Athens or Washington, Ga., routinely remarks on the quaintness of the centralized convenience these towns offer.
The subdivision has long been the destination of metropolitan Atlanta's social strivers, but its spread to smaller communities has exploded in recent years. In my cross-state journey, I noted as many of the names of these new developments as possible and I came across two words again and again: plantation and heritage. These words appear in descriptive combinations with names like Plantation Place, Heritage Park or the more telling Plantation Heritage Park.
To my mind, the choice of these phrases can only suggest a longing for the past that refers specifically to one period of history, previous to our Civil War, of untold brutality and terror. The age of the plantation system was one during which thousands of former Africans lived in bondage upheld by torture and murder and morally corrosive to its white enforcers.
Conversely, thousands of whites lived in the constant fear of slave uprisings and revolts, the upshot of any group's interminable captivity, where they would be subject to the desperate violence of their brutalized underlings. Others living outside the plantation system struggled for existence and were subject to deprivation and disease unfathomable to us today. It must then be asked why we choose to name our newest communities for a period of known horrors.
And I blame Margaret Mitchell. Her book "Gone With the Wind" and the subsequent film resurrected and rehabilitated the plantation system of the antebellum South that has since been viewed with less accuracy. In place of real events and firsthand accounts, the view of our own past has become less human and more mythical, with its own cast of noble type-characters.
The truth is that we Southerners have never had it so good. The election of a new president proves that, in large part, we have overcome a past of racial division and violence. Materially, we live in better conditions today than any of our forebears. The town bosses and corrupt party politics of our grandparents' age is well behind us.
We have peace and prosperity on a grand scale. It will do us good to leave the past where it belongs, in the stories of those who lived it. For mythologies are gross distortions of truth.
The naming of our communities is about the dreams of our society, and I ask of my countrymen that our collective dreams be more uplifting than the return to a system based on depravity.
Will Obama keep or kill affirmative action?
Barack Obama's victory earlier this month will no doubt mean the end to several conservative tenets. Off-shore drilling and the Bush tax cuts quickly come to mind. But what about long-standing liberal policies that seem to have no place during and after an Obama presidency? I am referring to affirmative action.
Formally established by President Kennedy via executive order in 1961, the primary goal of affirmative action was to ensure fair hiring and employment practices. It has since become a rallying cry among the leftovers from the Civil Rights era.
To these black leaders, affirmative action does not stand for fair or equal employment practices, but a "blacks first" mentality. They argue that affirmative action programs are needed to give minorities, i.e. blacks, a better chance to succeed in life.
But the election of Obama, a black man, to the highest office in the world should change this perspective, though I doubt it actually will. You see, the Jesse Jacksons, Al Sharptons and Louis Farrakhans of the world have a funny way of manipulating facts and words to fit their agendas. It's kind of like when Obama says he wants to give a tax break to 95 percent of working Americans, though only about 68 percent of those Americans actually pay taxes.
No, I have a feeling that black leaders will do almost anything to keep their "blacks first" programs, even at the expense of alienating one of their own. When Obama officially takes office, he will be hailed as the first African-American president, a triumphant victory for every person of color. But it will be interesting to hear the pro-affirmative action arguments after he is president.
I imagine black leaders will eventually put an asterisk behind Obama's name when History records him as the first black president. After all, his mother was white and he does have African ancestry. To keep affirmative action alive, it will be argued that while Obama is black, he is not so in the traditional American sense. His family did not suffer the injustices of slavery and Jim Crow. He grew up in Hawaii and Indonesia, largely missing the Civil Rights movement during the few years it overlapped his youth.
So what is to become of affirmative action? It seems to me that it is no longer needed, if it ever truly was in the first place. Lest we forget that the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution already mandates equality.
America has shown that its minorities can do anything they set their mind to. Isn't it about time that we relinquish these needless programs and begin to move forward as a colorless society?
Reasons to thank Bush
I'd like to thank President George W. Bush for ...
Stopping the vote count in 2000. Stealing the election. Causing 9/11 by this action.
Lying about WMDs. Lying about Iraq attacking us. His police action in Iraq. Getting 5,000 Americans killed. Wasting $26 billion on his war game in Iraq.
Making America less safe from terrorist attacks. Being a coward who wouldn't fight for America in the '60s.
For $5 a gallon of gas; it was $1.65 before 2000. A multitrillion-dollar deficit; we were in the black when Clinton left.
Cutting programs that helped poor citizens of America. His rapid response to aid the victims of Katrina, a snail's pace.
His cabinet of stooges and fools for messing America up so bad. Writing blank checks and expecting American taxpayers to flip the bill.
Inaction against Iran's half-pint would-be dictator, who needs to be told the U.S. hasn't forgotten 1980 and that with a push of a button his country could be wiped off the map.
These and all of the other debacles that have defined his presidency.
For leaving office in Jan. 2009. Hallelujah! Jan. 20, 2009, should be declared National Liberation Day from the tyrant, liar and coward.