I invite you to guess what I am talking about, but before you do, I’m not talking about anybody in particular. That’s rude. I would never. I don’t point fingers–how unladylike. How graceless.
And before I don’t point my finger, I was born in the South. I was born in the South in a river named after something Cherokee–Hiawassee, but don’t pronounce the A, just drawl it, slang it between the tips of your teeth–don’t even care what it means–and I was baptized Sarah Kate. Double name because that’s what we do. Eighteen years later I was uprooted from a summer field and here I am, writing this. It is February. It is New Jersey. It is cold. It is not Georgia in July, when the mosquitos and pines and dead Civil War boys speak to me in whispers. I have difficulty translating you people. Yankees. I don’t know what you’re saying when you honk your cars. But I’m not pointing fingers. I’m just saying.
My point that I’m not pointing starts with the Scopes Trial. A few counties over from my hometown, right around the hill, in Rhea County. Not REE-uh–it’s pronounced Ray, kind of Ray-uh, but the uh is barely there, an afterthought, kind of French and kind of only if you’re Southern and got the lilt. Which you probably don’t. But anyway. The Scopes Trial. Tennessee said no, you can’t teach evolution, of course we didn’t come from monkeys even though we call lots of different people monkeys all the time. Which, I’m not pointing fingers–I’m just saying. I have a double name but that doesn’t make me double stupid. Anyways, no monkey talk, except one guy did talk monkey, a guy named John Scopes, and they took him to trial because Tennessee had a law that said no-monkey-talk-or-we-take-your-ass-to-trial. And he talked monkey. So there his ass went.
There was a guy there when the ass of Scopes arrived, a particular defense attorney named Dudley Field Malone of New York, who was in charge of saving the monkey-talking ass of Scopes. Malone made an interesting comment about bringing foreigners into the trial, foreigners like a particular prosecutor named William Jennings Bryan of Florida who was supposed to convict Scopes of talking monkey. In his attempt to argue against Bryan, Malone said, “Mr. Bryan brought all of the foreigners into this case. Mr. Bryan had offered his services from Miami, Florida; he does not belong in Tennessee.” Which is FUNNY! Which is really funny. Because Malone probably said bada-bing bada-boom a lot, and you know I’m right, because that’s a scientific fact. He probably took a yellow taxi all the way to Rhea. Yellow doesn’t look right in Rhea, not against the courthouse. But that’s not the point I’m not pointing. That’s just a point that’s helping me not point.
It’s FUNNY, you know, all these people that paid attention to the Scopes Trial, that sat on their velvet couches and tuned into the radio. They tuned in from California, from New York, from Ohio, and from Idaho, wherever the hell that is. Everyone cared about these stupid people. Everyone cared! About this stupid little fucking place in the middle of nowhere the Cherokee are supposed to be! How exciting to be Southern, unless you’re a cousin-fucking kind of Southern. It’s certainly exciting for me, in New Jersey, in February, in the cold, to go to my history seminar and talk about Tennessee like a foreigner, like a Malone or a Bryan, even though the trial’s dead and nobody cares about it and Rhea’s football team lost to my high school last fall. It’s just funny. It’s just so funny. I brought up the point about how Rhea’s in the Bible Belt and everyone down there was born in a river like the Hiawasee and came out of the water butt-naked, getting their asses slapped with the Scripture. In a Holy way. And that’s why this was such a big deal, because here are these ignorant people down South. That’s how we talk about it now. Poor little guys. Not believing in rocks even when the rocks are in their hands.
I said before that I have a double name but that it doesn’t make me double stupid. I am reconsidering as I write this.
The point I’m not pointing is that I wasn’t ashamed, or even angry, or anything unladylike like that. I believe in the Father, the Son, and Climate Change. I believe Malone is Jesus Christ when he says, “For God’s sake let the children have their minds kept open–close no doors to their knowledge; shut no door from them.” I believe that the river I was born in is a scientific thing and that my baptism was one of numbers and book-lovers. But the not-point is when Malone says, “When any great leader goes out of his field and speaks as an authority on other subjects his doctrines are quite likely to be far more dangerous than the doctrines of experts in their field.” Maybe this isn’t about science anymore. Maybe this isn’t about religion! Maybe this isn’t even about the Confederacy and the Union. Maybe this is a group versus a group trying to fix a group from the outside-in, when all along you’ve got to go from the inside-out. But I’m not pointing fingers.
So who am I not-pointing at? I invite you to guess. It’s nobody, really. It’s also everybody. It’s the people who say oh-you’re-Southern-you-fucked-your-cousin. It’s the people who say how-many-times-have-you-used-the-phrase-bada-bing-bada-boom-in-your-lifetime. It’s the people who think religion is first, science is second, and it’s the people who think science is first, religion is second. It’s the people who talk about the Cherokee and the French like they understand. People who talk about how to fix a religion or culture they’re not a part of. Even people who talk about Dudley Field Malone and William Jennings Bryan like they’re not-points or something. Hell, even presidents, but I’m not pointing fingers. I’m just saying. That’s not how to make a people understand.
Here’s what happens when you come down and try to tell a people they’re wrong. You scooch down South and say, hey, stop screaming your Bible verses so loud, we can hear you all the way up North. Or you say, could you stop banning evolution, it’s sort of fact. They could be wrong. They could be really wrong. They could be kind of right, too, or maybe completely right. But that doesn’t matter. The thing is that whether or not they are wrong you won’t change them by shutting them down, by dehumanizing them, by refusing to flip positions and look at the world through their farmhouse windows, the windows that look out on the Hiawassee where I was born. Just like Southerners could take a ride in a taxi every once in awhile. But I’m not pointing fingers.