Progress comes slowly in Alabama

A week ago, a group of Alabamians long oppressed were finally extended the right to marry legally, allowing hundreds of couples to affirm for themselves those basic protections and liberties that other couples always had access to.

Now, I don’t intend for this to be a column asserting the right of same-sex couples to marry. Other columnists have already covered that issue and besides, a federal judge already ruled on the necessity of that right.

Nor do I plan to spend all my column inches wailing against Roy Moore or Bill Armistead or any other politicians, though perhaps a few will be used in that pursuit.

My main goal is to get a better look at the bigger picture. I want to try to find some understanding of why Alabama and other parts of the South are consistently insistent on swimming against the current, or more accurately, doing their very best to block the 
stream altogether.

This is not just in regard to same-sex marriage but also to so many other issues and arenas. Alabama – or at least its more vocal representatives – seems determined to fully embrace that stereotype of backwards, racist, intolerant obstructionism we’ve come to know so well.

Always eager for our state to be at the forefront of regressivism, our legislators pass racist and illegal immigration laws, our counties file court cases to dismantle hard-won protections for voters’ rights and our prison administrators ignore years of abhorrent abuse against inmates. In Alabama we’re proud to reelect 
governors who deny Medicaid expansion to thousands of Alabamians in need, state representatives facing charges of corruption and fraud and a Supreme Court chief justice who’s already been removed from office once and who has particular hatred 
for gay people.

This is only in the last 10 or so years of course. Let’s not forget that we’re also the state that can so proudly claim George Wallace, Bull Connor and Jim Clark. And before them came countless other white men insistent on brutally maintaining a status quo centered on 
white superiority.

Alabama’s history is overflowing with the violent preservation of that status quo. Still, bit by bit, through the resilience and sacrifice of thousands of men and women, Alabama inches forward. Although our most prominent politicians yell for stagnation and the maintenance of the social order and use phrases like “conservative values” and “states’ rights,” we continue to march 
forward step by step.

While history has shown us that progress is inevitable, and while a wise man reminded us that the moral arc of the universe ultimately bends toward justice, I wonder if I am alone in wishing that arc was not quite so long. I am tired of three steps forward and two steps back. I am tired of politicians more interested in exploiting people’s fears than in inspiring the people’s hearts and minds for progress. And more than anything, I am tired of being surprised when something good happens here.

I’m proud to be from Alabama, but I find it hard to be proud living in Alabama. I’m sick of people trying to confine my God into a law and I’m sick of school boards deciding white children and black children are better off separated. I’m tired of false promises and I’m tired of the 
Lost Cause.

I want us to be able to move Alabama forward without having to look back over our shoulders. And I need your help figuring out how.

Mark Hammontree is a junior 
majoring in secondary education. His column runs weekly.

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