If you look into the comment section of any opinion piece on the internet, you quickly learn two things: 1) J. Cole went platinum with no features, and 2) Black people are not a monolith.
Although it is a no-brainer with which we all agree, there are certain things that tie us together, and the biggest of these is geography. If you are black in the state of Alabama, there are certain things you have in common with most fellow black Alabamians, such as these:
1. You know your civil rights history.
Whether it was the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church, the Freedom Riders or Selma’s Bloody Sunday, Alabama was the front lines of the civil rights movement. People in the state know the names, locations and intricate details of the movement because their mothers, grandmothers, aunts and uncles were the ones who were sprayed by fire hoses and bitten by dogs.
2. You’ve been to the Magic City Classic.
People from Alabama don’t care about Howard University’s homecoming, the CIAA tournament or the Bayou Classic because they know that year after year, the biggest black college football game is in Birmingham, Ala. The Magic City Classic is unlike any other “classic” because it is a homecoming, a fashion show and a party all in one. It is the gold standard for black tailgating, unmatched by any other event.
3. You get the blues.
No matter how young you are, or where you go, if you are from Alabama, you listen to the blues. They play it at teen hip-hop clubs. You’ll hear it in juke joints. You hear it at Gip’s Place—one of America’s last real “juke joints.” If you go to church, sing in the choir and listen to the sermon, as the parking lot is emptying, your pastor will get in his Cadillac and blast, “Got my whiskey! Got my wine … ”
4. You have chosen a side.
As soon as an Alabama doctor slaps a baby on the behind, making the infant take his or her first breath, the parents must make a decision that will follow the child his or her entire life. No, it is not the name. It is which football team the child will pull for—Alabama or Auburn. Football is a religion in Alabama. I know you think people like football wherever you live, but multiply that to the 10th power and you’ll understand how Alabamians feel about football. Little children know the nuances of the nickel defense. Old ladies will tell you why they hate when coaches abandon the I formation for the spread. And absolutely nothing is more important than the Iron Bowl—when the Auburn Tigers play the University of Alabama. Even though every sports outlet rates it as America’s No. 1 sports rivalry, it is impossible to understand unless you are from the state of Alabama. In Alabama, “Roll Tide” or “War Eagle” are not just battle cries, they are punctuation. They are greetings.
5. They don’t want you to vote.
Since the days of Reconstruction, black people in Alabama have been fighting for their right to vote. Alabama has a history of voter suppression that rivals anywhere in the world, except maybe the People’s Republic of China. Fifty-one years ago, state troopers beat future congressman John Lewis and others to a bloody pulp on the Edmund Pettus Bridge as demonstrators marched from Selma to Montgomery to demand their right to vot. Not much has changed since then. In 2013 the Supreme Court of the United States dismantled key provisions of the Voting Rights Act in the Shelby County v. Holder decision when an Alabama county sued the Justice Department to eradicate a majority black voting district. As soon as that decision was released, Alabama led the way in reinstituting voter restrictions, including voter-ID laws. Then the state subsequently closed the state Department of Motor Vehicles offices in the 10 locations with the highest black populations.
6. You give nonsensical directions.
Anyone who has ever visited the state knows to never ask for directions. Alabamians eschew cardinal directions such as north, south, east and west for more specific terms like “that way” and “down yonder.” Instead of street names, they prefer to use landmarks that sometimes no longer exist. Typical directions in Alabama might involve being told to “go down till you get to the curve in the road, and make a right at the building where the old McDonald’s used to be. Go down a little bit mo’ and you’ll see a big poplar tree, that means you’ve gone too far …
7. You go to church.
Whatever you think of ,religion, Alabama is full of it. The only state with more churches per capita than Alabama is (of course) Mississippi. Alabama is dripping with Christianity. In the state, “Be blessed” has replaced “Goodbye,” and your church is tied to your identity. Immediately after you are asked which college football team you pull for, the next question is usually, “Which church do you attend?” Never say, “I don’t go to church,” because you will either be branded an apostate, or—even worse—you will be deemed a free agent to be recruited by every church in the area.
8. There is sweet tea in your veins.
The first time I ventured above the Mason-Dixon Line and ordered iced tea in a restaurant, the waitress brought me a glass of unsweetened iced tea. I called the waitress back to the table and informed her that they hadn’t finished making the tea. In Alabama, “tea” means “cane-sugar-sweetened lemon tea.” Unsweetened tea is like decaffeinated coffee—no one really drinks it. I think restaurants must stock it for legal purposes. I’ve always imagined that white tears taste like unsweetened tea. If you are from Alabama, you have sweet tea with every meal, and preferably Milo’s Iced Tea. If you’ve never tasted Milo’s Iced Tea, then you’ve never tasted iced tea. And never, ever, ever serve that passion-fruit-flavored tea. They’ll run you out of the state.
9. You can drive.
There is a perception that people from ”the country” can’t drive, but that has never been true in Alabama. As soon as you leave the state, you realize that it’s everyone else who can’t drive. In fact, I’d be willing to bet that most accidents in Alabama are caused by people from New York slamming on their brakes because they’ve never seen a fox crossing the road with a possum in its mouth. Alabamians start driving when they are 9 years old, so they can all handle an automobile. It’s the “city folk,” who started driving at 18, have never driven a tractor or a golf cart and are always in a hurry, who mess things up.
10. You’ve been to the real Mardi Gras.
If you are from Alabama, you know that the biggest holiday of cultural appropriation is the New Orleans Mardi Gras. The first Fat Tuesday celebration took place in Mobile, Ala., in 1703, and still goes on to this day. New Orleans hosts the white people’s Mardi Gras, filled with drunken revelers and flashing breasts, while Mobile’s is chock-full of black history, seafood and Moon Pies. Oh, it has its share of drunken people, but they are usually at one of the old-society Mardi Gras balls, where people dress up in their Sunday best and parade in parasols. If you’ve never been, every black person in Alabama knows that the day you should go is Joe Cain Day, the Sunday before Fat Tuesday, when they parade through the city to “bury Joe Cain.” I know it sounds macabre, and you have no idea what I’m talking about, but that’s because you’re not from Alabama.