Remembering the Good Ol’ Racists: Jesse Helms’ Legacy

By Jonathan Adams Jul 09, 2008

I’m from Mississippi. I eat lots of things fried, I like my tea sweet, I was raised to say "yes ma’am" and "no ma’am", and I like my racists to be like Jesse Helms. There are a lot of stereotypes about the South and the people that live in the region. Some true and some not, and many are perpetuated by Hollywood actors with really strange accents. When I meet people in New York and they find out where I am from, the most frequently asked question is: how racist is it down there? I usually get this from Northern folk who have only seen Mississippi in black and white on a civil rights documentary. But my answer always surprises people. I think the North is a much trickier place to maneuver racism than the South because in Mississippi there is no doubt about who the racists in town are, where they live, and what they think about you. When Jesse Helms died on July 4 at 86, I think we lost one the last of a dying breed: the good ol’ racists. These days our racists come in the form of nativists pretending to be concerned about losing American culture if we let in too many immigrants or "civil rights" advocates trying to get affirmative action banned in every state. Nowadays we have political leaders who try to pass off race-slient policies as positive, and they play ignorant when we point out the injustice. Gone are the days of good ol’ racists like George Wallace, Strom Thurmond, and the recently departed Jesse Helms, who were very clear about their views of people of color. I, for one, wish that more racists would be more like Jesse Helms and say how they really feel.