“Ones Born Today Don’t Know How It Was”

Part two of Deep South held a separate tone from that of part one. Theroux discusses past tragedies experienced by the young, black individuals of the several poor communities which make up the Deep South. It seems as if Theroux is justifying his earlier claims. He automatically believes the animosity displayed by many of the black men and women he comes across arises from their life of injustice- it couldn’t possibly be his privileged demeanor. For this reason, he defines such injustices within part two of his book and consequently rationalizes his biased assumptions. Nonetheless, I must return to my opinion stated in previous blogs- Theroux is shedding light on deaths and inequalities which aren’t regularly taught in the classroom. For instance, I hadn’t before read of Emmett Till’s murder. One of Theroux’s vignettes is titled, “Ones Born Today Don’t Know How It Was” (171). The heading comes from Reverend Lyles as he relays his childhood and stories of the KKK. Lyles’ statement is far too true, particularly of the younger generation- we cannot comprehend the struggles endured by the Black communities or the continuous discrimination they undergo today. But, writing on these situations brings attention to the issue of race in our supposedly “equal” country.

I similarly appreciate Theroux’s incessant mention of the Indian population of the South. People have long been fascinated by the ability to find an individual of Indian descent working at almost any gas station you stop. However, Theroux provides a very one-sided view when explaining the Indian presence in the South. He details the “dire to the point of disgusting” motels owned by Indians (162). Though he once describes the Indian workers as hardworking, he goes on to explain the effect their shops and motels have upon the Southern region: “The Indian shop in the dusty upcountry town, the overpriced and grubby merchandise, the locals squatting under the trees, giving parts of the South an even more dramatic, sleepier, unfixable Third world appearance” (163). Theroux is once more studying a small subset of a much larger group. No matter who owns the gas station or the shop, you’ll always discover unclean and rundown buildings or set-ups. I’m sure if he actually tried to provide an accurate account of the Indian’s of the South, he could’ve found himself a customer at a nice, comfortable hotel run by an Indian individual. But, this well-to-do hotel wouldn’t sit well with Theroux’s poor and less-fortunate theme concerning the South.

Throughout his venture, Theroux doesn’t seem to spend much one-on-one time with women. Yet when he stays in her hotel, he becomes close with Janet May. Theroux has nothing but kind words for the woman, even detailing her previous involvement with pageants. Sadly, Janet May is too clearly part of the older, racist generation of the South. There are many elderly individuals from the South who have little tolerance for anyone who isn’t of white race. When Theroux asks Janet May if there are any Black attendees at her church she responds, “Paul, they have their own church” (170). Her comment made me believe, if a black family were to join Mrs. May’s church, she would be less then welcoming to the newcomers. Thus, from where is Theroux’s praise for this white, Southern woman stemming? He’s spoken with more empathetic, welcoming individuals then Janet May. Yet Theroux credits her character and likewise confers on her personal history and opinions.

I’m interested to begin part three of Deep South. I’m hoping Theroux becomes objective in the remainder of his writing as he’s experienced much of the South by this point.


One thought on ““Ones Born Today Don’t Know How It Was”

  1. Thanks for the thoughtful comments. I found the encounter with Janet May fascinating and Theroux actually rather ambivalent, insultingly condescending and effusively full praise by turns. I want to revisit that chapter in class.

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