Time to give our state a better name

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 25, 2005

Funny, all the fascinating things you can find on the Internet.

For instance, while doing some research on Alabama’s state constitution the other day, I came across an article on the voters’ rejection of Amendment 2 last fall. No big surprise there. The whole country tends to notice when a state can either vote “I think racism’s A-OK” and “Racism is wrong” and goes with “A-OK.” If you hadn’t heard, Alabama made headlines from the Washington Post to the San Francisco Chronicle.

So finding another article on the topic didn’t surprise me. But this one was printed in a newspaper named The Guardian. Haven’t heard of the Guardian? I hadn’t either. I was curious, though, when I noticed they spelled the type of children the constitution forbids from mingling with white schoolchildren “coloured.”

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That’s the British spelling of “colored.” They used it because the Guardian is, in fact, a London newspaper. That’s right–Alabama’s racism is still famous the world over!

I, for one, am sick to my stomach over it. The stories newspapers were writing about us Alabamians in the 60s? We’re a bunch of hick racists. The stories they’re writing about us now that it’s the year 2005? We’re a bunch of hick racists. How’s that for progress, huh?

I’m sure the quick response from most Alabamians would be “Who cares what a bunch of city folk and foreigners think of us?” And the answer should be, everybody.

Let’s say a doctor burned-out on Boston traffic decides to relocate South. Let’s say a Michigan banker decides to retire to the Gulf Coast, or let’s say an African-American entrepreneur wants to open a shoe factory somewhere his daughter won’t ever hear a racial epithet. Those negative articles on Amendment 2 offer people like these a ringing endorsement…for them to move to some other state. They can even bring the skills, money, and industry Alabama won’t get along for the ride.

Alabama has wonderful people, amazing country, and plenty of opportunities for those who are motivated. I know, because I grew up here. I’d tell people up North about it if I could. Too bad it’s not me but the Washington Post that’s doing the talking, and what they’ve got to say (“School Segregation Remains a State Law as Amendment Is Defeated”) isn’t nearly as flattering.

I know that the racism issue wasn’t the whole story with Amendment 2. Even the Post and the Guardian and all those other papers did report that the supposed tax loophole also contributed to its defeat.

But that’s hardly any better press. That loophole would have been created by eliminating part of the constitution’s Amendment 111, which reads in part, “nothing in this Constitution shall be construed as creating or recognizing any right to education or training at public expense.”

That’s right, citizens of the globe: Come to Alabama, where we guarantee your children the finest education available as long as you can pay for it yourself!

No, I agree, it doesn’t quite work out that way in practice. But would it really have been so terrible if we as Alabama citizens agreed that our government should have to provide all of its children with an education?

If you ask Roy Moore and the Alabama Christian Coalition, that answer is yes. Guaranteeing all of our state’s children an education, they say, would mean lawsuits to guarantee all kids the same QUALITY of education. And that would mean activist judges raising Alabama’s taxes, which, as we all know, would cause the Earth to stop spinning on its axis and doom all of civilization.

Back in the real world, the amendment would have done nothing in terms of taxes. Lawsuits to provide all our schools with equitable funding have been tried already. They were dismissed in 2002 by the Alabama Supreme Court and would be dismissed quickly again, guarantee or no guarantee. The law says it’s the legislature’s business to fund schools, not the courts, and nothing in the amendment would have changed that.

On top of that, maybe Moore and the allegedly Christian Coalition have a different translation than I do, but the Jesus in my Bible would be in favor of huge companies and the rich paying enough in property taxes for kids in Greene County to get the same number of textbooks, AP classes, and music programs the kids in Mountain Brook do. “Give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s,” he said, and in my version at least there’s no footnote that says, “And THEN Jesus said, ‘Unless your state government is trying to fund children’s education, of course, in which case you should hoard all the money you can.'”

So wouldn’t it be great to give the national (and, evidently, the international) press something good to say about Alabama and tell our children we do care about their education, all at once? It’s simple: we write a new constitution. We get rid of all the 1901 racism, all the ridiculous amending, all the outdated barriers to giving our schools the money they need, all in one fell swoop.

I know, it’s not really as simple as it sounds. But it can be done. And it better be–I want to visit London someday, and I’d love to tell people where I’m from without having to apologize.