Send Her Back

I live in North Carolina. It’s a Southern state that’s traditionally been considered “progressive” as far as Southern states go. It has an admirable history of having established and funded the United State’s first public university, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, which, to this day, is considered one the America’s premier research universities. It’s what brought me to North Carolina 37 years ago as a graduate student in the humanities, which was one of the best things I ever did. The state proudly refers to Chapel Hill as “The University of the People” and until recently purposefully kept tuition low so that bright kids from modest families had access to a world-class education, every bit the equal of the education plutocrat’s kids received 8 miles away at Duke University, an uber-expensive elite university in Durham. Chapel Hill (read: the State of North Carolina) educated me as both a historian and an attorney, allowing me entrance to their flagship University and essentially paying my way. I’ve since attended both Duke and Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, but my emotional loyalties will always remain in North Carolina with the good people whose generosity enabled this working-class boy to receive a world-class education.

When I first arrived in North Carolina, it was a solidly Democratic state, both urban and rural. That started to change in the 90’s as the divide between city and country intensified. Within the last 15 years, state government has become solidly Republican, the rural areas gaining power through gerrymandering at the expense of the urban majority. North Carolina voted for Obama twice, but in 2016 voted for Trump. There’s a reason for that. While urban areas like Raleigh/Durham and Charlotte prosper, rural North Carolina is in a death spiral – no jobs, failing education, willful ignorance and reactionary evangelical religion mutually reinforcing each other. It’s sad to see, but it’s the reality.

I mention all this because American politics is currently being roiled by a new nativism, the kind that used to tell people they could love America…or leave it. Our latest jingoism is of the “Send Her Back” variety, an unfortunate chant taken up by folks at a recent Donald Trump rally, addressed to a Somali-born American congresswoman from Minnesota at odds with Trumpism. The whole thing has, rightfully so, gotten a lot of media attention, not all of it good for North Carolina, given it occurred at a Trump rally in …. Greenville, North Carolina, a medium-sized town in rural eastern North Carolina. I cringed when I heard it had happened there, for two reasons: first, I love North Carolina and am grateful to it for all it’s done for me. My North Carolina (Raleigh/Durham) is diverse, inclusive, forward-thinking…and affluent and so unlike what most folks might think of the state based on this; and second, I’m familiar with eastern North Carolina and Greenville in particular…and I like the people there. It’s beautiful country, and the folks who live there are nice people, friendly, pleasant courteous and always ready to help when I’m stranded on the side of the road with a flat bicycle tire.

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I’ve spent the last few years taking photos throughout eastern North Carolina while biking its country roads. No need for a Leica or dedicated camera. The iPhone is the perfect documentarian’s tool – always with you when you need it, the images more than acceptable for journalistic applications. This weekend I finally figured how to download them from iCloud (why does everything digital have to be so fucking complicated?) and I worked a few up in Lightroom. My intent is to put together a series of photographs that somehow tell a truth about the people who live in eastern North Carolina and felt it OK to chant “Send Her Back” at a political rally. That’s what good photojournalism does, and I’m convinced there’s still room for it. Pictures sometimes tell truths that can’t be conveyed with words. Compelling issues like what’s happening politically in America are not simple to explain or understand. Sometimes seeing can inform us in ways words can’t. I hope the photos I’ve chosen do that.

7 thoughts on “Send Her Back

  1. RONALD A HIMEBAUGH

    Nice pictures, especially the burial of reason, which could use a MAGA hat in the foreground. I haven’t spent enough time in NC to say I love it, but I have met a lot of people there in my work and have always found Carolinians open and friendly. Raleigh is beautiful, and beautifully cosmopolitan, could live there in a heartbeat but for the oppressive heat in summer.

    Reply
  2. Rob Campbell

    I think your Becher shot works very well.

    What comes across in other pictures is the gulf between the American way and the British way of being who they are. Don’t you ever find the constant flag thing and references to national achievements tiring? And does the British lack of it outwith tourist areas and royal weddings seem, to Americans, just as odd?

    I sense there may be something there to do with an identity struggle. There is much made about being a land of immigrants – does that possibly breed an insecurity about who one might be? It’s quite noticeable that many refer to themselve as Italian Americans, Irish Americans, all varieties of mixture. It looks like there is not really a single, simple term with which all are happy exclusively to identify. That said, the Scots often love their flag, and the football fans their clubs, ready to defend them, sometimes, right into hospital. And in some recent polls some people have declared themselves willing to see the disintegration of the UK if it brings them Brexit. Maybe being British also requires a stretch of the imagination.

    Reply
    1. Leicaphila Post author

      Yes, both. I hate the flag waving bumper sticker jingoism you see everywhere in the States. Its annoying and stupid, the product of an unthinking blind obedience. Likewise, I think you Brits should line up the Royal Family and…… Nationalism is THE human scourge

      Reply
  3. Nick

    Save the confederate flag, I guess I could take similar pictures in rural Pennsylvania. Here also there is a clear divide between urban and rural environments.

    About the “Send her back” chant, I am afraid it is just the beginning…

    Reply
  4. Dan Castelli

    Boy, you really know how to stir the kettle.
    How does one respond? On one level, you just need to read comments about DJT whenever Yahoo publishes an article on him. There is genuine venom in the replies…it get’s personal/hateful very quickly. No need to dredge that up here with comments about Trump.
    This virus in the soul of America shows no evidence of dying out. Very few people I speak to are happy. A friend said this is what it must have been like during WW2 in England & Europe, the 800 pound gorilla in the room called Trump can’t be ignored…it’s always there, waiting to explode in your face.
    I listen, but I will not respond to baiting. I photograph both sides, then complain about the heat and humidity.
    There’s a kid that lives up the road from me that drives a pick-up truck with a huge American flag and a Don’t Tread on Me flag mounted on the bed. He tears down my street. I’m gonna stop him one day and ask him to let me take a picture of him & his truck in full flight with flags waving. I see it as a valid pic to take – a tiny mosaic chip in our complex mural that is currently America. To ignore him is to ignore the 800 pound gorilla. I’ll also take a pic of people against Trump; again, a tiny mosaic chip. It helps me understand.
    I’m also encouraged by the almost daily news reports of strangers helping strangers. Of local people looking to find solutions for community problems without waiting for local, state or the federal gov’t. for help.
    If this response is a bit aimless, it’s because I’m trying to deal with what confronts us every day, and I’m finding it damn hard. If we Americans don’t start to find common ground, we will destroy ourselves. Maybe we who carry cameras can help. I don’t know.

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  5. Keith Laban

    Tim, so much cogent material. I’m almost envious, but very glad I don’t have to live with it.

    It’s no coincidence that so many artists and photographers lean towards socialist and liberal values. I’d be hard pushed to form a list of any I admire who lean towards conservatism and republicanism.

    And, we now have our very own 800 pound gorilla in our room.

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  6. Lee Rust

    It’s the American Pie. Depending on which slice you’re a part of, the others might seem tasty or disgusting, sweet or sour, fresh or stale, good or evil. That’s how the pie was baked, and there are kind, caring and hard-working people in each and every piece.

    Reply

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