This whole business started a couple of years ago. We were getting used to that long succession of articles about the North Carolina state government, and getting used to the shame that accompanied them. We watched them repeal the Racial Justice Act, limit unemployment benefits, and refuse to expand Medicaid — effectively sentencing several thousand North Carolinians to die needless deaths. We watched the General Assembly make it illegal for coastal developers to use accurate predictions of sea-level rise. And we saw similar legislation spill through legislative chambers around the South.
Like a lot of folks, we were surprised by how reckless and downright mean all of this seemed. It didn’t accord with the South we thought we knew, a South that seemed to be moving forward. Out of old cities were springing new theaters and new music, new bars and new restaurants. We’d been watching old tobacco warehouses cleaned off and lit up again as apartments and storefronts. People in Brooklyn were talking about Durham and New Orleans. Faced with the regressive governments in Raleigh and elsewhere, braver folks than we had formed the backbone of a moral, populist movement unparalleled in the modern history of the region.
Among these contrary currents, it’s clearer now than it has been in a while: we live in many Souths, speak of many Souths. We feel like we have come to a crossroads. At the very least we are in a place we don’t want to linger: blessed with remarkable civic energy and still troubled by the long shadows of our past. We need a way forward, a future for our states that looks less like that past, one that brings this present energy to bear uncompromisingly on our toughest challenges. All this has to start with an honest and inclusive conversation about what comes next, about what is true here in our South and about what we have to change.
But our newspapers are drying up. Magazines from New York don’t come down here much. Cable news doesn’t really care. We are short on places to talk.
For two years, we’ve been building something in that gap. Now, we’re launching Scalawag to give this generation of Southerners a space in which to speak, and to bring that conversation to the ears of ordinary people across the South and the country. Scalawag will exist both as a printed magazine (published quarterly) and as an actively updated website. In both formats, we’ll combine long-form journalism, lucid analysis, and stories real and fictional about ourselves and our communities. The South will dominate Scalawag’s attention, but it won’t be an obsession: just as we’ll bring the South’s most important thoughts and stories to a broader audience, so too will we bring diverse and sometimes foreign perspectives back to the region. In all of this, we will cultivate an inclusive public space — for we believe that civic progress must begin in such spaces, as we talk together and see ourselves as members of a common public.
In this first issue of Scalawag, you’ll hear many voices. We have no interest in pretending that they compose some special or singular South. We just want you to hear their stories: stories about protest movements and police brutality, the Bible and the Constitution, strange characters, old music, and the sudden snap of history. These are stories of successes and failures, good times and evil deeds. These are the stories that Scalawag will go on giving a home.
We’re publishing them because we believe they have to be told — not merely to congratulate, although many deserve congratulations; or merely to indict, although many deserve indictment — but instead to free us from the supposition that things here must stay the way they are. As we reckon with our country’s darker aspect, this is perhaps the single sort of freedom that remains authentically American — a freedom for dreamers who have been denied many other freedoms along the way. This freedom is not itself the change or liberation they seek, but the mere possibility of it. It is not an end but a beginning. We begin Scalawag here.