I am 22 years old. I lived 6 years in Alabama, from 1987-1992. I lived in California (El Centro, San Diego, and Los Angeles) from 1995 till the present. I will just present my view as I saw it, nothing more.
I lived in Huntsville, Alabama. This city is not really indicative of the rest of Alabama, which is mostly rural. Even the other big cities, like Birmingham, are very blue collar and industrial. Huntsville, because of Redstone Arsenal and the Rocket Center, was very tech oriented and thus kind of a white collar town. I was 10 years old when I LEFT the town. So there are only certain things I could have witnessed that would have processed in my conciousness. But as far as race goes, it was a divided city. Population wise, almost 40 percent of the city was black, I believe. However, I would usually only have about 1 or 2 blacks in each of my classes throughout elementary school. Once in a while, I'd cross the "tracks" where there would be schools predominantly black.
As far as the people and their mentalities towards me in terms of race? I think one important thing to remember (I subscribe to this theory) is that blacks are subject to stronger, and almost a different kind of racism, than other minorities. I think this would be true in the South, which has that legacy. So me not being black, I can't comment on what black people were going through in Huntsville. As a Korean, me nor my parents did not deal with much racism. (I conferred this with my mom recently, who also shared the thought that she never was really victimized by racist attitudes her entire time there) Quite frankly, it just seemed like the Southerners I dealt with were just too damn polite to be racist to me. That sounds kinda silly, but it seems like the truth. Most of the crowd I hung out with were the hold doors open for others, say Thank you Your Welcome Excuse me, apologize if you do wrong, type of crowd. In short, I believe even if some people were looking at our family and thinking, "Those damn Koreans", they were just too polite to be anything but kind to us, at least on the outside.
Huntsville was unique. Most of the white people I was around were professionals. Whether it be doctors, teachers, or engineers, they were dealing with foreigners and minorities on a constant basis, so it wasn't like I was an alien or anything. A big population of the people were military personnel, who had traveled the world. This may have influenced their views as well.
See, the thing is, my family did do a lot of traveling within Alabama. We went to smallish towns like Athens, Boaz, Madison, Decatur, etc. We went to Mobile, Montgomery, and Birmingham, which are larger towns. And sometimes we would stop by rural type of areas to take a piss or whatever. Throughout all of this, my family can NEVER EVER remember a time when anything remotely racist was done to us. Whether its a slur, somebody refusing to serve us, etc.
Then again, I had to deal with the sterotypes from my fellow students. But that did not bother me, I felt it was just ignorance combined with stupidity, and I relished the opportunity to show them that some of the things they had thought about "Orientals" was plain wrong.
Hence based on all of this, this is why I still have good feelings about Alabama. Would I consider it a progressive state? I don't know. Would I consider Huntsville, Alabama a great place to live (besides the tornados) full of mostly great polite people? Yes.
I've said a couple of times before that I didn't really deal with racism until I came to California, andI was surrounded by Mexicans. For the first time in my life, I was hearing things like "Chink". Kids wanted to pick fights with me and would gang up on me, huring insults at me in Spanish. Minor things sure, but things I did not deal with in Huntsville.
Because of my positive experience, I can't help but defend Alabama, and the South in general. What would I know, right? But still, I travelled to Louisiana, Mississippi (ok I was just driving through), Georgia, Tennessee, Arkansas, etc. And I did it by car, so we would have to stop once in a while and talk to people or whatever, or stay in a motel. And we had no issues. This is the lens I see the South through, even now. Sure the South has its faults, but so does California (a progressive state?!! haha). And sometimes it sickens me how some people I've met here, think of the South as some foreign country, full of KKK and idiot hicks who inbreed. Sure there are some, but this is gross generalization that is quite unfair. Everytime I tell someone who hasn't been there that I used to live in Alabama, they look at me like I survived a war or that I lived in Somalia or something.
There are people here in California that I've met who have been to Europe, Asia, the Middle East, etc. Yet the furthest East they've been is Las Vegas. The USA is the greatest country on earth. I think people should take the time to explore their own country. Get in a car, or a plane. Travel to the South. Drive around, talk to the people, visit things. Draw your own conclusions from that. But at the very least, before you die, visit as many places in this great country you can.