David Hollis: Sorry If The Truth Hurts
The forced resignation of a Valdosta, Georgia bank VP is a small step for southern progress.
I don’t get on Facebook much. While this is partially due to my sneaking suspicion that Facebook extracts more utility from me than I do from it, I maintain that there are health benefits to avoiding the various mundane updates and political misinformation spilled onto the platform by distant acquaintances and aging relatives.
However, I recently made an exception when my south-Georgian hometown’s local newspaper, the Valdosta Daily Times, published an article online detailing the forced resignation of a local bank vice-president for a racist diatribe he posted to Facebook in the wake of President Obama’s eulogy for the late John Lewis.
Initially, I wasn’t able to find David Hollis’s original rant on Facebook because the chap deleted it (probably once he realized it was going to cost him, though as they say in the South, you can’t pass a tractor on a dirt road), but I trusted the Times’ account, which claimed he called the 44th president a “House Nidiot” and referred to the eulogy as Obama’s “Yas’Suh’ing”. A screen-capture of the post that I happened upon later confirmed as much.
Naturally, I was curious to see how the folks from my hometown were responding to Hollis’s little predicament. A venture into the Facebook comments beneath the newspaper article yielded a series of fatuous but unsurprising ideas, a bit like turning over a dead tree stump and finding pissed-off bugs and other critters scrambling around underneath.
Quite a few indignant commenters babbled on about the first amendment and Hollis’s right to freedom of speech. Fortunately, several others clarified that Hollis had not been arrested by the government, thus preserving his rights, and that Hollis was paying the price of broadcasting his racist character for the world (and specifically his bank) to see.
Other contributors blindly refused to believe that Hollis’s comments were racist in the first place. In fact, the head honcho of the Citizens Community Bank, a man by the name of Glenn Copeland, asserted to the Valdosta Daily Times that “I don’t believe Mr. Hollis is racially motivated” and regretted that “it did not come out right” (one imagines Mr. Copeland spent the next day chewing on his words as his bank forced Hollis out of a job). I put my faith in your intelligence and sensibility, dear reader, in hoping I need not explain why “House Nidiot” and “Yas’Suh’ing” are racist slurs.
While these two talking points occupied the bulk of the comments section, other retorts surfaced too: some decried persecution of “Biblical opinions”, while others argued that if Hollis, a white man (temper your shock!) were “any other color, this wouldn’t be a big deal”. A few claimed he was a pious fellow of moral integrity martyred because he possessed a modicum of community status.
This provides us with an excellent opportunity to zoom out and away from our metaphorical upturned stump and examine the forest at large. David Hollis is a prime example of how subtly racism infiltrates the 21st century South (though the conspicuous frequency of MAGA hats and confederate flags indicates a solid argument to the contrary). In Hollis’s case, racism probably donned a suit in the mornings and arrived at work each day with the power to affect mortgage loans and other financial services offered to black citizens in the local community.
The story is concordant with the experiences of deep-Southerners who have witnessed how prejudice infiltrates bank boards, school districts and other centers of concentrated influence. This pervasiveness led the then head of the science department at Lowndes High School, my pre-college alma mater in Valdosta, to ask the only black student in our environmental science class if he could swim before a field trip to a local nature preserve. It’s why in the murky and highly publicized investigation of Kendrick Johnson’s death at the same school, the idea of a racially motivated murder perpetrated by a white student and concealed by shadowy forces in the justice system, while unsubstantiated, never felt outside the realm of possibility.
Hollis-brand racism is passed down generationally in the confines of southern homes, and the consequences of such early indoctrination accompanied me through childhood. As early as the fourth grade, some of my nine-year-old peers called our new, black commander-in-chief a “lyin’ African”, and one couldn’t stand to “watch that n — er” (a direct quote from the child who issued it and whose name I remember; let its brute vulgarity galvanize your opposition to the word) being inaugurated on our school’s cathode ray TVs. Needless to say I heard the vicious slur leveled against the president and others many times in and since my youth, and sadly David Hollis is just another tick on the tally. But in my memory, he’s one of the few public figures from my hometown to get burned for the offense.
And so I have to remind myself that there are voices of reason in the South, some of whom appeared in the fray of that Facebook comment box. I particularly enjoyed one wisecrack from a man named Clay Griffis, who recognized that Hollis’s screed “explains why Fox News is aired in the bank lobby televisions.” Clay Griffis, if you are reading this, well said. I feel we’d get along.
The Clay Griffises of the South give me hope for the region and my hometown, as do the saner ranks of the Citizens Community Bank who elected to show David Hollis the door, and the journalists at the Valdosta Daily Times who drew community attention to Hollis in the first place. These forces inspire budding skeptics and freethinkers in southern middle and high schools to gather their courage and risk social and familial rejection by calling bullshit on racism when it rears its ugly head. Therein lies the path to a kinder, nobler South, exorcised of the demons of heritage.
John Lewis once remarked to The Bitter Southerner that “The South can be redeemed, the South will be redeemed”, and for the land of sweet tea, biscuits, gravy, fried chicken, manners, and (if you’re out in the country) a little bit of goddamned peace and quiet, the fall of David Hollis is one more fine little episode in the South’s struggle for redemption.