It’s time to take her out back and stick her in the ground.
April 13, 2015 6:42 AM   Subscribe

From The Bitter Southerner: Dixie Is Dead
posted by flapjax at midnite (60 comments total) 45 users marked this as a favorite
 
I think it’s more; I think the tap root is memory. That’s what Southerners know, however imperfectly we sometimes grasp it. History happened to us. It either happened to us personally ... or to our direct ancestors, or (in my case) right across the street from the house where I grew up.

This is a seriously good piece. It really is hard to pin down what The South is, except that you still sense it, and sense that something is irrevocably changing it, that hasn't really been caught yet by people who still insist we're all white Baptist Republicans (or Dixiecrats, or whatever). Change comes slowly and clunkily, and then suddenly you realize you have seen more little groceries and churches with names in Spanish, than you see historical markers reminding you whose great-great-granduncle died on this very spot. The old mills (she mentions the textile strikes) getting their (mostly metaphorical) blood and (literal) chemicals mopped up, turned into museums, apartments for young up-and-comers, strange new factories grafted onto their red brick, half-decayed warehouses suddenly streaming with trucks again. Constant conflict with the old neighbors with their memories of the way things should be, all the ways you differ from someone who first owned this house in the 50s, and then they pull out a cell phone or high-tech lawn tool and the spell is broken.

It's all memory, and memory only survives from repetition; the more it is neglected to make room for the things that matter now, the more that identity goes away. It is strange to watch, if you've been brought up on the importance of that memory, if you've been brought up to believe identification with that memory, stasis, is the prime virtue. Soon we'll forget that history happened to us, and we'll let the present happen to us, and then what will become of us?
posted by mittens at 7:24 AM on April 13, 2015 [35 favorites]


What does he have against people who think ladies look nice in hoop skirts? Is he unaware that includes at least 1/5 of modern brides?

#marriedinahoopskirtfromtheNorth
posted by corb at 7:35 AM on April 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


Soon we'll forget that history happened to us, and we'll let the present happen to us, and then what will become of us?

I'm a native southerner, too, and this is the part of southern culture I don't understand: that history didn't happen to us; it happened to a bunch of people we're related to, but who had very different world views, values, etc. than I do now, as an alive person in 2015. That history is the result of their decisions and happened to them. I never understood the identification with a region's history as "us," and that runs particularly deep in the south.

What will happen if southerners can remember that their history happened to other people (you don't have to forget who or where you're from, actually) is that they will join the rest of us in the present, where we recognize that 'the natural order of things' and 'the way things have always been' are bullshit concepts, and that the present is dynamic and unpredictable and always hurtling forward into the future.

The south letting go of its past would be one of the healthiest things people in the region could do.
posted by LooseFilter at 7:36 AM on April 13, 2015 [35 favorites]


And not a moment too soon.

The south was NEVER all white Baptist Republicans (or Dixiecrats or whatever). But that doesn't really matter that much if the white Baptist Republicans are the ones in charge and are able to make the rest of the people pick cotton all day while they collect the money, or make them live in little scrappy huts on the side of a mountain making moonshine and staying the fuck out of the way, or what have you.

The time when that monstrous (white Baptist Republican) elite can successfully crowd everyone else off into the margins are ending, but the very fact that they have been busy for the last several years in "an increasing amount of Republican-led efforts on the state level to redraw voting districts in ways that quarantine or dilute the influence of black voters, as well as the passage of various laws that make it hard for immigrants to access the ballot box" shows that they're still, for now at least, the ones running the show and they want to keep it that way.

On a broader scale, I would note that the kind of tribalization this guy discusses is by no means confined to the south, and is utterly incompatible with a functioning democracy.
posted by Naberius at 7:40 AM on April 13, 2015 [14 favorites]


Wonderful piece.

And yeah, there is an unfortunate tendency to associate "the South" with old white men and pretend no one else lives there. We see it in history books declaring that "the South" favored slavery. No, it didn't. A majority of old, rich, white, men did.

It is almost as if there was a powerful group with an agenda that benefited by enforcing a view of the South as nothing but rich old white Christian men.......
posted by sotonohito at 7:44 AM on April 13, 2015 [11 favorites]


I've never been to the Deep South (I know Virginia doesn't count), but isn't there a set of physical and natural experiences that define it? I think of heat, humidity, swamps, kudzu, fireflies. I also think the deeply rural quality includes people living deep in nature, away from planned settlements -- the real backwoods people.

Isn't the relentless suburbanization encroaching on this? People moving to suburbs of Atlanta may find it hot and be able to grow tomatoes, but are the natural settings and the rural populations part of their lives?
posted by argybarg at 8:00 AM on April 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


I still think there is a deeply rural quality to the South, but it does get harder to find the more sprawl around major cities (Atlanta is the example you've used). Where my grandparents live, where they've had their farm longer than I've been alive, remains very rural. The road that connects them to the state road remains unpaved to this day. Branford, the little Floridian town that has the nearest amenities to them--post office, grocery store, library--still remains a flyspeck. Whereas I spent my middle school/high school years in Greenville, South Carolina, which wasn't terribly big during those years and it is now nigh unrecognizable to me because after I left, sprawl encroached upon all this farmland that surrounded the suburb I grew up in. Greenville and Atlanta (the last city in the South I called home) are out of control in terms of sprawl. It feels less like the South and more like everywhere else.
posted by Kitteh at 8:05 AM on April 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


We were raised on ancient truths,
And ugly old lies.
But I learned how to say a firm “No sir,”
Looking in them old yellow eyes.
Looking in them old hateful eyes.

We were whooped with the Good Book,
Wound up shamed, sorry and worse.
But I yearned to burn the wrath out of every chapter,
And water the love in every verse.
Water the love in every verse.

Dereconstructed.
Dereconstructed, y’all.

They wanted meth labs and mobile homes.
They wanted moonlight and magnolias.
We gave them songs about taking your own damn stand
In spite of those who’d define and control you.

Dereconstructed.
Dereconstructed, y’all.

-- Lee Bains III and the Glory Fires
posted by BitterOldPunk at 8:09 AM on April 13, 2015 [12 favorites]


I think it’s more; I think the tap root is memory. That’s what Southerners know, however imperfectly we sometimes grasp it. History happened to us. It either happened to us personally ... or to our direct ancestors, or (in my case) right across the street from the house where I grew up.

But....that's true everywhere.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:11 AM on April 13, 2015 [5 favorites]


But....that's true everywhere.

Well, yes, but the South gets taken to task (deservedly) about its history more than most regions of the US, I'd wager.
posted by Kitteh at 8:15 AM on April 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


I guess what makes the south different, if something makes it different, is that they were on the losing side and they were the baddies in this old American tale.
posted by pracowity at 8:15 AM on April 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


I agree. The West doesn't get taken to task for the history of genocide because they won.
posted by Seamus at 8:17 AM on April 13, 2015 [18 favorites]


(or the rest of the country either. Not implying the American genocide only happened in the West.)
posted by Seamus at 8:17 AM on April 13, 2015 [3 favorites]


It's true everywhere, but we talk about it more in the South. There's reasons for that, some good, many bad. Less development (changing obviously) means that the less of the history has been scrubbed off the landscape. Lower levels of immigration (again, changing) means that the population has more depth to their collective history; people from the South by and large are from here and have been from here for a long time, which isn't as true up North where there was more immigration. There's also obviously the shadow of slavery and the Civil War and the Lost Cause; being on the losing side often drives people into the safe embrace of history, where the thing that happened to them hasn't happened yet.

None of that is meant to excuse or justify the ways in which the South grapples with its history which have been nearly universally horrible, but there's reasons why history feels a little more personal and immediate there than it does in other parts of the United States (although I suspect that, in global terms, the rest of the US is the outlier here, not the South).
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 8:25 AM on April 13, 2015 [9 favorites]


My South

In the sweet South
The silence is cleansed
By the cicadas,the silken breezes are
Combed by the mimosa,
The shallow branch insinuates
Under the blackberries
Mutters and gurgles to
The sipping monarchs, the ghosts
Of Cherokee children merge
With fern shadow, guarding their
Ancient cache of arrowheads,
Down near the big, secret
Grindstone now still, silent
And alone, known only in
A memory from when once
I wandered too far,
Until my skin was prickling in
The quiet, and deep leaf
Shadow pattern and suddenly
There was a drop and
The stream giggled behind me.
Running home on the hot road,
The wind cool on my skin,
Left, the kudzu strangles a
Jack pine, and right,
Bright yellow breast black vee,
Meadowlark calls, "Look at me
Don't worry!" with breaking
Crystal notes, I hold
The arrowhead close.
posted by Oyéah at 8:27 AM on April 13, 2015 [3 favorites]


Greenville and Atlanta (the last city in the South I called home) are out of control in terms of sprawl.

Say what you will about Greenville, but it has a lovely zoo!

The "more like everywhere else"-ing is really painful to watch. I guess it's painful everywhere--and everywhere it must have a particular local flavor--but down here it's so rigidly determined by...by, what, land use policies, economics, everything but taste, function, or permanence. We're watching now in my town as more thousands of acres of pine forest get bulldozed for yet another anonymous housing subdivision, full of houses that were designed to minimize cost per square foot, and to mash as many together as possible while still leaving room for a privacy fence and a single ornamental tree; the side walls of the houses, that face their neighbors, are nearly blank, just siding with a single window. No more big glorious (and functional for summer heat) porches and windows. No shade trees. But where are the people coming from? Who is going to buy them? Someone must be coming in (or at least moving from the even-more-rural areas), but even though we've already had our housing crash, they just won't stop building the houses. What's weird is, the houses speak of some sort of prosperous future--you're not buying one of these without a pretty steady job--but the businesses that are opening speak of an altogether different future: Dollar stores, nails, pop-up restaurants that will close in a month, a sort of Already Given Up commercial zoning. Churches made of metal siding (we call them Baptist Warehouses), I guess because it's cheap and durable and requires less upkeep, less community, than did the stern little brick and whitewash churches that used to attract followers around here. Not everything about the history was bad; it's just that the good stuff was expensive to keep up. Hate, bigotry, those are pretty cheap to maintain, if you're the one doing the hating.
posted by mittens at 8:29 AM on April 13, 2015 [22 favorites]


Having spent significant time in Maryland, Indiana, and soon the outskirts of Atlanta, I've always considered myself versed in certain Southern norms, customs, and modes (especially the appropriate registers of speech), but not really a True Southerner. My only experience with the deep south so far is with an erstwhile friend and Mississippian who over time came to find me so uncouth, blunt, and, I'd hazard a guess, coming from such a different set of assumptions, that our friendship deteriorated into acquaintanceship. Still though, it's difficult to tell if this was because of personal or cultural differences. My other experiences with Southness are difficult to deconvolve from intrinsic and intransigent Hoosierness.
posted by johnnydummkopf at 8:31 AM on April 13, 2015


Flapjax, thanks for posting. Lots to mull over, especially this:
The South is the center of the fastest-growing Hispanic population in the nation, and births to Hispanics, Asians and multiracial parents accounted for all of the increase in the under-18 population in the last decade. In fact, Arkansas, Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee lead the nation in births to Hispanic mothers. A huge crescent-shaped stretch of the Deep South, from southeastern Arkansas down into the Black Belt of Mississipppi and from there upward to the Carolinas, is now majority-minority, or soon will be.

That’s the real Dixie — not the unbroken expanse of Republican hegemony the political pundits keep talking about.
Memory endures, but demographics go forward.
posted by MonkeyToes at 9:05 AM on April 13, 2015 [4 favorites]


When we moved from Massachusetts to the Raleigh suburbs, we were amused to hear the locals joke that Cary stands for Containment Area for Relocated Yankees. And while it's true that the mega-suburban areas of the Triangle are increasingly nondescript, we now live on the southern edge of the Raleigh metroplex (in the much more poetically named Fuquay-Varina) and you don't have to go too far from our house to find the "rural south" - the ramshackle house with the huge porch and the six riding mowers and an Airstream trailer in the front yard is just down the street, across from Cotton Brook Drive and the entrance to the generically suburban subdivision.
posted by Rock Steady at 9:05 AM on April 13, 2015 [4 favorites]


But....that's true everywhere.

I think it can only be true in places where multiple generations of people stay, with little inside or outside mobility.
posted by corb at 9:17 AM on April 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


When I was at NC State, we used to joke that the boundaries of the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill Triangle were defined by standing on rooftops and throwing tennis balls in every direction. The Triangle is the area where the tennis balls didn't land in tobacco fields.

(I can't laugh too much at that; the urban / rural divide is equally prominent where I live, near Philadelphia. If I go twenty minutes east, I'm in the city; if I go twenty minutes west, the Wal-Mart has a set of hitching posts for horse-and-buggies.)
posted by delfin at 9:19 AM on April 13, 2015 [5 favorites]


I think it can only be true in places where multiple generations of people stay

Yeah. I grew up in New England, and there's plenty of history there, but much less sense that it's your own family history. (My family emigrated to the states in the mid-to-late 1800s from Ireland, and I had no particular emotional connection to the primarily-Colonial history of eastern Massachusetts.)
posted by suelac at 9:30 AM on April 13, 2015 [3 favorites]


Increasingly, the South has become a region where, just as in the rest of the country, residents are grouping themselves into clusters which share similar political affiliations and socioeconomic class — “balkanized communities,” writes Bill Bishop in his book The Big Sort, “whose inhabitants find other Americans to be culturally incomprehensible.”

So much truth in there for th U.S. in general, on so many issues. We're a huge country, but with so many culturally insulated pockets.

--------

More apropos to the Dixie-themed article:

An old friend from Virginia and I used to have playful arguments over whether Virginia was part of "The South" (he says it's not) and whether New York is part of New England (I say it's not).

And I've alway found the word "Yankee" fasciating. To people from outside the U.S., it means a person from the U.S. To people South of the old Mason-Dixon line, it means a person from North of the old Mason-Dixon line. To people in the Northeaster U.S., it means a person from New England - specifically Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachussetts, and Connecticut (and real Connecticut Yankees are harder to find than in Mark Twain's day as so many folks there are transplants from New York City as compared to the nineteenth century.)

Once, on a childhood road trip that took us through South Carolina, I heard someone in a restaurant muttering about "Yankee tourists." I was sure she couldn't have meant us, since we were from New York!

--------

I guess what makes the south different, if something makes it different, is that they were on the losing side and they were the baddies in this old American tale.
posted by pracowity at 8:15 AM on April 13 [+]

I agree. The West doesn't get taken to task for the history of genocide because they won.
posted by Seamus at 8:17 AM on April 13 [6 favorites +]

(or the rest of the country either. Not implying the American genocide only happened in the West.)


The American Civil War is really interesting (all civil wars may be the same way, for all I know, but I don't know nearly as much about them) because there doesn't seem to me to have been a real, decisive effort to make sure the history of the winning side was the only accepted version (as is almost always the case). It thankfully allowed us to go back to living in peace, but it's made our study of our history somewhat complicated.

All's I really know about Dixie is that they make a fine paper cup.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:38 AM on April 13, 2015 [3 favorites]


there doesn't seem to me to have been a real, decisive effort to make sure the history of the winning side was the only accepted version

I'd be really interested to read an alternate history essay that explores the likely chain of events if Davis and Lee had been executed for treason and Reconstruction had taken the form of a more forceful Occupation.
posted by Faint of Butt at 9:44 AM on April 13, 2015 [4 favorites]


All this talk of the South vs. the West makes me think of the story of the "Galvanized Yankees" - mostly Confederate prisoners of war who were offered release from POW camps in exchange for joining the U.S. Army to fight Native Americans in the West.

Given the horrible conditions in prison camps on both sides, I'm not surprised they were able to get recruits.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:46 AM on April 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


I, too, joke with my southern friends about how they lost and we won. I wish we could reframe this. We all won! Everyone who doesn't believe in slavery is a winner. That's 99% of everyone. Way to go, us!
posted by chaiminda at 9:52 AM on April 13, 2015 [11 favorites]


The Underpants Monster: "And I've alway found the word "Yankee" fasciating."

The classic joke is: To someone in the rest of the world, "Yankee" means an American. To a Southerner, "Yankee" means someone from the North. To a Northerner, "Yankee" means a New Englander. To a New Englander, "Yankee" means someone from New Hampshire, and to someone from New Hampshire, "Yankee" means someone that eats pie for breakfast.
posted by Rock Steady at 10:03 AM on April 13, 2015 [26 favorites]


I, too, joke with my southern friends about how they lost and we won. I wish we could reframe this. We all won! Everyone who doesn't believe in slavery is a winner. That's 99% of everyone. Way to go, us!

That is very, very arguable. Indeed people are presently making the argument that, not unlike the Iraq situation, we won on the battlefield but that was just an opening, military phase of a much more complex struggle, which we ultimately lost. Badly. In this case, in 1877 when reconstruction was pretty much formally abandoned and the white elites succeeded in reestablishing a brutally ruthless social and economic hegemony over southern blacks.
posted by Naberius at 10:06 AM on April 13, 2015 [11 favorites]


David Blight's lecture on the south (YT) as part of his course on the civil war.
posted by yaymukund at 10:09 AM on April 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


Came here to post about how the confederacy won the civil war, got beaten to it by Naberius.

It makes a lot of sense to understand the mournful "the south will rise again" horseshit by, instead of taking it at face value, interpreting it as the mouth noises of persecuted hegemons attempting to maintain their deathgrip on American society by pretending to be wounded underdogs.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 10:19 AM on April 13, 2015 [5 favorites]


Oh, absolutely. I'm not saying life was great for black Americans after the war by any means.
posted by chaiminda at 10:24 AM on April 13, 2015


All's I really know about Dixie is that they make a fine paper cup.

Them Koch boys sure do.*

*Dixie, along with Vanity Fair, Brawny, Quilted Northern and others, are all brands owned by the Koch Brothers.
posted by ocherdraco at 10:40 AM on April 13, 2015 [3 favorites]


I think it can only be true in places where multiple generations of people stay, with little inside or outside mobility.

Well yeah. Around here history is divided into two eras Ancient History- BSJD (Before Steve Jobs Died) and Modern History- ASJD (After Steve Jobs Died). We measure or history not in dynasties or eras, but in iPhone iterations.
posted by happyroach at 10:40 AM on April 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


If you like to listen to your history, the Radio Open Source show dealt with this last Sunday. I think an article by one of the guests, David Blight, might have been posted here.
posted by benito.strauss at 10:52 AM on April 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


We measure or history not in dynasties or eras, but in iPhone iterations.

I thought it was by how many blades they had on their razors...
posted by Naberius at 11:07 AM on April 13, 2015


We see it in history books declaring that "the South" favored slavery. No, it didn't. A majority of old, rich, white, men did.

And, if Quinn Norton's essay is anything to go by, quite a few dirt-poor white people who, that way, at least had white pride, and the sense of being better by the grace of God than the blacks. (And, of course the old, rich, white men who kept those poor white folks exploited and impoverished and pocketed the wealth.)
posted by acb at 11:15 AM on April 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


Memory endures, but demographics go forward.

And cultural transmission endures. Indeed, relatively few southerners are of Scotch-Irish ancestry these days, and yet the culture of honour of a cattle-farming people from the Scots Borders and Ulster does remain in things such as the relatively high murder statistics.
posted by acb at 11:20 AM on April 13, 2015


This bit is remarkably dumb though:
Until the early 1980s, the South was unique in being the only region of the United States that had never had the experience of absorbing large numbers of people from other countries.
Gee, really? I thought most of the south's history was all about forcibly absorbing large numbers of involuntary immigrants, then keeping them down.
We see it in history books declaring that "the South" favored slavery. No, it didn't. A majority of old, rich, white, men did.
And that's the real South, the south that shows up in everything from economic to educational backwardness: that part of the US that committed treason in the defence of slavery and is still reaping the benefits. Whether you entirely believe in the Marxist explenation of racism as a conscious divide and conquer strategy created in the age of colonialism, it is clear that in the South racism has helped keep both the black and the poor white poorer than elsewhere in the US.
posted by MartinWisse at 11:22 AM on April 13, 2015 [4 favorites]


An old friend from Virginia and I used to have playful arguments over whether Virginia was part of "The South" (he says it's not) and whether New York is part of New England (I say it's not).

And I've alway found the word "Yankee" fasciating. To people from outside the U.S., it means a person from the U.S. To people South of the old Mason-Dixon line, it means a person from North of the old Mason-Dixon line. To people in the Northeaster U.S., it means a person from New England - specifically Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachussetts, and Connecticut (and real Connecticut Yankees are harder to find than in Mark Twain's day as so many folks there are transplants from New York City as compared to the nineteenth century.)


First, I'll see your old friend at dawn with pistols if he keeps insisting my home state isn't in the South (It's part of a NOVA plot to make living in the Commonwealth respectable or something).

Second, I never understood the identification of being from the South until I was nine and we visited New York City. We were checking into the hotel and within a few words of my mother saying hello, the clerk immediately squaked, "You're from the South, aren't you!" (That she had an accent was a mystery to me.)

I read this piece awhile ago and thought it was interesting. Like most who try to define the South, I think the author says in so many words that it's undefinable. It's a pie with a dozen different ingredients, which remain hidden until you start digging into it.

I come from one of those families that fit the bill of stereotypes, almost. My ancestors arrived in varying degrees beginning around the 1630s to the 1740s, but slowly made their way into the mountains, representing that white push against the various tribes who were at the vanguard of a losing war to defend and keep the land of their ancestors. For nearly every war between the French and Indian War through the Civil War, I can trace one veteran or more, and all who generally returned to the same general vicinity that they had marched away from, and there they were buried.

I didn't grow up near the mountains and valleys that my family had initially fought to take and farmed to live and modestly survive. I grew up hours away, after being born in the Confederate capital, we moved away, and I still grew up driving by equestrian statues of valiant Confederate generals (under whom I can "proudly boast" my ancestors drove wagons for in their armies). I wasn't raised to think of myself Southern or that I lived in a region with a misleading definition of who else dwelled within it. I just was, and it wasn't until I began to live beyond that region that I began to understand what it meant to me, and what I meant to others.

The article doesn't talk about the land and the attachment it can cast upon someone. As far away as I now live from the places named for the people from whom I descended, places I never lived, but where my parents moved away from to find better lives, I feel an instinctive pull to return there. It's the place of my family's history. Even Virginia beckons to me, calling me to return to her borders, to her rolling hills and more humid summers. Perhaps it's because farming was only recently expunged from the list of things that my family did, ending when my grandparents left their farms to seek opportunity elsewhere. It could be part of the mythos of the Ulster Scots who settled the southern mountains, but then, some of their blood does run in my veins.

More likely, perhaps what really defines the South is the shared lie. It's a land of lies, where everyone participates in it because it would be impolite to do otherwise. It's the lie that set expectations of who was on top and who was on bottom, and when the original lie dies, it's replaced by other lies. Lies on how well everyone gets along and the promises to respect the lie by not looking too hard at the truths, like gazing at the sun. That might be the best way to define the South, by looking where the lying breaks down, and where the ugly honesty of the way things are come more exposed to the wandering eye. The author is right, that the South is changing, but it's in a good way, because people are starting to lie a little less about themselves, be it to expose their own ugliness or to recognize the ugliness in their neighbors. When the lying is done, then it will be everything else that defines this place.
posted by Atreides at 12:04 PM on April 13, 2015 [16 favorites]


75% of those in the south didn't own slaves. But pro-slavery sentiment was deep and widespread among the white population. This is true even though the south was full of really poor white people who didn't own slaves.
posted by persona au gratin at 12:06 PM on April 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


I was born and raised in New Orleans. I've never defined myself as "a Southerner". I'm "a New Orleanian". Well actually now I'm more of a Seattleite these days but when I'm talking about where I'm from, it's from NOLA, not The South. You don't see many Confederate flags in a town that's 70% black, and has that reflected in its elected officials.
posted by egypturnash at 12:07 PM on April 13, 2015 [4 favorites]


First, I'll see your old friend at dawn with pistols if he keeps insisting my home state isn't in the South (It's part of a NOVA plot to make living in the Commonwealth respectable or something).

I always figure that south of the Rappahannock you're in the South no question. North of that you can argue about specific localities.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 12:10 PM on April 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


I have a number of (white) relatives who live in the suburban south; a little while ago I visited them for the first time in ten years and came back home to the Bay Area with the sad understanding that America is a much grimmer, more damaged country than I had let myself believe. Most of these relatives make a living, such as they can, through manual labor compensated at wages so low they would be literally illegal here, and almost all of them and all of their friends tend to start conversations, just out of the blue, by uttering statements that start with phrases like "you know why them blacks keep getting beat up by cops it's cause they." And the things I've heard people there say about "that Halfrican Obama" and the ACA would make you want to shrivel up and die from despair, especially considering that these things tend to come in literally the same breath as "thank God that [daughter with cancer] can stay on our insurance until she's 26 and thank God there's no lifetime cap on benefits on our plan anymore."

Great swathes of the poor white south are culturally weird, culturally nasty, and massively self-destructive, to the point where they begin to seem actually brainwashed. The "feel better about your shitty life by identifying with the white supremacist power structures that are keeping you down, too" effect is absolutely, positively real, despite how glaringly stupid it seems to outsiders. I've never really bought into versions of Marxist analysis that privilege false consciousness -- I prefer to believe that people with bad politics actually sort of want the brutalizing sadistic hierarchies that their politics inevitably lead to -- but false consciousness is so thoroughly on the surface in the parts of the poor white south that I've seen that it becomes impossible to deny.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 12:16 PM on April 13, 2015 [17 favorites]


I can still recall the night
Lightning burned the mansion down
We all stood in our pajamas
On that hallowed southern ground

When the flames had turned to ashes
Only blackened bricks remained
And sixteen stately Doric columns
There beneath a veil of gray

And it's a long and slow surrender
Retreating from the past
It's important to remember
To fly the flag half-mast
And look away

I was taught by elders wiser
Love your neighbor, love your God
Never saw a cross on fire
Never saw an angry mob

I saw sweet magnolia blossoms
I chased lightning bugs at night
Never dreaming others saw our way of life
In black and white

And it's a long and slow surrender
Retreating from the past
It's important to remember
To fly the flag half-mast
And look away

Part of me hears voices crying
Part of me can feel their weight
Part of me believes that mansion
Stood for something more than hate

And it's a long and slow surrender
Retreating from the past
It's important to remember
To fly the flag half-mast
And look away

--Kate Campbell, "Look Away"
posted by Halloween Jack at 12:29 PM on April 13, 2015 [5 favorites]


Dixie, along with Vanity Fair, Brawny, Quilted Northern and others, are all brands owned by the Koch Brothers.

Oh, no, et tu, Brawny? But the handsome lumberjack looks so kind and trustworthy!!!
posted by The Underpants Monster at 12:48 PM on April 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


Oh, no, et tu, Brawny? But the handsome lumberjack looks so kind and trustworthy!!!

You notice his sudden lack of beard? Coincidence? I THINK NOT.
posted by corb at 12:52 PM on April 13, 2015


On a broader scale, I would note that the kind of tribalization this guy discusses is by no means confined to the south, and is utterly incompatible with a functioning democracy.

It's everywhere and it's here to stay. As the nation continues to change demographically, culturally and technologically everything is basically becoming a form of "narrowcasting".
posted by MikeMc at 12:57 PM on April 13, 2015


I've sometimes defined Texas to people as "the part of the South that never figured out it lost the war".
posted by gimonca at 1:28 PM on April 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


And I've alway found the word "Yankee" fasciating. To people from outside the U.S., it means a person from the U.S. To people South of the old Mason-Dixon line, it means a person from North of the old Mason-Dixon line. To people in the Northeaster U.S., it means a person from New England - specifically Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachussetts, and Connecticut (and real Connecticut Yankees are harder to find than in Mark Twain's day as so many folks there are transplants from New York City as compared to the nineteenth century.)

It gets more finely-grained than that:

To people who are from New England, it means "someone from New Hampshire".
To people who are from New Hampshire, a Yankee is "someone who lives in a shack in the woods and eats pie for breakfast."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:32 PM on April 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


To people who are from New England, it means "someone from New Hampshire".
To people who are from New Hampshire, a Yankee is "someone who lives in a shack in the woods and eats pie for breakfast."


There are gradations of "Yankee" in the South, too, beyond worrying about the degree of latitude at which it starts. As I was (jokingly) taught growing up in North Carolina:
  • A "Yankee" is someone from the North who stays in the North
  • A "Damn Yankee" is someone from the North who visits the South
  • A "God damn Yankee" is someone from the North who moves to the South
(My family were God damn Yankees. And now I'm back above the Mason-Dixon and don't have to worry about any of that noise any more, other than the cultural damage the whole ball of nonsense does to us as a nation.)
posted by jammer at 1:51 PM on April 13, 2015 [4 favorites]


I think that henceforth whenever I refer to southern culture I'll be talking about Black southern culture, and when I talk about white southern culture I'll always make a point of using the modifier. Black America needs reparations, not shifts in language use, but shifts in language use don't hurt, exactly.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 2:08 PM on April 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


Y'all know I've had a lot to say on this subject in the past, so I'll just offer two observations.

First, I had jury duty relatively recently. In the jury assembly room, I was struck at how American it was. By which I mean people from dozens of nations and cultures and every continent were all represented. I read the list of names as they called people to different groups and it reminded me of the casualty list from the USS Arizona. It gave me hope that maybe this county isn't doomed. That'll only be true if the families that have ruled it for the last century are willing to see the way forward though.

Second, as bad as it all is around here sometimes — and it can be bad y'all, real bad — when you're out on the porch on a warm spring evening, with the scent of honeysuckle so thick you could cut it with a knife and the moonlight shimmering on the gently rustling tops of the trees, you remember why it's home.
posted by ob1quixote at 2:09 PM on April 13, 2015 [4 favorites]


EmpressCallipygos: "But....that's true everywhere."

My family's been in Illinois a long darn time -- we've been Cubs fans for six generations now -- but when Lincoln ran for president in 1860, we were still 30 years away from getting here from Quebec.

Because the big waves of immigration to the US (after it became the US, to highlight MartinWisse's point) were mostly to Northern, industrial cities and to everything opened by the Northwest Ordinance and the Homestead Act and successors, the South as a region had unusually low in-migration compared to other parts of the US, and therefore much more personal, direct, specific, and local memories of the Civil War. I have only one great-great-great-grandfather who fought in the Civil War, in a unit from Wisconsin ... the rest of my ancestors were still dirt farming in Europe or, in a few cases, settling Quebec. History -- in the case of the Civil War -- didn't happen to my direct ancestors. We weren't here yet!

Metafilter well knows I'm the biggest Midwestern booster in the world, and the biggest Midwestern-history booster in the world, but my family's only been here since the World's Fair. Folks I went to law school with in the South (black and white both) had family roots in their hometowns going back 200 and 300 years.

Not that I feel like the Civil War "belongs" to me any less -- I'm an American, and I inherit all of that history of wrongs and rights and battles and benefits unearned (and I think it's a weaksauce argument to say things like, "But why should I pay reparations? My ancestors weren't even here yet!" Well, okay, but they probably came here later because they felt like they'd benefit from moving to a country that was, after all, partly built on slave labor and money from the slave trade). Just that I think about the Civil War differently from someone whose family had Sherman camp in their front yard -- even when that person and I have exactly the same political attitudes and beliefs about the Civil War, it's just a different sort of knowledge.

(Although one of my seminary professors did say Cubs fans were the only Northerners capable of truly understanding the South, as only Cubs fans go to half such lengths as Southerners to romanticize the valor of a lost cause. Which would be a funnier line if it weren't comparing my baseball team sucking to being a slaveowner, but it's still kinda funny. On reflection, he was probably a Cards fan.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 2:26 PM on April 13, 2015 [9 favorites]


I'm a Northerner who knew nothing about the South but stereotypes until
I heard the Drive-By Truckers:

Ain't about my pistol
Ain't about my boots
Ain't about no northern drives
Ain't about my southern roots
Ain't about my guitars, ain't about my big old amps
"It ain't rained in weeks, but the weather sure feels damp"
Ain't about excuses or alibis
Ain't about no cotton fields or cotton picking lies
Ain't about the races, the crying shame
To the fucking rich man all poor people look the same

Don't get me wrong It just ain't right
May not look strong, but I ain't afraid to fight
If you want to live another day
Stay out the way of the southern thing

Ain't about no hatred better raise a glass
It's a little about some rebels but it ain't about the past
Ain't about no foolish pride, Ain't about no flag
Hate's the only thing that my truck would want to drag

You think I'm dumb, maybe not too bright
You wonder how I sleep at night
Proud of the glory, stare down the shame
Duality of the southern thing

My Great Great Granddad had a hole in his side
He used to tell the story to the family Christmas night
Got shot at Shiloh, thought he'd die alone
From a Yankee bullet, less than thirty miles from home
Ain't no plantations in my family tree
Did NOT believe in slavery, thought that all men should be free
"But, who are these soldiers marching through my land?"
His bride could hear the cannons and she worried about her man

I heard the story as it was passed down
About guts and glory and Rebel stands
Four generations, a whole lot has changed
Robert E. Lee
Martin Luther King
We've come a long way rising from the flame
Stay out the way of the southern thing
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 3:41 PM on April 13, 2015


Mapping Slavery in 1860
posted by gimonca at 5:00 PM on April 13, 2015


History -- in the case of the Civil War -- didn't happen to my direct ancestors. We weren't here yet!

Huh, this is interesting to me--I've lived in the south for all but six years of my life (Virginia, Georgia, and now Texas, but I was born in Ohio and spent a brief stint in Kansas), but I've never actually identified as a Southerner and have vociferously denied it for most of my post-moving-to-Georgia life.

And maybe part of that is that my family history.... isn't from the South. I mean, I did have a great-great-great-grandfather who fought in the Civil War, all right. He was a poor Irish guy who immigrated to the US because some Union rich dude got drafted and didn't want his commission, so he paid for my ancestor to come to the US and take it. And my ancestor used his salary from the commission to pay his family's way to the country. That's the single oldest family history story in the US I'm aware of, and I've made it my business to stop and listen. My dad was a military brat and went to four high schools in four years, and my mother was from rural New York and has spent the past twenty years assiduously purging herself of any connection to the backwater town she grew up in.

So I've always thought of being Southern as meaning you have roots in the south. Which I don't. My dad's family is mostly settled in Northern Virginia but largely on account of my grandmother, who got into politicking when my grandfather quit the military, and the rest are scattered all over the country. And my mother's family were all in New York until relatively recently. We were always military before we were south and Irish Catholic before we were military, growing up. Connecting myself with an actual Southern identity is, huh, an interesting thought. Talking about my experience as being a common Southern identity is weirder yet, to be frank.

Thanks for the post; it's giving me plenty of food for thought.
posted by sciatrix at 7:36 PM on April 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


We see it in history books declaring that "the South" favored slavery. No, it didn't. A majority of old, rich, white, men did.

Others have touched on this, but it's worth remembering that the areas of the south that were too poor to suit slavery -- particularly southern Appalachia, which fought on the Union side -- had a disproportionate number of sundown towns once Jim Crow took hold. (I checked against the database, and it is frankly disturbing how many of those towns now host state prisons with a disproportionately minority population.) They never had any African-American living there as slaves, and they excluded African-Americans once they stopped being slaves.

So I think the piece ricochets off its target somewhat: the demographics change, but Dixie is a state of mind and a state of existence. There is a very deep strand in the South that, quite frankly, isn't taken by popular democracy or free and fair elections. If demographics were truly destiny, then Reconstruction wouldn't have ended with the white racists back in charge and Jim Crow in place. Dixie's undead.
posted by holgate at 3:22 AM on April 14, 2015 [2 favorites]




ob1quixote: "First, I had jury duty relatively recently. In the jury assembly room, I was struck at how American it was. By which I mean people from dozens of nations and cultures and every continent were all represented. I read the list of names as they called people to different groups and it reminded me of the casualty list from the USS Arizona. It gave me hope that maybe this county isn't doomed. "

It's going to seem almost jingoistic when I say it, but I honestly get that feeling when I watch the US Olympic team march in the parade of nations. Our diversity is our greatest strength.
posted by Rock Steady at 5:32 AM on April 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


argybarg has a point I have thought about often. Our very landscape--kudzu-covered, insect-bombulated--is fecund, moist, incestuous. It's no wonder our minds are tangled and overheated, our writers experts of the fraught, our history mired--a stuck boot in the swamp.
posted by thebrokedown at 8:03 AM on April 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


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