What is the South?

16 Jan

This semester, my colleague is teaching Southern U.S. History, and, on the first day, he asked his students to answer a simple question – what is the South? As it turns out, the question is not as simple as it appears, and the students have been trying to answer it for a couple of days.Question

I have been listening to the discussion as it takes place outside of my office door, and it has brought to mind a blog that I recently read. The person wrote about how they wanted to visit a southern city because they had never been to one. They had been to New Orleans but did not think that counted. The Big Easy was too diverse to be truly southern.

I was taken aback by the blog because New Orleans is one of the most southern of cities. Apparently, the blogger thought that a southern city should be a place where people put on their camouflage caps and rebel flag t-shirts; hop into their pickup trucks; and crank up the country music station.

Of course, those people exist. However, the South is more than that. It has different geography. It had different foods. People speak with different accents. In short, the South is a diverse region, and New Orleans is a perfect example of that.

However, that does not answer the question that was asked of the students. What is the South? Well, it is a matter of perspective. It depends on area. It depends on race. It depends on the person who is answering the question.

Obviously, people have different opinions about the South. Some think of its faults, and others think of its more positive qualities. I can only think about it from my point of view. When I answer the question, this is what I come up with.

The South is:

drinking sweet tea.

having people from other parts of the country make fun of your accent when their accents are just as strange.

the Blues.

reading Flannery O’Connor and William Faulkner.

not being able to live without air conditioning.

eating black-eyed peas and hog jowl on New Year’s Day.

driving on country roads on a Sunday afternoon.

being washed in the blood.

hiking the trails of the Great Smoky Mountains.

eating baloney on crackers with a little hot sauce on top.

growing up as a non-football player in a region that worships football players.

going to college football games and worshipping players on a Saturday afternoon.

listening to the Allman Brothers and the Marshall Tucker Band.

feeling shame when watching film of Bull Connor’s forces using fire hoses and dogs on protestors.

saying I want a Coke when ordering a soft drink and knowing that someone who calls it pop is from somewhere else.

attending a NASCAR race and thinking I could do that.

driving the Natchez Trace from Nashville to Natchez.

going to church and having a “dinner on the ground.”

walking in the footsteps of Elvis at Graceland.

drinking Jack Daniels.

eating at a locally owned Meat and Three.

greeting strangers as you walk past them.

knowing that the region has had some serious issues.

being proud of where I live despite knowing about those problems because there are some great things about it, too.

To me, that is the South.

23 Responses to “What is the South?”

  1. Marilyn Armstrong January 16, 2015 at 03:49 #

    Well said. The south is wonderfully contradictory. Many — most? — of my favorite writers, dead and living, are from the south. Fertile intellectual soil, you have. And then there’s the music!

    • Rick January 16, 2015 at 03:52 #

      Obviously, the South has a lot of serious problems that people have to deal with everyday. Their list would be completely different.

      • Marilyn Armstrong January 16, 2015 at 03:53 #

        I suppose so, but it’s hard to deny Faulkner, no matter what flag you wave.

      • Rick January 16, 2015 at 04:05 #

        If you get the chance, then you should go to his house in Oxford, Mississippi. It’s strange that a region can produce people like him and Helen Keller and also produce George Wallace and the KKK.

      • Marilyn Armstrong January 16, 2015 at 04:51 #

        The very definition of cognitive dissonance on a regional level.

  2. frontrangescribbles January 16, 2015 at 03:59 #

    Nicely defined. Having lived in Arkansas for several years I agree with many of your definitions especially football.

    • Rick January 16, 2015 at 04:06 #

      Thanks. I’m split on football. I love the sport but not the religion it’s turned into.

      • frontrangescribbles January 16, 2015 at 04:08 #

        And in SEC country it is a religion and a whole lot more.

  3. Andrew Petcher January 16, 2015 at 05:52 #

    I don’t understand any of this of course but I enjoyed reading it!

    • Rick January 16, 2015 at 13:47 #

      Thanks. It’s not easy to understand. Heck, our students can’t figure it out, and they live here.

      • Andrew Petcher January 16, 2015 at 13:58 #

        I studied this for a while at university. I always thought that the answer was the Kansas Nebraska border solution and then ignore anything west of that as making it too complicated.
        Understanding north/south is difficult in the UK too, everyone has a different opinion about where the line falls. A lot of people north of the capital say that the best thing that comes out of London is the A1 (The Great North Road).
        Good luck finding the answer!

  4. NotAPunkRocker January 16, 2015 at 14:51 #

    I’ve already gone on record that I am a bad Southerner as I don’t like sweet tea or pecan pie.

    The air conditioner one is nice, but more often than not you had to learn to live without it. It was called “do nothing but sit” whenever you were home in the summer, especially August.

    • Rick January 16, 2015 at 15:05 #

      I forgot to list pecan pie and eating at Krystal. I am not big on sitting still, so AC is essential.

  5. Sarah Angleton January 16, 2015 at 19:19 #

    What a lovely tribute. I’m Midwestern through and through, but I certainly understand the sentiment.

    • Rick January 16, 2015 at 21:52 #

      Thank you. As I replied to another commentor, the South has its problems, but there are some great things about it, too.

  6. Joy January 17, 2015 at 04:16 #

    Thanks for the clarification! May I ask for another checklist for the Midwest? šŸ™‚

    • Rick January 18, 2015 at 03:53 #

      I’ll see what I can do.

  7. April January 17, 2015 at 07:26 #

    I’ve questioned where the south is myself. Whatever the borders of the southern region actually are, I still love it. Be it visiting family in Texas (is Texas part of the south??) and Arkansas or vacationing in South Carolina, it’s great. Anywhere where you can order a strong sweet tea is O.K. in my book!!

    • Rick January 17, 2015 at 15:02 #

      Sweet tea is a must. I count Texas as southern, but east Texas may be more southern than west Texas. As our students have learned, putting boundaries on around the South is difficult. Maybe, it is more a state of mind.

  8. John S January 19, 2015 at 00:29 #

    Fascinating question and answers. We like Jack Daniels in the UK too! And Lynyrd Skynyrd whom surprisingly you didn’t mention.

    • Rick January 19, 2015 at 01:19 #

      I thought about putting Lynyrd Skynyrd, but they are not my favorite Southern Rock band.

  9. sittingpugs January 20, 2015 at 18:52 #

    As a native Atlantan, I sometimes take for granted what the South conjures. I sometimes think about what does not resonate as “Southern” to me. For instance, Florida. Miami, Florida. Florida below Gainesville.

    Pollen = South. Palm trees =/= South.

    • Rick January 20, 2015 at 20:14 #

      As I said, it is all a matter of perspective. Different things conjure different feelings for different people.

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