Am I a “Southerner?” Yesterday’s Talk of the Nation made me want to say, “Yes!” I was in the car with my mom when the segment, “What Does It Mean to Be a Southerner?” aired, and nearly every time someone called in, they said something I had either just said to my mom or that I could relate to. Tracy Howard, author of the book, “The New Mind of the South,” even talked about southern traditions of “faith, family and food,” which is much of what this blog is about.
I laughed when a woman said a Utah bartender could tell she was raised in the South because she has manners. There really is a distinction. I sometimes wondered if a man I dated who was from the Northeast was raised by wolves. He was just raised in the Northeast, with no one from the South to guide him in our standards of hospitality. I’ve noticed that men raised elsewhere but with parents or grandparents from the South behave differently than he does.
There are plenty of “Southern sensibilities” I don’t like being associated with—the legacy of white supremacy, low levels of literacy and education, high levels of poverty and poor health, conservativism so strict it’s backward, faith so strong it can’t coexist with the modern world. But as a caller indicated, I see the value in laying claim to the truth in these stereotypes so that history doesn’t repeat itself and so change can occur.
There were two things I didn’t hear any callers mention. The first: Southern expectations of femininity. (I know, you thought I would say “race.” But one man who called in noted he’s a black southerner. Is there something special about that qualifier? Howard says somewhat; blacks tend to identify more strongly with things like faith, family and food.) No one called in about the southern mystique we G.R.I.T.S. allegedly carry around like an aura. I think a certain level of daintiness is expected of us, even of southern black women. A southern woman who’s not all shapely and all girl is out of place.
I also didn’t hear about anyone’s burning desire to leave and the sometimes inescapable call of home. As Alabama-born blogger Writeous Babe expressed in this post (back when her blog was Georgia Mae), most of us don’t want to be from the South. We want to get away from the backwardness. Who among those who doesn’t fit the stereotypes has time to stay home and try to catch everyone else up to the 21st century? We look at bigger cities and sing about them like Alicia Keys sings of her home.
And then some of us stop just talking about leaving and we actually go away. And some of us, like the Writeous Babe again, return and fall in love with home.
When Dr. J. Blaine Hudson, a beloved historian, educator, and activist in Louisville died earlier this year, I had a tough time reconciling that with all his knowledge and capabilities, he decided to stay home, in Louisville, and live and work and organize here. I had always seen ending up back home as a failure of epic proportions. But when other places, bigger, busier places, started to lose their appeal, and when he died, I had to reevaluate.
I haven’t fallen in love with home yet. Maybe living in the biggest city in this border state—and the most small-town, Mayberry, country city that wants to be bigger I’ve ever seen—makes me feel ambivalent. But I’ve learned to accept home’s contradictions. And I have this blog, which lets people know (without me slipping out a regional colloquialism like, “Bless her heart!”) that yes, I’m from the South.