Since the removal of the Confederate statues in NOLA continues to be in the news, the South is on everyone’s radar. Something happened at work that really caught my attention, juxtaposed as it were with the business with issues of the statues, history, race, and Southern identity in general. I had overheard a conversation between a colleague of mine ( a person born in the South and very much a Southerner) and a person who had moved here from the Northeast. She was aking him why people in the South always ask the question, “Where are you from?” She said that she never got that question in other parts of the country. I’ve lived in other places (the midwest, greater NYC) and she is indeed correct. When I lived and worked in those places, no-one ever inquired as to my origins unless my accent slipped out. (I don’t have much of a Mississippi accent. My mother went to extreme lengths to ensure that I spoke with a neutral accent, not the mush-mouth that my more upstate cousins had.)
I ‘ve been thinking about that question. WHY do we here in the South ask that question? And it is usually the second thing that follows hello, the first being an inquiry as to whether you want a glass of sweet tea. I discussed it with a friend of mine who was not from the South originally but who lived in Louisiana for a long time. I proposed that we do it as a tribal thing, to find out who your people are, because we might be related. (A deceased friend once half-jokingly claimed that everyone in the South was related to everyone else.) My friend retorted that it might be a tribal thing but to see if you are one of us or not, to establish bona fides, i.e. are you a Southerner?
That lead to the reflection that the South is the only region of the US that has an unique geographical identity. I’m hardly the first nor the last person to make this claim. It has a hold on me as an individual, like it or not. I am a Southerner, though I like to describe myself as reconstructed Southerner. I’ve hated this fact, tried to escape it geographically by moving to NYC, and finally made my peace with it. I grew up in Mississppi, lived and worked in the heart of the Deep South (the Mississippi Delta), and have known and loved Southerners. I’ve hated some of them, too. But in my maturity I recognize that I can’t erase the fact that I was born and bred in the deepest South, though I don’t have to the subscribe to the “Never Forget” attitude many take in regard to the Civil War and to the not-so-subtle racism that still lingers in those who wish to bring back Jim Crow laws and worse. I actively attempt to overcome my white privilege by educating myself. I read as much as I can, watch podcasts, docs, movies, and series that will help me get over myself. I will never know what it means to be an African American or any other minority (except Jewish, of course) in the South but perhaps I can intellectually understand and notintentionally be such a jerk.
I’m listening to the The Dead South, btw.