From an article by journalist and conflicted Southerner Robert Kelly-Goss of Albemarle, NC:
North Carolina journalist and writer C. J. Cash wrote that the South is “not quite a nation but the next thing to it.”
Through the years I have pondered what it means to be Southern and what is Southern culture. I love the food found throughout the varied regions of the South. And the music, be it blues or mountain music, takes me to the different landscapes found throughout the region, leaving with me a sense of place that I can’t exactly put my finger on, but cherish just the same.
“There is not a single Southern culture, ever,” says Harry Watson, Ph.D., director of The Southern Studies Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “There’s black culture, white culture, mountain culture, NASCAR culture, country club culture and so on.”
Rupert Vance, once a sociologist at UNC, noted that the South is unique because, in many ways, it has not been assimilated into the mass culture that surrounds it.
Amen to that last idea. I love being from a place that really makes me from somewhere.
Unlike the author, I have never felt conflicted about my Southern-ness because of feeling my cultural identity connects me to the historical racism of the South. I was raised by nonracist parents, went to racially mixed schools, have worked in racially mixed environments and know that the South is just not the psycho-social nightmare for minorities that some people think it is. Yes, good ol’ geographical isolation did confer ignorance here, and that legacy is still with us. But my encounters with overt racism (admittedly, as a middle-class white person) are limited to three incidents in childhood (one directed at me), one ignorant co-worker, and once seeing a piece-of-shit old pickup with a David Duke bumpersticker (and a dragging muffler scraping the road). I felt like that guy was a great ad for Duke’s fans and followers. That’s in more than 30 years here.
When I moved to North Carolina from Florida at age nine, I did observe more racism. And my peers and I were growing older and crueler (more prone to make fun and create social circles), and, at my new NC school that had a lot of black students, there were just more black kids around for white kids to interact with. When I came to NC I did see more racism, but black people also moved off a pedestal of distant and patronizing parent-taught tolerance and became real people I played with at recess and ate lunch with. By high school interracial dating was common, and even had a bit of cachet during the Michael Jackson era. If I had never moved to the South, I would probably have encountered fewer incidents of racism. And I would also have had a lifetime of fewer friendships and business relationships with African-American people.
I know there’s bad things here in South, but there are bad things everywhere humans are, and everywhere life is. And its not like black people are aliens here. They’re Southerners too, and share my cultural food traditions of mac and cheese, collards, fried chicken and candied yams.
“There’s black culture, white culture, mountain culture, NASCAR culture, country club culture and so on.” Yes. And we all drink sweet tea and eat the same thing at family reunions. [Well, I wouldn’t, for despite living all but 6 months of my life below the Mason-Dixon line, most of my family is in Pennsylvania. My dad, however, is from Maryland, a state that’s actually below the line, as my father, another naturalized Southerner (he makes a mean mess of collards), will quickly point out to you.]
Southern culture to me is expressed in three main things: dialect, food and music. All of which I deeply love.