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Most of the people that I’ve met in my life either love the South or hate the South. Once in a while someone comes along that doesn’t care either way, but not often, and there are a few who don’t actively hate the South but do look down upon it with condescension — those dumb rednecks with their pickups and their country music and their trailer houses who quit school in eighth grade and sleep with their sisters, har de har har.

Okay, I trailed a little into bitterness there, sorry. My point is, out of all of these people, no one has stronger opinions about the South than the people who have actually lived there. I’ve never met anyone who lived in the South who said it was “okay” or “fine”. Either it was the worst hellhole they’ve ever set foot in or they love it and want their grandkids’ great grandkids to grow up there. I can’t really speak from the perspective of someone who hates the South, because I don’t, but my understanding is that this particular brand of loathing usually comes from dealing with closed minded, hyper-religious, occasionally bigoted, hypocritical people who are, unfortunately, all too present in Southern society.

(Okay, my “DING DING DING OFFENSIVE OFFENSIVE” alarm just went off, so all I’m going to say on this matter is that if you were offended by that last sentence, stop and think about why you’re all of a sudden defensive. If you’ve got nothing to be defensive about, you’ve got nothing to be offended by, because you’re not one of those people. And if you’re still offended, you probably shouldn’t be reading me because your blood pressure is just going to continue to rise.)

I’m going to go on a tangent here for just a moment, and define what I mean when I say “the South”. When most people think of the South, this is what they think of, as I understand it:

south

When I say “the South”, this is what I mean:

deepsouth

I make this differentiation because, more than anything else, I’m referencing the culture rather than the geography, and this is based largely on my experience. I’m not 100% sold that the bits of Virginia and North Carolina I’ve marked in green up there are actually part of the South, but I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. I’m also pretty sure that most of Texas is a different kind of Southern culture from the more eastern areas, but from what I’ve seen it’s close enough to include for the purposes of this discussion.

Anyway, here’s the thing. There are awful people in the South, but there are awful people everywhere. And trust me, I’ve met a whole hell of a lot more crazy people since I left the South than I did in the entire almost 26 years I lived there. (I am not, however, discounting the possibility that I’m just familiar with the brand of crazy that tends to flourish in the Southern states and therefore don’t actually recognize it as crazy. I’m just sayin’, go live in California for a little while.) But the people like myself who love the South love it because for us, the wonderful things about it outshine the bad things. We love sweet tea and biscuits with homemade sausage gravy and watermelon with a little salt and deep-fried everything. We love muggy summer nights and mild winters and watching fireflies on the porch swing and catfishing in the creek. Some of us even love hot cornbread in a glass of milk, which is a phenomenon I’ve yet to understand, but I’m apparently not doing it right.

But what I love more than anything is the people, because the crappy ones make the good ones shine even more, and the good ones are the ones who wave to you driving down the road, who smile and nod a greeting in the Wal-Mart parking lot even if they don’t know you, who stop to help you out when you’re stuck on the side of the road with a flat. The good ones are the ones who invite you over for a Sunday fish fry, or the ones who come to your fish fry and bring the potato salad in a big yellow Tupperware bowl; or the ones who, when a member of their community meets a tragedy or disaster, bring their extra food and blankets and clothes and let their church know that someone needs help. They are the backbone of Southern culture, and for every sweet-talking, back-biting hypocrite you meet, you’ll meet two more amazing souls who may talk a little slower but will move quicker’n a possum through a hole in the hen house to help you when you’re in trouble.

There really are people in the world who think that the entire South is full of people with no hygiene, no shoes, no education and no class. A Southern accent is almost automatically associated with ignorance and lack of culture, and I find that immeasurably sad. We’re a special breed of people, and we deserve to be proud of that. Yes, we have our idiots, just like any other region of the U.S., and we have our poor and our uneducated. They exist there as they do everywhere else, alongside the well-educated, the well-spoken, the groomed and the intelligent. Just because I occasionally drop “G’s” from the ends of my words or use colorful similes to describe things makes me no less intelligent, no less important than someone who doesn’t drawl their “I’s” or who happened to not grow up with an outhouse in their backyard. Which, by the way, is an awesome thing to have, as long as you’re not the one digging the hole.

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