Posted by R. Neal
The Associated Press had a recent series of articles about the South and what it means to be Southern. The articles ran in local papers all over the region and as far away as Minnesota, North Dakota, and California. There's some interesting and thought provoking discussion:
Definition of South, Southern Is Changing:
Are the qualities that have long been ascribed to the South really true anymore? Are Southerners really more hospitable than other Americans? Does family really count for more down South? Are depth of faith, loyalty to home, reverence for history and sense of place identifiably "Southern" traits?
Blacks have a complicated love affair with the South. Their ancestors were enslaved in the region for generations, then Jim Crow laws pushed them to the back of the bus. From inner-city slums to old plantation counties, being black too often still means a second-class existence.
Yet surveys show blacks who live in the South are more likely than any other racial or ethnic group - even whites - to identify themselves as Southerners. It's a label millions claim with pride and affection, yet uneasiness.
A complex brew of poverty and racial strife has inspired writers as diverse as William Faulkner, Richard Wright, Eudora Welty, Flannery O'Connor, Pat Conroy and John Grisham. But those same social pathologies have burdened the South with a stubbornly enduring legacy of illiteracy.
"As you're driving down the street and people are jogging or walking, they all wave. And I don't even know these people, for crying out loud," [Wisconsin transplant] Andrea Lemke said. "I'm always addressed as 'ma'am' or 'Mrs. Lemke.' It drove me crazy when I was dealing with contractors. They never called me by my first name, even though I'd given them permission to do so."
Social courtesies, even if only surface-deep, played a key role in the racially tumultuous century between the Civil War and the Civil Rights Act. Rules of racial etiquette allowed whites to prolong their crumbling social order. For blacks, being impolite to whites could mean death.
With a single bullet tucked in his shirt pocket, Deputy Barney Fife invariably finds a way to bumble things and confirms the outsiders' bias about small-town yokels.
But by the end of the episode, Sheriff Andy Taylor has outfoxed everyone, and good old-fashioned country wisdom has once again trumped big-city sophistication.
It's a classic story line of country comedy, one of the most recognizable exports of the South, a region that arguably is lampooned - and lampoons itself like no other. From Minnie Pearl's "How-Dee!" to Gomer Pyle's "Gaaawlee!" to Larry the Cable Guy's "Git 'r' Done," the simple humor of the backwoods is an art form that has endured through changing times and even transcended its Southern roots.
But beneath the stereotypical surface, early country comedy may have played a role in maintaining the delicate social fabric of the South. University of Georgia history professor James C. Cobb said the redneck comedian created the illusion of white equality across classes.
This is a great series, but one thing that's missing is a discussion of the South's influence on traditional/folk/gospel/popular music. That would be pretty tough to cover in a single article, though.