Sunday, August 16, 2015

Southernness

Let's look at the words South, Southern, and Southerner.  The South refers to the Southern United States, especially those states which were part of the abortive Confederacy.  It denotes not just a region, but a definite linguistic and cultural group, in which I was brought up, and to which I belong.

When I was a growing up, among white southerners our identity was still one formed by the myth of the Lost Cause: I remember very well belonging to the Children of the Confederacy, pledging allegiance to the Confederate flag, and singing patriotic songs about the Confederacy.  The myth of the Lost Cause lost much of its power in the 1970's, and, due to embarrassment over slavery, segregation, and the attempt to dehumanize the Black race, was replaced by a different approach to our history.  White Southerners decided we were beyond our past and it were best forgotten.  We were helped in this by White Northerners, who had long been eager to leave the past behind in the search for national unity.

The problem is that public denial and forgetfulness over our history provides itself a cover for another form of racism, and leaves many problems unsolved, including the essential task of racial reconciliation, for you see, White Southerners were ignoring another fact, that Black Southerners were Southerners too.  They share with us related dialect, a common place, a shared past and culture.  So in acknowledging my Southernerness, I assume responsibility for accepting the past, and squarely facing the problems my ancestors have left me.

One cannot successfully undo one's past, and the attempt to do so often continues many of the evils one would deny or avoid, as well as creating new ones.  That Southerners are Southerners is unavoidable.  The question is how to face all that honestly, neither condemning the good as irredeemable by association nor condoning the bad, but rather working to correct it.

Everyone comes from somewhere.  I am from the South (East Texas to be specific), with forebears and a long history there.  By saying that I am a Southerner I am admitting a fact, and taking on a commitment to face the demons associated with that fact as well as acknowledging and being thankful for the good things involved in this fact.

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