Whistlin’ Dixie

Being a Southerner is like being Irish, except you don’t get a holiday. To hear some tell it, it’s because we’re mostly Irish, and from a certain part of Ireland at that. This would come as a surprise to my Irish ancestors who didn’t hail from that region. Don’t know what my French ancestors (it’s not fatal) would have said to that. If it’s true that my family has some Indian blood, they might have said “What do you mean, paleface?” but you can’t be sure.

That’s the claim, though. Being Southern is supposedly a culture now, one imported from parts of Ireland, Scotland, and Northern England, and which supposedly persists to this day. No one gives a reason why, since we don’t even have the same culture we had a generation ago. Besides, my surname comes from Southern England – we’ve been Southerners a long time.

That also doesn’t explain why they attribute this to black Southerners, too. And oddly, a lot of the slurs against all Southerners sound like Archie Bunker discussing blacks. Maybe Yankees think they’re Black Irish – or that “Southern” is a disease.

Southern “culture” a disease: Might know a few who’d go for that. Sounds more modern, too. It lets a bigot pretend they’re not. If they look at being “Southern” as a disease, it’s something that can be passed along to others. Don’t know what they’d make of someone who has a similar “culture” but lives halfway around the world. Maybe they’d say one of us Southerners went there and infected them.

It’s an old bigotry, one that goes back at least a couple of centuries. Back before “culture” became the buzzword du jour, they attributed it to slavery. That’s a tad difficult to apply to those who didn’t own slaves, including the slaves themselves, but bigotry deals with bigger inconsistencies than this without so much as blinking. When it can’t, it treats it as a special case. The trendy way is to call it a subculture. “Oh, I didn’t mean you; I meant them” That way, their bigotry remains unchallenged by inconvenient things such as facts.

You can see it in how they accept these slurs at face value. First come the cites of opinions about Southerners. Next, cherry-picked data, much of which is like correlating IQ to shoe size. Let’s not overlook spun data and outright lies. Yes, that happens, and become obvious when you actually look at original sources. All of which is par for the course for bigots of any stripe. Really, you’d think a strong tip-off is those same slurs are applied to all sorts of people, whether they’re from the South or not. But that common denominator would indicate that it’s just a matter of bigots using the same slur against whomever they hate, and, of course, they can’t have that.

Southerners, as you might expect, care for this about as much as any other group who’s subject to bigoted slurs: we don’t. Well, most of us don’t. In any bunch you’ll find those who’ll accept anything in hopes they’ll get to sit at the “cool kids” table. Blacks call them “Uncle Toms.” White Southerners call them “scalawags.” At the other end of the scale, you get those who get downright pugnacious, and in the middle those who just want to keep their heads down and not say anything, lest there be trouble. Between the pugnacious and the don’t rock the boat crowds are those who try to interject some actual facts to counter the slurs, in hopes of getting bigots to think. Unfortunately, that requires a bigot to challenge their own world view, and that happens about as often as you’d expect.

I tend to oscillate between keeping my head down and interjecting facts (as if that does any good). Lately I’m feeling a bit pugnacious. That won’t do any good, either, but at least I can live with myself. That came about this week on a site I once frequented. It was a review of an essay about Southern “culture,” an essay that had already boarded the train to La-La Land before it cited butter and free-ranging livestock as evidence of Southern sloth.

Now, being old enough to remember a couple of family butter churns, and to remember modern versions on sale into the 1960s, I knew that rural Southerners made their own butter into the 20th Century because most had their own milk cows, and that sort of put a crimp in the demand for store bought. The essay argued that Southerners were too lazy (and maybe stupid) to go into dairy farming, and claimed that those who started them in the South came from up North and elsewhere. That would be quite a revelation to a local family that ran a dairy, but never mind. You’d have to have a sufficient number of people without access to their own milk cows before you had sufficient demand for a dairy, and, before electrification, it was a might hard to run a dairy in the South any real distance from the point of sale due to the matter of spoilage.

As to free-ranging livestock, I happened to have some info on that, having known people who did it and how it worked. Now, it should have been enough of a tip-off that somehow bad for Southerners to free-range livestock but not ranchers out West, but apparently it wasn’t. As one of the last to know our family’s mark (Southerners notched livestock ears in a specific pattern, and this served the same purpose as a cattle brand) , and cattle and hog call, I had some rapidly vanishing information. Among other things, Southerners fenced in fields (which is how my father knows how to split rails), turned in livestock to glean them after harvest, and shut up livestock for sale or slaughter in a fattening lot, usually in the fall. An observer would have to actually have some idea of what was going on to make any sort of assessment.

Then I made a mistake: I pointed that out.

Silly me; I should have remembered that, when it came to Southern agriculture, the word of an essayist raised in New York City trumps that of Southerner who grew up on a farm. It wasn’t well received at all. Oh, they were quite polite and weren’t ugly, but it was quite clear my input wasn’t desired. At least, input that disagreed with the accepted view that the essay author was the greatest thing since grits.

That still bothers me because we Southerners who actually remember such things are getting fewer every year. When we die, who will remember why the butter and free range arguments in that essay are a load of manure?

On the other hand, it doesn’t look like anyone cares now. Certainly not those willing to accept at face value the claim that Southerners are stupid, lazy, violent, boozers with the morals of a rabbit in heat. Oh, sorry: A subculture of Southerners – that’s how they like to phrase it now.

I haven’t been back since. No point in it. If the only way to fit in with anything is to hold to what you know to be a lie, it’s not worth it.

No doubt that essay on “Southern” culture won’t be the last such we see. Given that bigotry against Southerners is already centuries old, it’ll probably still be here centuries from now. By then they’ll probably attribute it to some other set of immigrants they don’t like. Of course, they’ll be just as wrong then as they are now, but will never realize it – and won’t care if they do.