Monday, July 11, 2005

The New South

The South
The New South

The South? It's the one region I easily and inevitably identify with when someone mentions they're been there or lived there. There is anywhere in the South except Texas which to me is more accurately not really real Southwest than Southern South, and except Florida, which any real Southerner knows is a bastard state.

I was born in the Deep South in Mobile, Alabama, lived near Mobile in Bay Minette and Stapleton for a while and then spent some time in Starkville, on the Mississippi Delta.

My mother's father – my grandfather, of course – had grown up in Mississippi: Jackson, I think. He had three brothers and two sisters who all were called by their middle names.

All of this means memories and occasionally the present reality of what used to be known as Poor White Folks' Food and is more popularly identified as Soul Food—at least in local White parlance in Dorchester, Massachusetts. The bill of fare would have to include field peas, grits, Mississippi corn bread (1 cup of cornmeal and 1 tablespoon of flour), biscuits, rice, greens, and a pot of bacon grease on top of the stove. I imagine I've got a lot in common with the Blacks I meet and visit with, many of whom have just arrived North. Maybe that's fantasy!

Although recently I've spent very little time in the South: short visits to Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill; Tidewater, Virginia; Louisville, Kentucky; Memphis, Chattanooga, Knoxville and Gatlinburg, Tennessee—to me Kentucky and Tennessee aren't just border states, they're also borderline South; "Greater Baltimore," Maryland and Washington, D.C. (but is that Southern?), from these visits, from earlier impressions and from the media I've formed a montage. My montage includes regional and local expressions of various kinds being considered vital for sheer survival and also part and parcel of protecting one's Southern identity. Exactly what the identity consists of is not too clear, but it likely includes regional food specialties, and at its worst is politically reactionary and religiously ultraconservative, with an unbiblical view of biblical authority and inerrancy. I suspect – however accurately I'm not sure – the political and religious stance is rooted in a fear of individual risk and responsibility and consequent recourse in legalisms which remove the burden of responsibility from the individual. Though of course there are other reasons, as well as Southerners who think and act otherwise!

And I envision a huge amount of literature, all fiction, all based on reality, all to the last sentence of the last paragraph portraying families held together by hate and dependency, sometimes by incest, with individual and social pathology beyond the wildest fabrications of any non-Southerner. That is just possibly a stereotype?

Also, hot, humid weather and bugs.

Very positively I'm aware of the influence upon mainstream popular music of originally Southern genres such as soul, blues, jazz, gospel, and country and western. Though I don’t know the actual degree of that influence, it appears to be fairly pervasive. To me the music's also a real bridge between South and North..."North" being in reference to the non-Southern United States.

© Leah Chang

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