I’m southern AF. I can’t help it; I was born in Memphis, TN and grew up in the Mississippi Delta (Greenville, MS to be exact). There’s BBQ sauce in my blood and blues in my bones; I’ve ran barefoot across hot concrete more times than I can remember and eaten more game meat and parts of a pig than I can forget. I’ve called quite a few people heffas and weather below 60 degrees makes me anxious; that’s just me. I have no problem with being southern, despite people (my students especially) constantly reminding me how “country” I am. I love who being southern has made me and I honestly couldn’t see myself living anywhere else. What makes me sad, though, is that the South has a problem with me. Because of my identity and my viewpoints on most issues most people say that I don’t fit in with the stereotypical viewpoint of Southerner, and having lived here all my life, I see why they would be confused as to why someone like me stays in the south.
I know that not all Southerners are like that (blankets are dangerous; they catch fire people), but even outside of this confederate flag foolery there is some truth to the idea that a lot of Southerners really don’t like anybody different, mostly because a lot of them live in the glory days of the Confederacy. People have written about how the mindset of the south can be hard to escape, and even I have written about how that mindset is actually toxic AF to people who still live there. My thesis was on the concept of the Other South, which basically means that because people from the South are already prejudged, traditionally marginalized groups like Black people, queer people, and women of all ethnicities are double, triple, and even quadruple oppressed (being a queer southern Black woman has to be a special kind of fucked up). The oppression of the Other South comes a lot from Northerners who look at these people with this really patronizing fake sympathy (“Oh my God! You’re black/queer/a woman and you grew up in MISSISSIPPI?! How did you survive?”), but it gets even worse from people in the South, because they WILL lash out at anything that changes the status quo that is written in their history and they WILL lash out violently.
The examples of Southerners utterly decimating those unfortunate enough to be in the Other South are all around us. Take the case of that terrorist in Mother Emanuel. Here you have a Southerner who felt so “threatened” by six elderly Black people, two pastors, and a twenty-six year old that he murdered them all in cold blood. Take the case of Marco McMillian, my frat brother and a candidate for mayor in Clarksdale, MS who committed the grave crime of being open about his sexuality (I STILL believe was set up to die BTW, but that's another post). Take the hundreds of cases reported and unreported where women and girls are raped by family members and encouraged not to share “family business”. Take the case of the GA couple who were scalded in bed by one’s mother’s homophobic boyfriend. Take the many, many cases of Black children constantly being profiled in schools. Take the cases of the many women held to an even higher standard of femininity known as the Southern Belle. The vast majority of these people were either dedicated to improving or staying in the south, once again proving that it is oftentimes its own worst enemy. Everyone wants to talk about how they want young Southerners to stay and make it better, but how can you expect them to when you're killing and abusing most of them?
Old and/or racist southerners still bitter that they didn't get to die in the Civil War love to say that “The South Will Rise Again”. SPOILER ALERT: it won’t. The South will never rise so long as it continues to destroy the people who could actually help it. I can’t help but think of a conversation I had with one of my good friends and his boyfriend: they both were beyond anxious to leave Mississippi because they knew that people like them would never be able to thrive there. I’ve heard similar comments time and time again from people in the Other South, and they’re all right. Hell, even I have to ask myself "Yeah, you escaped Mississippi but you're still in Georgia. Is that any better?" People ask me fairly often why I don't come back and teach or work in Mississippi, and besides the fact that living near Atlanta is my best option for what I want to do there is just no way I will live in Mississippi again if I can help it (and by God I will do everything in my power to help it). So long as the south continues to hold on to its “traditions” and abuse the forward thinking people who could help it to catch up to the rest of the country, it will do more than just not rise: it WILL sink. Hell, it already has.
I will probably never stop loving the region I am in. As problematic as it is it's home. But because of how messed up it is I will also never stop calling it out whenever it does something screwed up. Only when we start to have a real conversation about WHY young people are leaving the south like it’s on fire will it do any better. I know a lot of my friends would rather live on the streets than come back to Mississippi, and many of my friends still there are determined to get the out if it's the last thing they do, and I cannot blame them. When your home has shown you that it hates you and your way of thinking, it’s hard to remember any of the good times. While I can look back at my hot and lazy Mississippi summers fondly from a distance, it know it's much harder to think of the good when the bad is literally punching you in the face. I don’t know if the south will ever get the message, but I hope it realizes that unless it makes some serious changes the south will continue to be looked at as the black sheep of America. And that, my dear friends, is saying something.
Do you think that the south is needlessly intolerant? What do you think has to change for the south to improve? Be sure to leave your comments, questions, and concerns below and don't forget to like, share, and subscribe!