Living in the South

A map of the southern US

I live in Texas.

I love living in Texas.

I have lived in the South for almost my entire life: Texas, Mississippi, Maryland, Virginia, Florida, and now Texas again (there were a few years in the beginning that I spent in Nebraska and Oklahoma).

I love the South.

I do not know how to separate my personal identity from this space that has shaped me for my entire life.

At the same time, I want to change a whole lot of things about where I live. There are problems here. I’m the first person who will sit you down and tell you all about them (seriously, don’t get me started).

I study the history of slavery, I’ve taught US History, I know about our past and I see it in our present.

The other thing: I’m what you would call a bleeding-heart liberal. The political minority in this here place. I’m part of the group constantly swimming up stream against bigotry and racism, against conservative culture that clings to traditional ideas about women in the home, reproductive health care, and science.

One group that often doesn’t help us Southern liberals out: liberals who don’t live in the South. (and if you are a liberal who doesn’t live in the South and you don’t malign or question those of us who do, I’M NOT TALKING TO YOU)

I’ve tweeted about this endlessly:

and have written about it a few times (a good example of that). It’s a schtick I have, a thing for which I’m known.

My friend kchapmangibbons, who lives in Tennessee, has written a wonderful post about this on her blog: The Why: In Which I Defend Living In The South:

Perhaps it’d be a quicker evolution if our progressive peers would dial back the haughtiness. Each time people from the South are portrayed as dumb, inbred, more racist than all other Americans, fat, lazy, and backward, it makes it that much harder to change opinions. These stereotypes have long lives and only nurse resentments from another time in history. Recognize that both historically and presently, the United States is not all it can be without the South. Lincoln did.

She was responding to a post on the Maddow Blog which was asking people are “blue” but live in “red” places to explain why they live there, what that is like.

My initial response (and I wrote this as a comment at kc’s blog) was: It may be nice if people would stop acting like liberals in the south are some sort of exotic creature to study. Mainly because this kind of questioning starts from an assumption that the South is a shit place to live and if you do live there, you must have to do some sort of mental gymnastics to explain it and justify it to yourself (and now are being asked to explain it to everyone else, those of us who live in awesome places that we don’t have to do mental gymnastics to explain or justify).

[UPDATE: I mischaracterized the Maddow Blog post which is not as pointedly about the South as my anger implies. It's more about allowing blue people in red places to tell their stories no matter where those red places are. But, of course, it is prompted by someone from Mississippi talking about how tired they are of being in the South, how hard it is (and I believe that woman and do not fault her at all for considering a move -- I would quite the hypocrite to judge someone for living wherever they would like). And yet, that's just such a familiar narrative and my reaction came from seeing that appear once more, coupled with more questioning about how we do it, how we manage.]

And the beat goes on…

I have better things to do than explain to someone who doesn’t live here why I do.

We’ve got problems. I’d like to fix them. I’d like it if you’d support me and/or help me out. That is all.



UPDATE: First, Aphra Behn at Shakesville has written a beautiful piece about living in a place that is not your native space but loving it just the same, despite its faults.

“Home” is a complicated concept. Many of us grew up in homes where we were loved, but we still found moving out a relief. Others grew up in homes seeped in unhappiness, yet we might have found there were some things we missed when we left. Home is complicated like that. As adults, we try to make homes we can love, but that doesn’t make them perfect. For some people, the South is not a place they can ever truly make a home, and that’s okay. For myself, though, I’m trying to put down some roots and grow in this Southern soil where I have been planted. [...]

Home is complicated. This is my home, if not my native land. And I love my complicated, imperfect home.

And this reminded me of an interview I heard last week on NPR with an actress, Nina Hoss, who stars in a new film, Barbara, about East Germany in the early 1980s. Something Hoss said in that interview really stuck with me:

“If you talk to the people who lived in the GDR, they always tell you, ‘I mean we loved, we had kids, the grass was green and I had a wonderful childhood.’ ” Hoss says. “So I thought it was very important for Barbara to be able to show it’s hard to leave your home behind, however cruel the system is you live in.”

Of course, I am not comparing living in the present US South to being in East Germany in 1980. But there is something to this idea of people looking in at a place that they don’t live and that they may not really know and judging it. Even in the worst of places, however one determines “worst,” people who live there love it there, they care about it, they want to be there. Leaving behind your “home,” no matter if it is a home you were born in or a place that you are trying to put down roots, is a hard thing.

The Maddow Blog (or anyone anywhere) asking “why do you choose to live in that place that I would not choose to live because I think that is a terrible place” is just such a condescending, narrow view of the world and the realities of people’s actual lives. And it belittles people’s love of home, wherever that may be.


UPDATE: At Shakesville, Robinson Crudite said that the way I read the Maddow post meant that my critique is pointed at the woman from Mississippi who asked the initial question that Laura Conaway used to have this discussion. Here’s the initial question:

Do any of you think you and your family would be much better off living in a different state? There are so many things we love and appreciate about the South but it’s awfully hard to be surrounded by people who don’t think like we do. My husband has reached his limit.

And Robinson Crudite said:

As someone who has, after many years of good faith effort and thought and consideration, come to the conclusions I have about passively supporting bigotry, I honestly am a bit put out at the idea that a brief post with a couple of questions on Maddow’s blog means they (and people like me) are big meanies who are “questioning why or how [you] even exist.” It hurts that someone like me, whose answer to Conaway’s question is “OH FUCK YES”, is thought judgmental, as though my decision about my own life means I’m automatically giving the nasty side-eye to other liberals who choose to live in highly conservative areas.

The quoted person in Conaway’s post says “My husband has reached his limit.” I’m saying “Robinson Crudite has reached her limit.” There is no automatic “And we have judged you as bad liberals” appended to those statements, and we don’t deserve to be called out as condescending and belittling.

That wasn’t fair on my part. Conaway’s post is not about asking “who do you choose to live in that place that I would not choose to live because I think that is a terrible place.” It’s actually giving people a place to commiserate. But must the narrative about the South always be about commiserating having to live here?

And this is all about me, I know (this is my blog). But what I need – NEED – at this point is to stop having to explain where I live and why, and instead begin talking about solutions. And instead of fighting the narrative of “is it really worth it?,” I wish it was just “how can we help?”

But I’ll say that Conaway is at least using the space on Maddow’s Blog to remind everyone that people live in places that most of the media doesn’t care about. And, as shouldn’t be a secret, I do appreciate that.

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2 Responses

  1. QJR says:

    Coming from an MOC – I’m at the point where I’m just done with northern white liberals and how they believe they don’t have the same problems the South does, especially with respect to racism. Utterly finished with them. I mean, as you said, we’ve had to collect every single evil conservative down here, and they can’t put in the effort to collect the people who keep on pushing this myopic worldview that the South has no self-respecting liberals, let alone collect the problematic bigots in THEIR OWN STATES? At this point, I believe the only difference between the North and the South is that Northerners hide their problems with the -isms better. Even then, they’re still terrible at it.