A place with beautiful landscapes, lovely people, delicious food and some of the best-mannered kids that you will ever meet does not need a defense. It certainly doesn’t need to be defended by a transplant from the West Coast. To be clear, The South needs no defense.
I love it here. I love the beautiful skies and the people who wave to me, even if they don’t know me. I love that most men call me, “ma’am” and that all of the food is fried. It is a delicious, down-home, comfortable type of a place.
Sure, you think, it’s that way for a white woman. But, what about the minorities? I don’t intend to speak on behalf of minorities. I can’t imagine the suffering that gay people or black people (among others like Latinos, Asians, etc.) have endured.
I am, however, an atheist. And, in the South, that is considered “different.” I also embrace values and worldviews that have not historically been associated with the southern way of life. I am outspoken about my strong feelings about gay rights, equality and my lack of religion. I am not pretending that these things are even the same sport as being a racial minority or to be “queer” in one way or another. I am just saying I do not “fit in.”
But, my not fitting in has rarely been cause for a Southerner to treat me any less than wonderfully. I don’t like ALL southerners, of course, but I do like a lot of them. They are really wonderful people.
I know that the South has come to be associated with a lot of negativity. Most people think that southerners are racist, homophobic Bible thumpers. When the world thinks of the South, they think of Kim Davis. Or they imagine the “N” word being thrown around freely.
As a non-native Southerner, I want to say this loudly so that everyone can hear. That is NOT the way that the South really is. Yes, the homophobes exist. Yes, racism is still alive and well.
But, there are also a lot of people like my husband. He was born and raised in the South. He loves fried okra and says, “y’all” (I do too). He wants our boys to be proud of their Southern roots. There are many rich and beautiful traditions that he wishes to share.
He also happens to be a staunch atheist, a supporter of all human rights and an all around great guy. He hangs out with tons (YES, tons) of Black people. He has friends from every creed and color. His closest male friend is a gay guy.
Why do I tell you all of this? Not to toot my husband’s horn but to paint a picture of a different type of Southern man. A man who gets up every day and supports his family, who calls ladies “Ma’am” and “Mrs.” and who can eat his weight in collard greens. A man who grew up running around the woods with his dog on his family’s acres of land. In many ways, the quintessential Southern “good old boy.” But, in so many ways, NOT.
He embodies the aspects of Southern culture that I love. The compulsion to help others, to rip off his shirt for a cold stranger. The work ethic like nothing I have ever seen. The love for family. The slower paced way of thinking and the simple way of life.
But, he has chosen which pieces of his culture that he loves and has clung to those while letting the rest fall away. He has chosen to be a different kind of a man than some of the guys he went to high school with.
And, he is NOT alone.
Racism, xenophobia, homophobia and bigotry exist everywhere. This type of prejudice is a sickness that infects the human brain, unfortunately. And, it’s not a Southern disease. I can promise you that.
Sure, I shudder when I see a Southern pastor screaming about locking gay people on an island (on national TV, for the love!) or read about a school that still organizes prayer.
I hang my head (not in shame, but in disappointment). I am not embarrassed because I do not associate myself with those people. I am not humiliated because they do not represent me, my husband and certainly NOT my sons.
I am just sad. I am sad that these men and women have decided to take the media stage and represent a culture and a people that I love and appreciate.
Why couldn’t the hilarious girl with the blue hair who worked at the vineyard that my gay friend and I went to a few weeks ago take the stage? A lady who had been raised in, literally, the middle of nowhere, people. The middle of nowhere. In the South. The part of the South where camo is a viable wardrobe option for every occasion. Where are the cool, fun Southerners on TV?
So, if you haven’t spent much time in the South… or if you have had some negative experiences with the locals… I Invite (NO, I IMPLORE YOU) to take some time to give this special place the benefit of the doubt. Don’t allow your prejudices and stereotypes to color your vision of this place.
Come on down, drink some sweet tea and see if you can’t make a new Southern friend.