The South as a fixture

When my mom and her family moved down here from Illinois back in the 70s, concerned relatives called and wrote asking if they needed any necessities. Is there electricity? Plumbing? Do you need us to bring you down some meat? The Depression Era South was an image still fixated in the minds of those who had never been here, including filmmakers. It was, after all, the 70s when the long chain of horror movies set in the South began, relying on ableist caricatures of Southern ‘inbreds’ to create suspense and fear.

It’s not the 70s anymore, and I think it’s fairly obvious to most everyone that we have things like electricity and meat down here, but talk about the South to anyone who’s not from here and it isn’t long until they refer to it as a backwards region that needs a Sherman’s March 2.0 to get us back into shape—despite the fact that it was things like Sherman’s March that planted us so firmly into the realm of stagnation and poverty. There’s a good portion of people who view the South as some sort of frozen fixture on the US, a weird parasite to roll our eyes at and blame for the failings of a bipartisan government.

Take the government shutdown, for example. It didn’t take long for fingers to be pointed at Southern republicans, for the region to be considered a neo-confederate haven that simply can’t catch up to the rest of the Union. I suppose it’s easy to paint any region with a broad brush, but I feel like the South is dripping with paint at this point, despite knowing plenty of people who go above and beyond in subverting the image of an overly conservative South.

I feel like it’s far too common for people to see the entire region as a single entity while ignoring the progression and changes on a state-wide, city-wide, and especially individual scale. The South serves as a sort of strawman, a ‘how not to’ for anything you could name, and while it’s definitely justified in some cases (I don’t blame anyone for being wary about race relations within the South, after all), I think it’s way too easy to take generalisations and practically cement them to the region you’re discussing. It’s gotten to the point where I look around and see changes, but no one else seems to. They refuse to.

People everywhere rely on generalisations to form opinions. After all, it’s impossible to form separate images of millions of people and use that to create an actual average. However, I also believe that this view of the South is hindering its growth; the more this is pushed on us, the more we accept it, and the more the South loses for it. Famous people are ‘from’ here, they don’t live here. Kids grow up being told that if they want to make it, they need to look elsewhere. There are plenty of economic reasons for this as well, but I think, in part at least, this image of a stagnant, unglamourous South is definitely to blame.

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