Interesting reflection on Southern identity, from Z.
In reality, those types we get from popular culture are caricatures of old realities, more than anything based in present reality. In the major population centers in the modern South, you will be hard pressed to find the snaggle-toothed redneck or the courtly southern gentleman. Instead, it is mostly middle-class suburban people living better than most of the country. The quality of life in the modern South is much higher than most of the country, which is why so many are moving there.
Which, in turn, is why the quality of life here won’t be staying higher for long, as ever more damn-Yankee carpetbaggers flee the nest they’ve fouled to come here and foul mine, via the selfsame bonehead liberalism that ruined theirs.
All that said, the South is going to be on the cutting edge of identity politics, even if it struggles to forge a new identity. Georgia is 55% white, with a large black population spoiling for a chance to hold the whip hand over whites. Florida is 56% white with a swelling population of Caribbeans. Texas is already minority white and the flood of migrants is making it more so. It is in the South that white identity, regional identity and identity politics will be the defining issues in the very near future.
How this breaks out is hard to know. There are people with ideas about it, like the folks at Identity Dixie, with whom I did an interview recently. They are in many ways the New South, in that they are college educated, middle-class guys. As I like to put it, the new Southern man has a pickup truck, but it cost sixty grand, has leather seats and the bed has only ever seen his kid’s toys and his golf clubs. If it has a bumper sticker on it on, it is for parking at his office building or maybe his golf club.
It is hard to know where this goes. It is in the South where the homogenization and financialization of America is most obvious. Vast developments of identical houses, with Potemkin “town centers” populated by strangers from all over the earth, is just as much a part of the New South as anything else. If someone had moved away from the Charlotte area thirty years ago and returned for the first time today, they would be in a foreign country. Even NASCAR is different from the recent past.
He said a mouthful there. Actually, if someone had moved away from Charlotte even ten years ago he’d find himself bewildered. My brother says all the time that he often feels as if he’d gone to bed one night and then woke up the next morning to find himself on another planet. The entire landscape has changed, both physically and in terms of those who inhabit it.
For my money, Southern identity is being washed away in favor of a flavorless, dull homogeneity. In fact, it’s all but gone already. It’s pretty rare now to hear a good ol’ hayseed accent around here, unless you’re out in the remoter areas talking to what we used to call country-folk—like, say, Kannapolis, where my mom’s people hail from. Most now speak in a flat, generic dialect that offers no hint of the speaker’s regional roots. In my callow youth, that lazy-mouthed redneck drawl used to annoy me sometimes. Now, I find myself missing it.
Funny thing is, when I first moved to NYC back in the 90s people used to ask me all the time what part of England I was from. Then, I’d come home for a weekend to have folks upbraid me for talking like a Yankee. An indication of how bizarre and indecipherable my own patois is, maybe. My daughter speaks in a very crisp, clearly-enunciated way, with no trace of any kind of accent I can discern, most certainly not a Southern one. Her mom is from rural Ohio, and the young ‘un doesn’t really talk like her either. It’s…interesting, I reckon.
As goes the dialect, so goes the region. For better or worse, Southern culture is on the skids, its once-distinct identity eroded into boring sameness. Yes, the only true constant is change, which doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing. Sadly, as that bright Southern color gets sandblasted off, the culture subsumed into an increasingly-amorphous American blob, something precious is being lost forever. But hey, we’ll always have our memories, right?