You're From the South? | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

You're From the South?

A few nights ago, at a reading for the book "Other People's Property" (supposedly a book about being white and loving hip-hop), a guy said, "Violent rap doesn't exist anymore. (Pause) Well, except in the South where it's all just bling."

This came from the same reading where the author had said Eminem experienced "reverse racism" (whatever that is. Neola Young and I are still trying to figure that out. Isn't any racism racism?), where when Lynette Hanson said she is from Mississippi, the crowd collectively gasped (some even covered their mouths).

We're in Portland, Oregon, folks. It's the place I dreamed about as a young teenager in the South, thinking I'd move here to the land of progressives and fit in.

Don't get me wrong, Portland is open and welcoming, and you can walk gay as you want to do down the street. But it is amazing to me the way the world still views the South. It's not a foreign country. It isn't the only place where violent rap still lives (and as a side note, every song I know about bling has nothing to do with violence. Jewelery and violence do not necessarily go hand-in-hand).

So what do we do to get people to quit thinking of the South in such distorted ways? I know I want to work for a national bureau at a paper, covering the South, to combat unresponsible journalism (like my favorite example, Eric Lipton's piece on post-Katrina Jackson last year) but also to illuminate the South for the rest of the country, to end the collective gasps and the misinformed declarations.

Previous Comments

ID
110478
Comment

I ran into these attitudes in grad school in New York. It's part of the reason I decided to move on home. In part because my education that stereotypes are everywhere ws complete; in part because I want to play a role in changing those stereotypes about the South. I get so mad about stereotypes about the South—even as I know that we southerners do a whole lot to bring them on. Like voting to keep the Confederate emblem in the state flag. Like defending that as "heritage." Like refusing to talk about the past and attack the legacies of that past. Come on home, Casey. The answer to the riddle is found right here. Screw what other people think. It's what we think of ourselves that matters. Then, and only then, will the stereotypes crumble.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2007-02-23T18:38:04-06:00
ID
110479
Comment

I lived in Boston area for six months. You are absolutely correct. However, I have lived in the South long enough to know that there are some reasons for the stereotypes. ONE thing I did like is that older people would ask if I was from the South. I said yes and said it was because of my accent. They said no, it was because I said sir and maam. I was proud of that and still am.

Author
Kingfish
Date
2007-02-23T18:42:29-06:00
ID
110480
Comment

Yeah, I guess I should also ask myself why I care if they collectively gasp, if my twangy voice causes people to look in astonishment. There is a great quote in Rick Bragg's "All Over But the Shoutin'" that says something like though I was never ashamed of being from the South, I always find myself trying to explain it. I can't remember the exact quote, but I think it had something to do with having to introduce yourself with a clause of I'm from the South, but I'm not dumb or racist or whatever. It's a conundrum I know I've faced. I love the place, and I want to glorify it, though there are also realities to admit (the flags, the heritage). I wrote a story for the front page of the Sunday Oregonian a few weeks ago about male teachers. Oregon has the second highest percent in the nation, whereas Mississippi has the lowest. I talked with a sociologist who said that's partly because of differing expectations of masculinity. Here, you don't have to be the big beefy bread winner. In the South, you do. I felt a little like a traitor putting that on there, though I think there is a lot of truth to it. But I've found a lot of proud Mississippians here (not too proud to stay, but I'm not there either, and I still love it).

Author
casey
Date
2007-02-23T18:48:29-06:00
ID
110481
Comment

Kingfish, the ma'am and sir is something I'm always explaining. People say it makes them feel old, and I bashfully say, it's a Southern habit that doesn't die.

Author
casey
Date
2007-02-23T18:49:18-06:00
ID
110482
Comment

They liked it up there. I just say its respect. I would say also the difference in teachers is also due to the educational levels. I daresay they probably have a much higher percentage of the population that has gone past high school.

Author
Kingfish
Date
2007-02-23T18:55:31-06:00
ID
110483
Comment

I hate to say it, but most of the stereotypes about the South are completely understandable when we look at who's doing the talking and getting press and who isn't, when we look at what's hanging from our capitol building, when we look at who our governor and senators are, and so forth. We're getting a bad rap, and we don't deserve a lot of it, but one very real way to change the way people look at Mississippi is to change the way Mississippi looks at itself. Cheers, TH

Author
Tom Head
Date
2007-02-23T18:58:29-06:00
ID
110484
Comment

Or to put it another way: Members of the opposite sex got a LOT more interested in me when I stopped thinking of myself as awkward and ugly. It's not like I took classes on how to be less awkward, or got plastic surgery--but the way I saw myself changed, and that's all it took. Mississippi is a state with a very low collective self esteem, I believe. That's why it's so hard to do activism down here: We're a poor state, people are used to being stepped on, and the temptation of the Lost Cause (of one variety or another) is everywhere. We have to change that. There are ways to do it. For example, there was a recent instance where somebody interviewed an activist representing an out-of-state organization on an in-state political issue. I contacted the reporter and said hey, look, there's an in-state organization doing this right under your nose. And she said wow, sorry, and that very afternoon she was on the phone with someone from that in-state organization. Stuff like this is easy to do. We just have to stop thinking of our state as awkward and ugly. "I feel pretty... Oh so pretty..." Cheers, TH

Author
Tom Head
Date
2007-02-23T19:02:34-06:00
ID
110485
Comment

On one hand, we need more self-esteem. On the other hand, we're told we have nothing to be proud of. They make fun of us, mock us, and humiliate us at every turn. Then they're amazed when we don't live down to their expectations.

Author
Ironghost
Date
2007-02-23T22:11:44-06:00
ID
110486
Comment

I think if we changed our statewide PR campaign ("No, we're not inbred. Some of us even have teeth."), that might help! That's why I love the Jackson: City with Soul campaign. Yeah, okay, so what if we've experienced massive white flight--look at what we've got left, the story that tells. It's beautiful. And the people who designed our city's campaign obviously get this. Cheers, TH

Author
Tom Head
Date
2007-02-23T22:31:29-06:00
ID
110487
Comment

I can relate to so much of what you're saying, being from TN and lived in portland 4 yrs. It's taken me awhile to get used to it here. They do have a LONG way to go in dealing with diversity, it surprised me as well. As one of my friends put it, people in the south face diversity everyday, whether it be positive or negative, at least it's there. Here people have big ideals but you get a sense that it's almost being cited from a handbook. I had the same visions of portland before we moved (rockin' A progressive, etc). In most ways it's so accepting, free and wonderful but I also find myself trying to explain the south (which happens often due to my accent--and Oregonians have like, no accent), then feel like I didn't do it justice as well. aye. One big difference I've noticed is that southerners aren't afraid to put it out there, they aren't so "edited". I miss that. I met a guy in line at the grocery store once with a thick southeastern accent, he was from Baton Rouge. He whispered to me "what do you think about it here?" He said "I just can't get a read on these people at all." I kinda agree with him, not that that makes portlanders mean or anything, just different. It felt kind of nice to feel validated with another southerner. But oh my, I do love and adore the quirky beautiful portland.

Author
jmac
Date
2007-02-24T02:43:42-06:00
ID
110488
Comment

I do agree with the Southern-out-of-region issue. People on the East and West Coasts do seem to uncritically swallow a lot of stereotypes about this region. On the other hand, I can't help but wonder if it's as much a coast-heartland or metropolitan-rural matter as much as anything else. Kansas, Nebraska, and Indiana are seen as "hayseed" states; yet North Carolina and Georgia (well, Atlanta, at least) are "acceptable" to the rest of the nation. Regardless, I think the picture's a lot more complex than we give it credit for being.

Author
Philip
Date
2007-02-24T11:08:12-06:00
ID
110489
Comment

Back in 1990, I spent five months in Silicon Valley. I worked at a medical laboratory and a medical center-- making a little money before I went on to grad school at MSU. I can say that the folks over there that I met didn't stereotype the south. I was very pleasantly surprised. I did catch a couple people off guard when I said "excuse me, sir, ma'am." I would say that it would be something unexpected. When I said "excuse me sir" to one person, his son asked his father why I said that.

Author
Ex
Date
2007-02-24T16:14:42-06:00
ID
110490
Comment

I, too, have interacted with many people "out there" who didn't stereotype the South. I also find that we often are so defensive that we can read into it. I did run into some blatant examples in grad school, though, that surprised me. I still maintain, though, that defensive PR campaigns about what we're "not" are much less effective—and potentially quite damaging—than simple efforts to show, rather than telling. Many people are surprised that a paper like the JFP is in Mississippi, and that we're so visionary on the Web and so on, but that part is delightful, and I don't hold it against them that we haven't sent out enough messages yet to trump all the negatives ones we send back. A slogan that I'm thinking about a lot these days—being that I'm dealing with a rather nasty attempt right now to undercut Mississippians; will share at some point—is one I found recently on the Internet: Excellent work is the best response. Or, you could alter it slightly to be "excellence is the best response." The last thing we need to do, which we as a state do too often, is be what they expect us to be. Then we make them right. And, unfortunately, we have some unsavory politicians going out there and telling the world that we are all just like them, are ultra-conservative, selfish, greedy, uneducated about issues and so on. Thus, you can thank folks like Trent, Haley and Chip for a lot of the misconceptions that people have about us. The Clarion-Ledger doesn't help, either, by treating its readers like idiots.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2007-02-24T17:48:12-06:00
ID
110491
Comment

I was in D.C. a little over a year ago and someone ask me for directions to something. I politely told him I didn't know because I was from out of town. He asked where. I said Mississippi. He rudely said "Oh, no wonder" with a tone, like I couldn't possibly know where anything was if I was from Mississipi even though he didn't know either or he wouldn't have been asking in the first place. I was also eating soup at a conference on that same trip, and I told someone that my soup was good. A woman told me that I probably shouldn't say that. I'm still confused about that one. Are compliments banned outside the South?

Author
someone
Date
2007-02-24T21:56:23-06:00
ID
110492
Comment

[quote]And, unfortunately, we have some unsavory politicians going out there and telling the world that we are all just like them, are ultra-conservative, selfish, greedy, uneducated about issues and so on. Thus, you can thank folks like Trent, Haley and Chip for a lot of the misconceptions that people have about us.[/quote] Donna... Republican politicians are a recent development, and Mississippi has had a rotten image for a lot longer than they've been in office. Or do I need to remind people of the questionable Senator James Eastland? Republicans representing Mississippi at the federal level are a recent invention. Say, Prentiss Walker being the first elected since 1882? I understand your bias, but come on!

Author
Ironghost
Date
2007-02-24T22:16:28-06:00
ID
110493
Comment

[quote]Say, Prentiss Walker being the first elected since 1882?[/quote] He gained office in 1964, I should add.

Author
Ironghost
Date
2007-02-24T22:18:12-06:00
ID
110494
Comment

Whether Democrats or Republicans represented us in Congress too often they represented the same old style Mississippi thinking and imagery. I will preach to I die that the image will change when there is more evidence to the contrary. We have to do our excellent best to change Mississippi. Yes, I know I get many breaks being that I'm black and outsiders see me as someone who has triumphed over being a victim of the ole south. As far as outsiders looking uon me as being intellectually slow or slower, unclutured or inferior to them; I make great efforts to get those outsiders in competetive and intellctually challenging situations so we can really see who's the slowest. Additionally, I study their culture and ways so as to recognize and point out peculiarities or things that leave lots to be desired. And as often as needed I point those out. Casey, I know you're a lover and not a fighter; but there are lots of things going on in Oregon and Portland that provide ammunition to kick around those Oregonians around a little. Get up some Saturdays and just go riding around for sh1t to throw in their faces. I would but I'm supposed to be crazy.

Author
Ray Carter
Date
2007-02-26T17:32:53-06:00
ID
110495
Comment

I will preach to I die that the image will change when there is more evidence to the contrary. We have to do our excellent best to change Mississippi. Amen, amen, amen. I think it's OK and cool and necessary to defend the state when we hear someone being really stupid—but we won't win the argument if we don't put most of the time into *proving* that we're not who we used to be. Being excellent is indeed the best response. It'll throw 'em off every time and make them question their own stereotypes. Stay focused, all. ;-)

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2007-02-26T18:16:22-06:00
ID
110496
Comment

Living well is the best revenge.

Author
Ironghost
Date
2007-02-26T22:00:46-06:00
ID
110497
Comment

When my cousin "from the North" moved here to live with me, I found myself constantly subjected to the Northern idea of Southerners. I had a very simple saying for him which he eventually adopted. He adopted this saying not because I preached to him about how valuable we were but simply because I stepped out of my own defensive posture long enough for him to see. The saying.....Southern doesn't equal stupid, it equals savvy"

Author
The Conductor
Date
2007-02-26T22:44:03-06:00
ID
110498
Comment

A stereotype is a stereotype is a stereotype. We live with them. They inform our actions and lie behind them. They are used to hurt us and to uplift us. They imbibe a sense of unity sometimes more desirable than others. The truth is that we are good people. Even those of us who are filled with hate are merely vessels of concepts and ideas which arose through hardship and suffering. We will rise from this tangle of fear. Mississippi is fertile ground for nurturers, creatives, and teachers. And fighters. If we play our cards right the nation will soon be looking to us for leadership. (Heck, our national cultural unknowingly pays tribute to us all the time.) I'll echo Donna with a "Casey come home"

Author
daniel johnson
Date
2007-02-27T01:52:44-06:00
ID
110499
Comment

I went to Michigan in November 2005 and I took my girlfriend out to dinner and the waitress was stunned at how I pulled out a chair for her. She figured that I had to be from the South. Also, whenever people hear me talk, they often wonder if I'm from the South. I don't speak with an accent or drawl. There is some upstate New York in me, so I guess that side has been coming out of my voice.

Author
golden eagle
Date
2007-02-27T09:45:57-06:00
ID
110500
Comment

how many Toyota Plants are they building in the North? How many Steel Mills....and jet engine plants? Hello.....? Living well is indeed th best revenge Ironghost......

Author
ATLExile
Date
2007-02-27T11:01:58-06:00
ID
110501
Comment

When I moved from California to Mississippi in 2003 so many people asked me why I would move from CA to MS... a Lot of people. Some in the bay area rolled their eyes and asked, really? Even more in MS asked me, as if I had made the stupidest mistake of my life. I always asked back, have you ever lived anywhere else? People in MS fantasize about other places but maybe don't know how good we have it here. I'd much rather live here than any other place (and I've lived in Florida, North Carolina, Los Angeles and the bay area). I love the sense of humor in Mississippi and I love the interconnections and the fact that you can drive into and out of the airport in under an hour. I do feel bad that so much racism and defacto segregation is still in place but I feel that's part of living in a place--knowing the problems and working to fix them.

Author
Izzy
Date
2007-02-27T11:49:46-06:00
ID
110502
Comment

Amen, Laurel. My sentiments exactly. Everytime I re-enter Jackson Airport from other cities I feel like kissing the floor or ground. I hate those big-azz airports in Atlanta, Chicago, New York and so many other places. I love Mississippi too. I'm just sick of the ole mississippi. I can't wait until it dies. I can't wait until our white colleges and universities are finally enlightened and freed. I give up on the one in Oxford though. It was established by racists to practice racism and to repeatedly train more racists, and, needless to say, it intends on staying racist. Yes I know it's possible for whites to go there and not be racist if they try realy, realy hard. I've met a few individuals educated there that have accomplished lofty goal.

Author
Ray Carter
Date
2007-02-27T13:43:08-06:00
ID
110503
Comment

Whether Democrats or Republicans represented us in Congress too often they represented the same old style Mississippi thinking and imagery. I will preach to I die that the image will change when there is more evidence to the contrary. We have to do our excellent best to change Mississippi. I wasn't saying electing a republican improved anything, I was saying you can't blame them for something that they couldn't possibly have done. :) Fact is, it is only recently we've begun to change. It seems to run quicker here than elsewhere, thankfully.

Author
Ironghost
Date
2007-02-28T09:59:54-06:00
ID
110504
Comment

Ok, Iron. It will be a wonderful day when the rest of the country and world are forced to give Mississippi its due. It won't happen until we do the due that will then be recognized. Things are looking up though.

Author
Ray Carter
Date
2007-02-28T10:09:14-06:00
ID
110505
Comment

I grew up in California, went to school in Upstate New York, and then moved South. I *always* get the "How did you end up here?" question. The answer is relatively simple: I came down to work at Stennis Space Center since California and New York are too expensive for an English-BA new graduate to comfortably live in. I haven't lost all my ties to the North -- I regularly check out the Cornell Daily Sun. Today, I found this article (written by a student). It is both timely to this discussion and somewhat amusing (and sad) in its own assumptions and stereotypes. Newt

Author
Newt
Date
2007-02-28T11:16:15-06:00
ID
110506
Comment

It will be a wonderful day when the rest of the country and world are forced to give Mississippi its due. It won't happen until we do the due that will then be recognized. Things are looking up though. Truer words have never been spoken. I hate the stereotypes, too, and complain about them as other people do (and talk back to the culprits). However, it is up to us to understand WHY those stereotypes are there—that Mississippi had the worst, most entrenched and violent system of Jim Crow in the country with every level of society in on the conspiracy to keep blacks down. And we resisted change the longest. Now, we as a state MUST take every step to deal with the legacy of that in order to make up for past problems that still hurt us, as well as to prove to the rest of the world—and most importantly ourselves—that we're not what they think we are. The ball is squarely in our court. And we're working on it. As my wonderful partner in life and love says: Do the right thing and wait. As we do the right thing more and more often, we will become a model for the rest of the country. In many ways, we already are—and that is a message that this Web site sends out every. day. into the world. Show me a site with the kind of diverse, to-the-bone dialogue we have about race issues. Link it. People, we're on the road. Don't be overly defensive about what others say (sure, let it motivate you). Keep your eyes on the prize.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2007-02-28T12:09:38-06:00
ID
110507
Comment

Thank you Donna Ladd.

Author
ATLExile
Date
2007-02-28T13:02:34-06:00
ID
110508
Comment

You're welcome, ATL. ;-D

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2007-02-28T13:06:47-06:00
ID
110509
Comment

"I love Mississippi too. I'm just sick of the ole mississippi. I can't wait until it dies. I can't wait until our white colleges and universities are finally enlightened and freed. I give up on the one in Oxford though. It was established by racists to practice racism and to repeatedly train more racists, and, needless to say, it intends on staying racist. Yes I know it's possible for whites to go there and not be racist if they try realy, realy hard. I've met a few individuals educated there that have accomplished lofty goal." Uh, have you actually been to Ole Miss and taken any classes? Probably five percent of my professors, the entire time I was there, were from the South. Everyone else was from other countries and states, including half or more from the North. Ole Miss is a very academically liberal college with likeminded professors. Just because the institution, like the state itself, has a reputation for racism, doesn't mean the college is that way. You may have met racist people who graduated from Ole Miss, but I guarantee they weren't taught that by the faculty.

Author
someone
Date
2007-02-28T22:44:08-06:00
ID
110510
Comment

I think the problem is slowly taking care of itself through the increased patterns of migration and immigration. Mississippi is becoming more like the rest of the country because more of the "rest of the country" is moving here and natives are moving out. This is true in all parts of the country, regional identies are in decline as people move more often, are socialized by national and international forces, and the net makes distance less important. Of course regional identites will remain in isolated pockets and among old-timers but I would expect in 30 years there will be very little of it left. I teach at a small private college in the area. Very few of my students are actually informed about the most recent state history, much less anything that happened ten years ago. They just don't think of themselves as "Mississippians." I think this is true in all areas of the country as well. Mississippi is slowly overcoming its past, and for many young people the past, and indeed the idea of being a "Mississippian" is simply irrelevant to their lives.

Author
Willezurmacht
Date
2007-03-01T09:33:12-06:00
ID
110511
Comment

Yes, I have been there several times. I even stayed there several days and nights while the law school was trying to recruit me and several friends. Some drunken cowards even drove by us several time as we walked the campus and called us niggers but wasn't drunk enough to exit the truck. None of the group attended and all went elsewhere to reach our goals. Two of my classmates, not in this group, did go there and graduate. They tell me my perception of the school is on the money. I have read and studied the history of the school. Likewise, I'm well-learned in its confederate and Jim Crow leanings, and the symbols (dead and alive) that still define it, and, moreover, the unwillingness of many of its graduates and supporters to let go of its racist image and past. They are free to keep the image, but I hope no one expects me to sugarcoat what I see and know. I agree that racism and white supremacy isn't likely been taught there directly, overtly or blatantly ANYMORE, but we know this isn't the only way to keep teaching it. It is what it is; otherwise I wouldn't say it. I thank you for your comment, and I do hope for the better at ole miss. The resistance to coming into the new age is still very strong, and you know that!

Author
Ray Carter
Date
2007-03-01T10:20:53-06:00
ID
110512
Comment

I meant "racism and white supremacy aren't likely being taught any more..."

Author
Ray Carter
Date
2007-03-01T10:24:49-06:00
ID
110513
Comment

May I suggest the book "Mississippi: the Closed Society" by professor Silver of Ole Miss? Read alongside Cash's "Mind of the South" these two texts are very illuminating.

Author
Willezurmacht
Date
2007-03-01T10:41:37-06:00
ID
110514
Comment

I bought the book several years ago and read it cover to cover. I bet he's still hated to this day for telling the truth about ole miss. Everybody already knew the truth anyway, but we hadn't had anyone who taught there to give a detailed inside account.

Author
Ray Carter
Date
2007-03-01T10:49:48-06:00
ID
110515
Comment

There was an updated version that came out as a second edition that included a selection of his hate mail and his response to some of the changes at the school. It is worth looking for, I got a copy at Choctaw books a while back.

Author
Willezurmacht
Date
2007-03-01T10:52:48-06:00
ID
110516
Comment

I got mines from Choctaw too. Someone there told me personally about some of the hate the author received but I don't remember seeing it written in the book I purchased. I'll check back with them.

Author
Ray Carter
Date
2007-03-01T11:15:06-06:00
ID
110517
Comment

Amen, Laurel. My sentiments exactly. Everytime I re-enter Jackson Airport from other cities I feel like kissing the floor or ground. I hate those big-azz airports in Atlanta, Chicago, New York and so many other places. -Ray Yeah, exactly. And it's a theme that's being played at every level. Those movies of LA, you know when it's just the two star-crossed lovers having a moment alone on the street together? I got news for ya - NEVER HAPPENS! Ditto Santa Monica, San Francisco and any other huge urban town. Yeeech! Don't like it one bit. It's impossible for me to think straight with all those people crowded up around me.

Author
Izzy
Date
2007-03-01T14:56:42-06:00
ID
110518
Comment

Casey, Either the original Oregon Constitution or a very early Oregon law restricted the number of black people who could move into Oregon for a specified number of years. Check this out.

Author
jasp
Date
2007-03-02T23:35:40-06:00
ID
110519
Comment

From I can read (here, in the original handwriting even!), so far "Blacks, Chinamen and Mulattos" can't vote...

Author
Ironghost
Date
2007-03-03T16:24:10-06:00
ID
110520
Comment

Ray Carter wrote: "I agree that racism and white supremacy isn't likely been taught there directly, overtly or blatantly ANYMORE, but we know this isn't the only way to keep teaching it. It is what it is; otherwise I wouldn't say it." Well, all I'm saying is that most of my UM professors were from the North and other countries, so I don't think you can accurately say that racism is taught by the faculty. That may have been the case many years ago, but not now.

Author
someone
Date
2007-03-03T17:35:34-06:00
ID
110521
Comment

By the way, North Towards Home by Willie Morris is always a good read.

Author
Kingfish
Date
2007-03-04T13:35:01-06:00
ID
110522
Comment

Lately, I've concluded that it's not so much regional as it is local-local-local (i.e. neighborhood or precinct or census block group level - still oversimplifying it though. ultimately its individual, but the levels i mentioned are necessary for sustaining a culture of people with similar attitudes and beliefs). North-South: Which place does Seattle have more in common with? Atlanta or Cleveland? By contrast, which place does Atlanta have more in common with, Denver or Birmingham? Coast-Heartland: Orange County, California vs Asheville NC Large Metropolitan: Salt Lake City or Eureka Springs, AR (pop 2000, but highest per capita gay population in the state - yes, even more than Little Rock, and even Fayetteville). Yes, there are some definite differences in people from Missississippi vs. Michigan, with Massachusetts different from both. But ultimately, these are just 'adornements' of the culture. In the end, its a matter of having ideas, values, and attitudes that enable people to reach their potential has happy productive human beings, and those that don't

Author
Philip
Date
2007-03-10T12:20:46-06:00

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