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Southern Heritage <br>News and Views: We are just a different people!

Monday, July 11, 2005

We are just a different people!

By Dr. William H. Swann

edited by Julie A. Ward

It has occurred to me that most of the problems with human relations come from not understanding each other. Books and papers abound with subjects about Men are from Mars and Women from Venus which suggest people of common origins can’t understand each other if they are different sexes.

Certainly this difficulty increases when you add in race as a factor. No one with any intelligence can opine that a white person and a black person will view any situation the same way. This is also true of the different Orientals, different Hispanics and any other race you choose to add.

When confronted with any non-threatening situation, people act according to the way they’ve been conditioned by previous experience, age, sex, sexual persuasion, race, and religion, even if that religion is atheist.

In the many books I’ve read whether the author was Northern or Southern in his or her leanings, they all pretty much agree that within the United States there is only one unique region, and especially regional identification by the people who live there. That is the South, of course. This isn’t a recent occurrence, but rather goes back to the founding of this Country. This pronounced difference might have been because the people who settled the Southern Colonies were a more racially homogeneous group. That is to say they were more agrarian or farm oriented, but there was also a strong sense of common beliefs, such as religion and even a sense of class-consciousness. Many Sociologists have speculated that this might have been because so many people were from the Scottish Highlands and they simply carried their beliefs across the sea to their new Country.

Whatever the reason there is little doubt that during the forming of the United States and the time leading up to the War for Southern Independence that the northern, and as the nation spread, central parts of the nation experienced more variety in the nationality of their settlers than did the Southern part of the Country.

This isn’t to say that all the various people who settled these areas didn’t have differences, they did. It was common for the Irish, Italian, German, French and other nationalities to carve out pockets where they pretty much ruled themselves within, or when necessary, outside the United States laws. As the numbers of any specific nationality grew those citizens often moved to a different part of the Country just to remain with others like themselves. This is why you have Cheese from Wisconsin, beer from St. Louis, etc, etc……

Let us look at perceptions of people and how they are formed. Most reasonable minded people don’t think that every person of Italian descent is in some way related to the Mafia. Nor do we condemn every German for WWII or all Japanese for Pearl Harbor.

Into this background you have to add other preconceptions. It isn’t reasonable to think every Australian is exactly like Crocodile Dundee or Steve the Crocodile Hunter. Yet the vast majority of us have never met any Australians in person, so no matter how fair minded we claim to be, we still sort of expect every Australian we meet to be wearing khaki fabric unless we have significant personal experiences that prove those ideas incorrect.

This brings us to Southerners. I’ve been blessed or cursed to travel around this Nation and have visited 48 of the 50 states. I have been Regional Sales Manager for three companies and National Sales Manager for another, specializing in sales training. No matter where I’ve been I’ve heard it said at least once, usually several times, you aren’t at all what we expected. When asked what they were expecting they usually hemmed and hawed, got all red in the face and couldn’t or wouldn’t answer.

All in all I’m pretty much average for a Southerner. Around 6’ 1" weighed about 220 (at least at that time, my weight has advanced somewhat quicker than my age) and in reasonable shape. No really distinguishing features, other that being the best sales man, and/or sales manager in every company I ever worked for. This isn’t bragging just a statement of fact. So why were people in N. Dakota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and even New York City surprised when they saw a pretty average man with a pronounced deep Southern accent? I didn’t meet their preconceived impression of what a Southerner would look or act like.

I should also tell you that one company I worked for offered to pay for me to attend a speech pathologist to help me remove my accent. I thought they were silly, now of course I know better, I know they were stupid, biased and prejudiced.

Despite the achievements of my secular career, I was always limited by my accent. Not because people couldn’t understand me, or my communication skills were lacking in any way, but the perception of people who had never met me was that I was just another (pick the phrase of choice) stupid hillbilly, redneck, cracker, or just someone for their amusement; certainly not someone to respect or learn from.

Real quick now, name a businessperson reared in the south that’s been extremely successful in a national sense? Ted Turner was the only one that came immediately to my mind, and how often have you heard Mr. Turner with his billions described as a buffoon? Yes there have been a couple of exceptions like Col. Sanders of Kentucky Fried Chicken, or even Coca-Cola (created by a Confederate Veteran) but most of the successes are from the food and beverage segment of the economy. Even in the case of Kentucky Fried Chicken Col. Sanders was portrayed as everyone’s old Southern Gentleman image of a plantation owner.

Prior to writing this article I would have suggested that Television was the greatest enemy of Southern People ever in the way we are portrayed. Since I started this article, I’ve had my nose in books about the causes of the War for Southern Independence. Since the early days of the United States those people in the North have pretty much always considered Southern People "uneducated, uncouth, louts" * (NY News 1848).

When the war for Southern Independence was being contemplated, U.S. Secretary of State Seward said the Southern people would run like rabbits at the first sign of the Union Army. History proved that analogy somewhat incorrect. For the record there was some running done when the first battle between the Union Army and the Confederate Army took place. Nowhere did I find a description of the retreat by the US troops as "running like rabbits". Although, there are several references to the US Army running headlong, throwing weapons and supplies to the ground as quickly as possible.

In the modern times we Southern People still have to contend with age old perceptions of stupidity, inbreeding, drunkenness, wife beating, and general laziness. To make matters worse, television always portrayed Southerners in exactly that light. Whether it was "The Andy Griffith Show", "Beverly Hillbillies", and "Petticoat Junction", "Green Acres", "The Dukes of Hazard", "Hee-Haw" or other shows they all shared a common theme. Even when we did something right like Barney Fife solving a crime, it was a result of just falling into the solution. If Andy or Jed Clampett offered wisdom, it was always in a way that never implied it was done for the right reason.

In movies we are either rich class snobs ("Gone with the Wind"), manufacturers of White Lightning ("Thunder Road", "Gator", and others), corrupt law officers who kidnap college girls driving through Dixie and abuse them every way possible. Sometimes we are just portrayed as ignorant like the very old "Lil’ Abner" movies, or "No Time for Sergeants". How many movies can you think of where Southerners are portrayed in a positive light? Even when they recognize Southern virtue it isn’t recognized as a virtue, rather than we are simple people.
Southerners are lazy, dumb, and violent. Put one in a suit (like me) and people were expecting a pig on ice skates, not an average person. Multiply that perception by every non-southerner; add in the rest of the world who have seen these same television programs now minus the charming southern drawl. You have a lot of people who think we are what they perceive us to be.

Then our own home grown comedians like Jeff Foxworthy make additional fun at the expense of the Southern people, you might be a Redneck says Mr. Foxworthy. Because we are self-depreciating as a people we don’t recognize the harm done and we laugh along with everyone else at ourselves. Make fun of a New Yorker for the way they talk or act and you’ll have to fight, or be sued. They can’t understand how we can willingly portray ourselves as buffoons, or find humor in each other.

So we have no one to blame but ourselves. No one takes the Southern People seriously, with occasional lapses when they apparently elect a Native Southern President, like Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton.

Unfortunately, both those men contributed to the stereotyping of Southerners. Mr. Carter has become a true Statesman since his Presidency and has done immeasurable good since that time. His time as President was a disaster; his administration was among the least organized ever and is noted in the history books as having the least meaningful legislation passes of any modern president.

President Clinton called the Teflon President because nothing ever stuck to him, was only the second President ever to face Impeachment. He lied and was caught, lied again, caught again. Despite his total lack of leadership, his administration may be recognized as a very effective one by history. Whether you liked or disliked President Clinton, would you want your child to be like him (other than to be President)? Can you see how his antics reinforced the perception of all Southerners as (choose your word(s)) liars, cheaters, good for nothing, adulterers, who have no moral base?

I understand I am in the minority, but I see a great deal more in common with my black brothers and sisters reared in the South, especially outside the metropolitan areas, than I do with people from any other section of the United States. The Southern Culture has always been about respect. Even during the days of Slavery, which in today's light was morally wrong, but was legal in every US State prior to the War between the States; history indicates that most slaves were treated with respect. Children of all races are raised to respect their elders in the South Black or White. We were all taught to trust our neighbors and outside cities in the South it’s still a common thing to trust one's neighbors. Southern parents read the Bible, believe in GOD, and really believe in that spare the rod, spoil the child part of the Bible. In addition to respecting our elders, we are also taught to respect those who fought and died to preserve our way of life, and we do. Most Southerners would love to have more money, bigger better homes, better cars or trucks, and nicer clothes. But seldom do you see a Southern person, (with the exception of attorneys and politicians) terribly unhappy about their lot in life. If we have shelter, food, and a running vehicle, and at least one working television, we can be relatively content (must be that simple mindedness).

These qualities never quiet got portrayed in television series. Most Southern men, black or white, (excluding Attorney’s and Politicians) would rather chew their own arm off rather than lie to someone who trusts them. Unfortunately, this also makes us a people susceptible to Politicians who think nothing of lying to us. Those politicians believe that same crap that’s been shown to the rest of the world about Southerners such as: we are lazy, we have short memories, and we really don’t care about flags or symbols some of our ancestors died trying to protect.

You never read that the Southern people, (black and white) being among the highest per capita contributors to charities. Seldom do you hear national credit given to the "Hosea Williams Annual Feed the Hungry Program" every Thanksgiving and Christmas. If you’ve ever volunteered and served one of those meals, you know it changes your life. This is a black, Southern Man helping to feed the hungry, regardless of race. Nearly every small town church in the South collects food and toys for the under-privileged on Thanksgiving and Christmas. Back to the earliest days of Southern History this has been the tradition.

Prior to the 9/11 tragedy that struck New York City, Southern people from my personal experience wouldn’t have cared if New York fell into the ocean. There aren’t a lot of us who had any reason to like anything about that city. But, once they were attacked it was a whole different situation. We can dislike each other and fight among ourselves, but attack one of us and you attack us all.

Once you got outside 50 miles of New York City, there were more volunteers, firemen, and rescue workers from the South than anywhere in the Country. Southerners gave more to 911 charities than New Yorkers did. After the news died down and it was clear there were no more survivors, Southerners still paid their own way to NY and helped without pay until all the rubble was hauled away.

Of course when the President declared war on the terrorist, Southern men and women were among the quickest to enlist. During the invasion of Iraq there were 5 men and 2 women captured, if you include West Virginia as a Southern State, 5 of the 7 were Southerners. This isn’t a new phenomenon; Southerners have always been the first to enlist in disproportionate numbers during any war or crisis, including WWI, WWII, The Korean War, The Vietnam War, or Desert Storm.

Once you consider these facts, it becomes very easy to see why the rest of the United States and the World Population doesn’t understand us. Their image of us, and who we prove to be, confuses the Hell out of them. Their rational image is formed by the entertainment industry as dim-witted, lazy, hard drinking, simple-minded people just doesn’t correspond with the reality as first to join, first to fight, and first to give.

Like most other Southern folks I’m not suggesting we Southerners are perfect, or that we are better than any other people in the United States or the world. We are decidedly different, and that’s what drives those who don’t know us crazy. Southern values are similar to those of other parts of the country, but just different enough that we don’t fit their mold. People from outside Southern cities, which have moved and become ‘Northernized’, still appreciate and watch out for their neighbors. Southerners almost always celebrate with other Southerners in situations of good fortune whether it is a new baby, a good crop, or winning a lottery. Southerners tend to form lasting relationships that are much more than casual. Southerners as a group don’t subscribe to the northern value of situational morality (where it’s okay to treat one person good and the next dishonestly). Southern morality is either it is pretty much moral, or it isn’t. We have never bothered as a group to adopt the values practiced outside our region, and therein lies part of the perception problem. People fear what they don’t understand, and they hate what they fear. So, if you hate something minimize it; poke fun at it, ridicule it, (all with our help) any and everything except respect it. That sums up how others act toward us, talk about us, and feel about us.

When you consider this theory, it explains, partially, why there was a War for Southern Independence. Southerner’s just wanted to be left alone. They had no desire to associate with people who thought them inferior and even wished them dead (NY & Boston Papers bemoaning that the John Brown Raid wasn’t successful). They didn’t want to overthrow the Lincoln’s Government; they simply chose to withdraw after 25 years of failed compromises, failed because the only people who ever gave up something to compromise was the South. Then and now, we give everyone the benefit of a doubt, once.

Since a predominantly Southern audience will read this article, I want you to consider one final proof we are different. Bumper stickers are not unique to the South, but most have seen a bumper sticker that reads American by birth, Southern by the grace of God. How about Proud of my Southern Heritage or other words to that effect? Have you ever seen any one proclaim they are glad to be a native of any other part of the United States on a bumper sticker? Think you ever will?

So this is one man’s opinion about how non-Southerners and non-Americans view us. We are unique, and like our ancestors, we shall never be ashamed of that difference. Our ancestors, many at the cost of their loves, property, and even lives, paid the cost so that we might be free. Free to retain that quality of uniqueness that makes us Southerners, and to be proud of that difference. As long as a single Southerners retains that uniqueness, Multiculturalism can never be a success in GOD’S Country, the CSA.


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