A Primer on Understanding Southern Culture: Truths, Untruths and Stereotypes

Written by adminann on April 23, 2022 in Arts and Entertainment with no comments.

Truths, Untruths and Stereotypes

The stereotypes of the South are often perpetrated by Hollywood, the mainstream media and academia. Movies often show Southerners as being uneducated, uncouth and backwards. Even Hollywood’s renditions of John Grisham’s novels use the stereotypes of Southerners to continue the myths concerning the South. In the minds of many Northerners, the people of the South are lazy, violent, uneducated, bigoted and uneducatable. The more poignant question is not so much what are the stereotypes, but rather why do people keep such stereotypes going.

To the Northerner, people who live in the South are lazy. From a Southern perspective, they people do what they need to do in order to get by. They believe in enjoying life and the fruits of their labours. To a Southerner, the idea of working every hour possible just to accumulate material things is not a way to live. The Southerner wants to enjoy life and believes it is to be enjoyed. The Southerner views working every hour of the day possible like the Northerners just another sign of greed and selfishness. The view that mindset as one of living life just to make money rather than enjoying it.

Southern Culture is shaped by history

Southern culture has been largely shaped by its history. Although there has been a wide assortment of people from many nations that have contributed to the South, there is a unified culture and mindset that has developed over time. The people of the South have had a different way of living that the other peoples.

The Southern identity began during the days of colonial settlement. During the colonial days, those who settled in the South were known as “Southrons”. A large number of the people settling were from a Scots-Irish mix with their Protestant beliefs and Huguenots. This is distinctly different from the influential English and Puritan settlement seen in the north, which held largely Puritanical ideals and values. These groups maintained different world views. Those settling in the South held many common values. These values include polite manners, landed gentry, love of sports (including fighting), hospitality, quiet living, love of vocal music, pride in their ancestry, loyalty to local chieftains rather than a central authority and dangerous adventure.

They also maintained a fierce love of independent thought in intellectual pursuits and religion. They maintained a “live and let live philosophy” as opposed to the Yankee/Puritan north that wanted to ‘save’ the world and tell others how to live their lives because they sincerely believed their ways were superior to those of other areas or religions or other areas.

The polite manners combined values, pride in ancestry and love of titles led to the establishment of a Southern chivalry. Even in the days of when dueling was allowed, exhbiting polite manners in speech and conduct along with showing respect toward women were important. Even when duels occurred they were conducted in an orderly manner according to established rules. The rules of chivalry also allowed for blood vengeance when a family member seeks to settle affairs when a fellow family member had been done wrong. Despite having Biblical roots, many in the Northern States considered such actions as ‘barbaric’.

Despite the fighting, duels and blood vengence, there was a high regard for God’s word and religious practices in general. The term ‘redneck’ originated from Scots Presbyters who wore a red ribbon around their necks. The mindset of the importance of having a church independent of a centralized state controlled church was important to the people of the South. This was a view also shared by Huguenots who had suffered at the hands of a centralized church with the ethnic cleansing conducted in the St. Bartholemew’s Day Massacre.

Southerners still view their beliefs as important. When the phrase “separation of church and state” is used, the different regions interpret it in vastly different ways. Although English is the common language, what it means to each is another matter. To a Southerner, “separation of church and state” means that the government has no business trying to control any aspect of the church or worship. Southerners want freedom to worship without government interference. If the South wants to elect persons who hold religious values and moral standings, it is their business. To a Northerner, the phrase means that those holding religious office should not take strong moral or religious stands, and that the government needs to make sure that churches do not get out of control or fanatical in the South. The South is known as the Bible Belt for a reason. In large, there continues being a high regard for the Bible and its teachings despite the wide variety of various Christian sub-groups.

Southern Traits

Being largely from Scots-Irish backgrounds, they also knew the importance of maintaining their weapons. Many had lost family members to the ethnic cleansing known as the “Highland clearances” when the highlands of Scotland were purged of many of its inhabitants. During those clearances, many inhabitants of Scotland were disarmed by their oppressors, which left them defenseless to depredations. Those who survived the clearances and made it to the American colonies learned the value of firearms for self-defense and took action to prevent such events from happening in their new homeland.

The importance of maintaining weapons continued through the days of the frontier and into the present day. During the days of the frontier, they were needed in responding to threats from attacks by man or wild animals. They also proved important in standing up to British oppression and depredations. The Battle of Kings Mountain showed what a small group of Southern marksmen could do to trained British troops. Firearms were also needed in responding to threats from invasions. They generally believed that it was better to be armed in responding to crises than to cry out or call for someone who is armed to come to their assistance.

Although they often distrust the government, Southerners have willingly done their duty concerning military service. The South by far sends more volunteers into the service than other regions of the Union. Southerners are also proud of their military heroes. Monuments to their accomplishments are found at many courthouses throughout the South. As a people, they also revere their history and places of historic importance. Although the places may fall into disrepair, they continue being held in high regard.

Not all the Scots-Irish of the South came over as freemen. Many came over as indentured servants who were sold into slavery either for debt or as punishment. Being an indentured servant was preferred to the practices in some Scottish communities, where debtors were nailed to a post in the center of town for a period of time as punishment and for public humiliation. Sometimes the punishment that was inflicted on them was solely for being Scottish or Irish. Their previous experiences led them to having a distrust of strong central government, state religion, outward shows of piety and the materialism seen in their northern counterparts.

Southern Speech and Outlook

Southerners talk different, eat different and live differently than their counterparts in other parts of the Union. Although the roots of Southern speaking can be found in the proper English spelling and pronunciation, the Midwest area was chosen as the standard for proper American English speech. Many of the variations of Southern speech have regional phrases and sayings. Once someone is familiar with them, it becomes easy to distinguish between the Louisiana parishes, South Texas, the highlands of North Carolina or coastal South Carolina. Southern cooking also has local regional variations, yet across the South, the southern diet is often known for its taste and simplicity. It is also known around the world. It is not surprising to a Southerner that there are Tex-Mex restaurants in Paris, France. Southerners also value their land and its history. They remember the battles and events that occurred in their communities. To a Southerner, land is not an interchangeable commodity or investment vehicle. Southerners tended to like open, unfenced land as opposed to fenced properties.

Southerners tend to protect family members from the law, and often take revenge when someone wrongs a family member. When someone misbehaved questions often arise concerning “Which family is he from?”, or “Who is his mother?” This type of thinking goes back to tribal loyalties.

The emphasis on good manners has also produced a society that knows how to fight with words. Besides being adept at fighting with words, they are often good at arguing and debating. While some regions avoid arguing at all costs, the Southerner thrives on it. Arguing over points is a way of discussing matters to them. In the midst of their arguing, they often developed creativity in getting their point across rather than resorting to personal attacks and name calling. In the 19th century many Southern cities had debating or rhetoric societies where such skills were practiced and refined. Resorting to personal attack and name calling is often viewed as being disrespectful and unrefined. There is also an emphasis on titles and showing respect to others as still shown with the use of “sir” and “mam” so frequently in Southern communities.

The differences in living, outlook on life, laws and government was apparent when the founding fathers wrote the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Reading through the minutes of those meetings reveals the sectional differences were very real and very distinctive. Even once the Union was agreed to, what it meant was very different to the groups. To the northerner, it was an iron-clad eternal binding union, to the Southerner, it was a contract that could be re-negotiated if it was violated. The ideas of how laws are made and how they are responded to were very different as well. Southerners tend to disregard laws that restrict personal freedoms, while Northerners/Yankees use the law as a way to force others to do their will. The differences between the regions erupted during the War Between the States. Although the war ended, the differences in the region and outlook remain.

What are the facts?

The truth is very different than the stereotypes. The first state to elect a black governor was the Southern State of Virginia in 1989. The first black chaplain for an American military unit was for the Confederate Army. Some early integrated military units were those in the Confederate army whereas those in the Northern army were segregated until World War II (The first integrated units were those of the Continental army during the American war of Secession from England). Pay in the Confederate army was the same for blacks, whites, and Hispanics.

The Southern bashers often forget that when the KKK marched on the streets of Washington D. C. in 1925, 1928 and 1990, it was not the Confederate flag that they carried, it was the Stars and Stripes. The KKK at those times was known for promoting the idea of “America for Americans”.

According to a study in generosity by the Catalogue for Philanthropy which examined income tax statements, found that ten of the top twenty giving states were Southern. There were also more free blacks living in the South at the start of the War between the States than were living in the North.The first anti-slavery groups were formed in the South. The principal port where slave ships were outfitted for their trade was New York City. The second and third were Portland, Maine and Boston. The slaving ships were owned by Northern families, such as the Browns of Brown University.

The first public university was in the South (University of North Carolina at Chapel HIll). The second was the University of Georgia.14 of the top 50 schools in the nation are in the South.

According to a 2001 Harris poll, 40% of Southerners own a pistol in comparison with fewer than one in seven for the northeast. Southerners also are generally opposed to gun control laws whereas, many in northeastern cities favor gun control laws. It is not by accident that 1/3 of the Miss America winners came from Southern states or that a majority of the early presidents (up until Lincoln) came from the South. Although labeled as uneducated or unenlightened, Southern writers and songwriters have been highly influential on popular culture. Writers like William Falkner, Robert Penn Warren, Tennessee Williams, Ernest J. Gains, Walker Percy, Katherine Anne Porter, Flannery O’Conner and others have influenced writing. The musical heritage of New Orleans, Austin, Nashville and Memphis continue shaping the music of modern culture. Country music, the blues, folk and jazz all came from Southern sources.

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