The Burden of Southern Thinking

The Problem of Southern Thinking


So Im reading the angry, angry comments about some news story, all full of paranoia and angst about “big government” and “Socialism” and illegal aliens and foreigners and various conspiracies, and it occurs to me:


This is Southern Thinking.


A number of years ago I read a rather brilliant book by C. Vann Woodward called “The Burden of Southern History,” in which the distinguished Yale Prof detailed the effects and ironies involved in the history of the South and the impact on it’s culture.  I grew up in the deep South, surrounded by it.  I speak Southern.


In reading some of the recent blogs, especially in some of the more extreme  conservative “Tea Party” rhetoric, I was suddenly struck with how familiar it seemed.  I knew the mindset.  I was raised amid it, and it’s all reconstruction thinking.


Washington, in this mode, is a far off place, run by enemies.  It’s a classic “them” out to get “us” any way they can. The Government, the Federals, the Yankees are out to destroy our way of life.  They’re in league with dirty foreigners and perverts and non-whites and other folks that ARE NOT US.  They hate everything we stand for (whatever that might be), and must be resisted valiantly and, if necessary, violently to defend our way of life and our sacred Honor ( “Honor” in this context, has always meant for Southerners “Im going to get you to do something stupid and against your own interests by appealing to your already damaged pride.”).


Parenthetically, no New Englander would ever think this way, no midwesterner. . . .those raised with participatory democracy, with raucous town hall meetings and a real sense of belonging, view the “government” as just an extension of the universal “us,” not as something alien, evil, incomprehensible, sinister, and foreign.  It is only the South, with its history of being conquered, ruined, and ruled from afar, that has developed this attitude about government as virtually an avatar of evil.


I got over it.  I worked in the theater for most of my life, with folks from everywhere, touring virtually every corner of America.  The Government, I know, is just folks, just us, and not a single member of the elected bodies of any stripe, race, or region wants America to flounder.  Every one of them would love to be known as the legislator who helped propel America to yet a better age, to yet new heights…


But the South…my poor South…has never recovered from the Civil War in some ways, and the places Southerners migrated to, states like Kansas and Wyoming, reflect the same attitude.


It gets us nowhere.  Even when “we” elect representatives, they rapidly become “them,” and the paranoia continues.  It is Southern Thinking, the burden of Southern history, and a legacy of anger and frustration and a perpetual self-perception that we are inferior, put upon, and occupied.


Southern Thinking.


Get over it, ya’ll.  Been over and done for a century and a half.  Come join us in the modern world.  We need you.

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