Southern Multicultural Traditions

I’m so often picking on Southerners, especially the Scots-Irish. It makes me feel like a bully.

The Scots-Irish are such an easy target, like any other oppressed minority group. Looked down upon even by many other Southerners, they get called rednecks, hillbilies, crackers and white trash. I try to balance my criticisms with my love of Appalachia and my sympathetic knowledge of my own family.

It isn’t hard to find those sore points in Southern culture and history. That is the sad result of being the losers in a civil war of your own making, an unnecessary war at that and worse still fought for a less than noble cause. History hasn’t been entirely kind in its judgment.

Still, the South is as much part of America as anywhere else, even with its past attempt at secession. Maybe so many Southerners ethnically identify as American or even Native American because they feel a strong need to prove their patriotic loyalty with the shadow of the past falling upon them. It might be similar to how many Irish in the North became uber-patriots following the draft riots that besmirched their image in the public eye.

The South typically gets stereotyped. Then again, Southerners have played a large part in creating and spreading many of these stereotypes, including proudly embracing them. But I’ve never been one to be ultimately satisfied with stereotypes, although I try to reveal any kernels of truth that may lay hidden within caricatured generalizations.

My studies of Southern history and culture has shown me how complex is the region. This shouldn’t be surprising for why would we expect the South to be simplistic in a way no other region is. This complexity, however, does seem to surprise many people.

There many examples of Southern complexity: Union supporters and soldiers, slave owners turned abolitionists, white agrarian socialists and black communist party members, small town environmentalists, clannish labor organizers, self-governed black towns during Reconstruction, wealthy black communities, and on and on. Because of my last post, the example I have in mind is multiculturalism in the South.

Multiculturalism is understandably identified with the North and the West Coast, but there has always been multiculturalism in the South as well. The big cities, of course, have always been cosmopolitan places tht attracted people with more socially liberal attitudes. Early on, Charleston was aready an immensely diverse place because of all the international trade that occurred there. But I had in mind the sub-region that is at the southenmost edge of the Deep South.

From Florida to New Orleans to Texas, the Spanish Empire has left a permanent impact and the French Empire also. The mestizo and creole cultures are fundamentally a part of the South as a region and integrally a part of Southern culture.

There is a monocultural set of traditions throughout the South. There is he monocultural clannishness of the rural and upper South. Also, there is a Cavalier and Barbados equivalent to the Puritan socio-political system of oppressive assimilation. But other traditions always existed. A semi-tolerant cultural libertarianism has always persisted in Appalachia and the Southern aristcrats often wished to be perceived as cultured cosmopolitans.

I particularly want to emphasize the mestizo and creole angle. When I recently wrote of a Mestizo Midlands as a multicultural ideal and reality, I wasn’t articulating a value system in opposition to the South. Rather, I was seeking a way to include the South within the broader American experience. If we are to have cultural unity in this country, we need to recognize the shared history that unites us.

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