Sometimes it feels like this debate has been going on for decades and decades – the Northern states versus the Southern states. “Rednecks” and “Yankees” just can’t seem to stop yelling at each other. In recent years, however, I’ve noticed an increasing amount of hate directed at the Southern states -- namely Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, and Texas -- that’s just frankly illogical and wrong. I’ve spent every summer since birth in Beaufort County, South Carolina, where my mother’s entire extended family lives, and I’ve taken enough history classes. I know there are some crazy stereotypes, myths, and slanderous lies out there about the South, and I know they are wrong.
1. “The Civil War: North good, South bad.”
This is one of the most widespread lies, and sadly many public schools don’t have any problems enforcing it. Yes, slavery was a significant factor in the Civil War’s beginning, but this war was not the heroic fight against racism we were all raised to believe it was. The North and South were caught in a political battle over the American economy. The South was, and had been for hundreds of years, dominated by an agricultural economy. Its many colossal plantations produced the nation’s biggest cash crop, cotton. This cotton was shipped to the North, where an industrial economy ruled. Both the Northern states and the Southern states wanted more laws that benefited their own economies. The North decided to attack the Southern workforce -- the slaves -- in order to weaken the Southern influence in politics. Though abolitionists existed in the North, most Northerners were as racist as the Southerners were. The Northern states wanted to simply get rid of slavery (their factories wouldn’t be hurt, as their workforce consisted of underpaid and destitute immigrants), without offering or implementing any solution on how the South would be able to still produce enough cotton for northern industry. When threatened with the end of slavery, some Southern states wanted to have authority over their states, reflecting a question as old as America -- should the federal government, interested in the good of all, or the state governments, interested in more individualized standards of wellbeing, have more control? Nobody in this war was completely righteous or without racist beliefs. We can’t make excuses for either side.
2. “The Confederate flag is a symbol of racism.”
For some people, that’s true. On the other hand, many people still respect and fly the Confederate flag because of long-present resentment directed at the federal government for the many injustices committed against Southern state governments during the Civil War. Many Southerners want to show respect to their ancestors who fought in the Confederate Army for states’ rights. (By the way, the Confederate flag that we see today was actually the battle flag of a Confederate regiment from Northern Virginia, and was later incorporated into part of the official flag of the Confederate States of America.)
3. “Southerners are racist.”
According to the United States’ census, most Southern states’ populations are roughly 30 percent African American. That means that, if racism is only directed to non-white ethnicities, then one-third of the South hates themselves. That doesn’t make much sense. In reality, African American culture is a huge part of the South, and many families have been living in those states for hundreds of years. The South is just as much a home to them as it is to anyone else. Racism is a problem in the South, certainly – but it’s also a problem in the North, and the West, and pretty much everywhere in America. It’s a sad and honestly ignorant way of ignoring racism by pretending it’s only a Southern problem. And here’s a fun fact: the first African American to serve in the U.S. Congress was Hiram Revels, a senator from Mississippi. In the 1870s. In fact, the first fifteen African Americans in the U.S. House of Representatives were elected from South and North Carolina, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, and Georgia in the 1870s.
4. “Southerners are sexist.”
I asked my grandmother, a Marine wife living a few miles from Parris Island in South Carolina, about family dynamics in the South -- and if men were really as much in control as many people claim. She asked me, “Who do you think is in charge of this house -- me or your grandfather?” When I told her I thought she was, my grandmother replied, “You bet that’s right!” Believing certain women are weak and easily bullied, just because they live in a certain part of America, is derogatory not only to the South but also to the women who live there. No two Southern women are exactly alike, but they are all intelligent, beautiful, hardworking, and clever, with a strong influence on every aspect of their communities that nobody of either gender can deny. They drive trucks, hold banquets, work on farms, curse, go to excellent universities, and influence politics. I mean, do y’all know who Nikki Haley is?
Nikki Haley is an Indian, first-generation American woman who just happens to be the current governor of South Carolina. Not only is she in her second term as governor, but she also delivered the Republican response following President Obama’s State of the Union address in 2016. Does Governor Haley fit anyone’s definition of the weak, pathetic Southern woman that so many non-Southerners cling to?
5. “Southerners are intolerant and unintelligent.”
Intolerant and unintelligent? I wouldn’t hear many Southerners say such things of other Americans -- because Southern culture is known for being kind, compassionate, and polite, and that myth is simply a fact. But let’s talk about the word "intolerance." The definition of intolerance is to believe you’re better than other people because they’re different than you. Based on my previous points about how much garbage is being thrown at Southern culture, I’d say many people who aren’t from the South seem to think they’re better than Southerners because of supposed “differences.” That sounds intolerant to me. And intolerance is simply unintelligent. Here’s an idea: maybe intolerance and a lack of intelligence are actually universal problems that everyone from every area struggles with and needs to fight against.
6. “Southern food is amazing.”
Yes. This one is true. 10 out of 10 -- I would definitely recommend. I mean, look at this glorious art.
Ah yes, that beautiful pecan pie. It almost hurts to eat it, because it's so lovely looking.
Southern grits are the stuff of childhood. That stuff from the North simply can't compare.
Although it's not as famous as other Southern dishes, South Carolina is very proud of its Frogmore stew -- and it should be very, very proud.
This one needs no explanation.
In the end, the South has a different culture, one that many people without Southern roots don’t always understand. It’s a culture where neighbors care about each other, where church members bring food from the church potluck to the homebound elderly, where nature is celebrated and cherished, where beautiful art and music and food abound, and the village raises the children and raises them well. It’s not a racist culture, or a sexist culture, or a bigoted culture -- not any more than American culture is as a whole. If we can all agree that stereotypes are stupid and that everyone from everywhere can be guilty of being unkind or prejudiced, we can start changing our country and its citizens for the better.