- As Long as the Food Is Good
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We welcome the following letter from Alma M. Womack, who writes to give us her view of the eternal question, "Who is a true southerner?" She makes two main points: First, that the most powerful group in a region controls the way outsiders regard it. Second, that she personally welcomes all kinds of folks as true southerners "as long as the food is good, our home team wins, and the air conditioner works." Her first point may provoke some controversy, but her second is indisputable.
How about you, Gentle Reader? Do you have a pet definition of the True Southerner or the True South? Or do you think the South is too diverse to pigeonhole? Write us and give us your opinion. To get your juices flowing, we'll throw in a year's free subscription to Southern Cultures to everyone whose answer is lively enough to print.
I was glad to see the letter from my fellow Louisiana citizen in the Fall 2005 Southern Cultures. Given her location, she is now probably a hurricane evacuee, while I am a hurricane-damaged cotton farmer up in east central Louisiana.
Like Ms. Willis, when I read the Spring 2005 issue, I had real problems with the "who is a true Southerner" question explored in "Southerners All?" [by Larry J. Griffin, Ranae J. Evenson, and Ashley B. Thompson]. I have always been intrigued by this argument, and have read many books on the subject. I have come to this conclusion. The dominant culture of a region provides the determining characteristics of the people who represent that region to outlanders.
It is no secret that the Scots and Scots-Irish were the dominant culture in establishing the South, and, as such, it is their culture that was once considered "southern." Of course other cultures have contributed to building the region, but none of them were able to dominate the influence of the Scots-Irish.
Tell the truth now. If a person in the twentieth century were asked to describe a southerner, which stereotype do you think [End Page 1] would be used? The typical southerner would not have been black, Jewish, Mexican, Indian, or Cajun. It would have been the Scots-Irish—dare I say "rednecks"—because they were still the dominant culture, still in peoples' minds, and represented the "true southerner." All others just lived in the South.
Times have changed, and while the South embraces all cultures and draws strength from them all, I would still bet that if you go up in Minnesota or New York or Ohio and ask someone to describe a southerner, you would get a description of the old Scots-Irish (here it is again—'"redneck") stereotype. The slaves and their descendants have made lasting contributions to the southern way of life, but they were not the dominant culture, and as such would never come to mind as a typical southerner. Nor would the Indians who lived here first, but were supplanted by the Scots-Irish. Nor would any other ethnic group be thought of as southerners first before they were identified as Jewish, Chinese, Viet-namese, or Mexican. The conqueror in any country, in any nation, sets the standards for that country, and it is their culture that dominates. Subcultures contribute and are assimilated, but they cannot be considered the typical representative of the dominant culture.
For my part, anyone that lives in the South and loves it is a southerner. We even accept transplanted Yankees who have seen the light. I really don't think that the people living here care about who is a "true southerner" anymore, as long as the food is good, our home team wins, and the air conditioner is working. I also don't think that we are as quick to stereotype a southerner as much as those people living outside the Promised Land like to do.
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