Southern Cultures 9.1 (2003) 4-8
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There used to be a kind of rag doll you could find in playrooms and on display in the homes of whimsical southern collectors. The one I remember clearest belonged to the only female doctor I knew and sat on a kitchen shelf beside the cookbooks. At first glance (depending on the owner's mood, that is) it appeared to depict a conventional white maiden with blond braids, a muslin frock, and a rosebud simper that gave no hint of mystery. But if you peered beneath her hems, a prying child would find an upside down torso, with head and arms where the feet should be. If you flipped the skirt entirely over the white doll's head, a black doll emerged, clad in an equally conventional head wrap, apron, and gingham work dress. Some versions gave a purse or bouquet to the white doll and a wooden spoon to her black counterpart, underscoring the social roles of each. Together, the two represented maid and mistress, literally joined at the hip. [End Page 4]
These dolls would probably fit comfortably into one of the Black Memorabilia Showcases stocked with "grotesque" images and figurines described by Lynn Casmier-Paz in her article, "Heritage, not Hate? Collecting Black Memorabilia." Memory may be playing tricks, but the ones I remember were not necessarily grotesque, just simple and straightforward, as rag dolls tend to be. The joke lay in representing African American and white women as mirror images of each other, despite the chasms of difference we were supposed to feel between them. Looking at the dolls, the ironic stereotypes came forward with a rush, each the flip side of the other. Mammy and Scarlett, housemaid and debutante, hussy and ice queen, the dolls seemed to say, all were sisters beneath the skin. Or skirt. As Mary Boykin Chesnut used to say, "There is no slave like a wife."
Of all these paired opposites, I suspect it was the combination of professional and homemaker that most closely touched the life of my 1950s neighbor, as she flipped her skirt back and forth to change herself from family slave to medical doctor and back again, each on a daily basis. But this being the South, the closeness and distance of white and African American had been a cultural reality for centuries, and toys like hers, I suspect, had been around southern dollhouses for quite a while.
Paired opposites appear with frequency in this issue of Southern Cultures. Our coeditor John Shelton Reed opens up with some reflections on New York City, once the avatar of everything old-fashioned southerners claimed to hate about the North. In the aftermath of September 11, Reed observes, southerners seemed to have reversed field, to remember what they find heroic about ordinary New Yorkers, who emerged from the horrors of that day displaying the kind of elemental courage and dignity that diehard Rebels profess to admire even more than the rest of us. Like the rag doll, he tells us, North and South may be polar opposites but they are also sisters under the skin.
Carl Carmer and Clarence Cason were twins of another kind, Philip Beidler finds. Both were professors at the University of Alabama in the 1930s, both wrote critical books about the state, and both scored similar points against its prevailing culture. But literary Alabama reviled Carmer as a sniping carpetbagger who betrayed his hosts, while Cason the native son found forgiveness when he did what seemed to be the honorable thing and committed suicide a few days before his unsparing book came out. W. J. Cash, North Carolina's more famous counterpart to the Alabama twins, met a similar end when his blockbuster analysis The Mind of the South appeared a few years later. Carmer and Cason, carpetbagger and scalawag, Beidler explains, said similar things but met opposite fates, both reflecting the region's apparent inability to tolerate the contradictions embodied in a loving criticism. Ironically, Carmer's title, Stars Fell on Alabama, now appears as a slogan on state license plates in the space where...