- The Resilience of Southern Identity: Why the South Still Matters in the Minds of Its People by Christopher A. Cooper and H. Gibbs Knotts
In this short study, the authors explore a question of interdisciplinary interest to many in the social sciences and humanities; namely, what is the present state of regional identity for residents of the southern United States? In order to answer this central question, Christopher A. Cooper and H. Gibbs Knotts organize The Resilience of Southern Identity: Why the South Still Matters in the Minds of Its People around three primary areas of inquiry. First, how prevalent is a shared identity among residents of the contemporary American South? Second, who is likely to identify as a southerner, and what are some characteristics [End Page 233] that these individuals share? Finally, why would someone identify as a southerner?
The authors explore the concept of southern identity using a variety of methods. First, they examine the prevalence of business signs with the words southern or Dixie in their titles to gauge the geographic boundaries of the South. Second, they analyze longitudinal survey data in order to estimate how levels of southern identification have changed over time and to consider what characteristics are associated with those who identify as southerners. Finally, they use the results of focus groups of black and white self-identified southerners to examine what compels one to identify as a southerner. Participants' conceptions of what it means to be a southerner are also explored in great detail.
As the title implies, one of the primary takeaways from this book is that southern identity has remained impressively persistent over time. For instance, Cooper and Knotts's findings indicate that three-quarters of residents currently self-identify as southerners—a figure that has essentially not changed since the 1990s. At the same time, southern identity is not immutable. One of the more interesting findings is that black people and white people in the region today are just as likely to identify as southerners, which was not the case a few decades ago, when black people were decidedly less likely to embrace the identity. While black and white residents do share a number of traits when it comes to their southern identities, these two groups part ways when it comes to history and symbols connected to the Old South, such as the Civil War and the Confederate battle flag. Clearly, as the authors note, race and southern identity continue to be intertwined in complex ways.
The book is written to be accessible for general audiences—the more detailed statistical information is housed in an appendix—and it would be appropriate for undergraduate courses. Perhaps my only criticism is that its brevity leaves the reader wanting a more expansive examination of southern identity that includes topics such as the continued prevalence of a regional dialect and the interaction of identity and political behavior.
Although the country continues to be marked by increasing homogenization, Cooper and Knotts aptly demonstrate that regional identification remains one of the central ways that most residents of the American South think about their place in the world, as somewhat distinct from that of their immediate and more distant neighbors. [End Page 234]