rebel yell

17 October 2002

First, a disclaimer. It's unfortunate that it's necessary for me to have to put this on here, but nevertheless, there you are:

I am a woman. I am gay. I am a liberal feminist. I am generally against organized religion. I am pro-choice, anti-racism, anti-sexism, pro-gay rights, pro-diversity, and pretty much on the side of the little guy when it comes down to it. I believe that everything is interconnected, that everything you do affects everyone else. I believe that if there is a moral absolute in this world, it is that you should not kill or harm people unless it's absolutely necessary. I believe that, generally speaking, getting along without interference from other people or the government is a Good Thing. I believe in individual liberty over societal conformity. I believe a person should have the right to do anything he or she wants to do, as long as nobody is harmed or has their rights abridged. I believe in equal treatment under the law for every damn person in this country, regardless. Essentially, I am a big ol' liberal, a feminist dyke who believes in God but doesn't like religion very much.

I am also a native Southerner, born and bred in Mississippi, and I am damn proud of that.

These traits are not exclusive.

A Little Background Before the Real Rant

One side of my family came over from England in the late 1600s and moved to North Carolina in 1749. The other has been in this country since at least 1800, and in the South since 1820. I come from generation after generation of poor Southern farmers, scratching out a living from the soil. Both my parents grew up chopping cotton on the farm. Both scrabbled for their education, were educated in true one-room schoolhouses, and worked damned hard to gain their bachelor's and master's degrees. Both instilled in me a love of my Southern heritage, a heritage of hard work, honesty, liberty, and pride in my homeland.

My parents and their parents before them were the original rednecks. Yes, they were. White trash, no; rednecks, yes. Both my grandfathers had a dark tan on the back of their necks from working the fields all day. My dad's brother still has the same dark red coloring on his neck. All my kin worked the land for years and years, and they all had that same red neck. See, that's what a redneck originally was: a farmer, usually white, who worked in the sun every day to scratch out a living. It had nothing to do with religion, politics, or morality.

Marcie the Redneck

I spent 25 years in Mississippi and Louisiana. I've lived in Colorado for 5 years now, for many reasons which are far too complex to discuss at the moment. I have a bachelor's degree and I work in a white-collar field earning far more money than my grandfather ever did when he worked his cotton farm. I pass for a Coloradoan most the time; I even tone down my Southern drawl for the sake of getting along out here. I pass real good, yessir.

I'm getting tired of passing.

See, when you're raised in the South, there are a few things that are different about you. One is the accent. There are literally hundreds of different dialects and accents in the South. Anyone who thinks we all sound alike has never been down there for any length of time. A Coors-Light Mississippian sounds nothing like a bonded-bourbon Virginian. Trust me. To me, there is nothing more beautiful than a soft Southern drawl. My particular dialect doesn't have a name that I know about, but I would imagine it could be described as "North Mississippi hills". My native accent is so thick and slow that most people out here in Colorado wouldn't recognize me, or indeed, be able to understand what I say. It's the way all my cousins talk, and it's the first thing that comes back to me each and every time my plane touches down in Memphis. I love my accent. It's part and parcel of who I am.

So why do I tone it down? I'm glad you asked.

I'm Sick of Hearing About the Damn War

To a lot of people in this country, a Southern accent immediately triggers the old stereotypes: Ignorant. Racist. In-bred. Uneducated. Fanatically religious. Stupid. Poor.


This irritates me to no end.

It irritates me because I am not white trash, nor are any of my relatives. I am not stupid, I am not racist. I am for damn sure not inclined to fuck anyone I'm related to. And neither are most Southerners I know.

But man, I cannot tell you how many times I've opened my mouth and said something completely innocent, and some damn idiot hears me and starts talking through his nose at me. "Where are yew froooooom? MISSISSIPPI? Oh, I'm sorry!" And then they laugh hysterically. Yeah, that's really funny. Never heard that one before. Asshole. And I'd say that seven times out of ten -- and that's not even an exaggeration -- the idiot eventually asks me what I think about the South losing the Civil War.

What does this fuckwit expect me to say? "Oh, we didn't really LOSE the War of Northern Aggression, we just let y'all think so! Don't tell anyone, but we're just biding our time until we can rise up and conquer all y'all Yankee liberal abolitionists! And then we're going to re-institute slavery, chain gangs, and hangings! Boo!" Yeeeah. Because I spend SO MUCH of my time every day fuming about personally losing the Civil War. Riiight.

Instead of toying with the stupid person, I just sigh and give my standard response: the Civil War was a sad and tragic thing, both sides fought bravely and suffered terribly, and it's a shame it had to happen at all, but at least the slaves got emancipated, so that's one good thing anyway.

At which point the moron yammering in my face usually gets that little smug grin that makes me want to hit him, and says, "Well, you lost, so you Southerners better quit fighting the war!"

Gee. I didn't realize having knowledge about a major period in our country's history was the same as re-fighting the war. I didn't realize that being raised Southern and learning about the war from a Southern perspective was the same as sitting in the living room polishing up my guns and letting my Klan hood soak in some bleach to get it good and white before I go out a-lynchin' on Friday nights. And by the way, asshole, YOU BROUGHT IT UP, not me, so who's fighting what, here? Most of us are way over the whole thing, partly due to having conversations like this.

Don't Be A Prejudiced Asshole, Asshole

It is not acceptable in our culture to stereotype people any more... unless they're those damn rednecks. Everyone KNOWS all Southerners are cousin-fucking, ignorant Klan members! Everyone KNOWS we're all just lurking in the background with a noose, biding our time until some poor innocent black person wanders by, at which choice we leap on 'em and string 'em up on a tree while burning a cross and singing "The Battle Hymn of the Republic"! Everyone KNOWS that all Southerners drive huge-ass trucks plastered with Confederate battle flags and that we spit tobaccy out the winder while we shewt off our shotguns and mash beer cans agin' our foreheads! Don't we?

People always have to feel superior to someone, I suppose. Too bad, really. It seems that Americans have collectively decided that the South is only good for dumping all their nasty little vitriolic prejudices. When's the last time you heard a comedian do a routine about miserly Jews, lazy Mexicans, or thieving blacks? You don't, because it's not acceptable any more. And this is a good thing. So why is acceptable to sling around these slurs about "inbred, racist Southerners" as if these are universal attributes?

(And let me just note that my anger towards this stereotype has nothing to do with me being white. African-Americans are a huge minority in the South. In some places, such as the Mississippi Delta, they outnumber every other race by a wide margin. And many of them are proud to be Southern too. As they should be, considering that the South wouldn't exist without them. The South was built on the backs of forced African labor, which was shameful. But black Southerners, more than any other minority group, made the South. It's due to their contributions in music, art, poetry, food, politics, economy, war, and so much more, that we are what we are today. Black Southerners have preserved their dignity, their families, and their spirit through persecution that nobody should have to endure, and come out fighting every time. It's something to be proud of. So when you insult the South, remember you're slandering every Southerner, not just the white ones.)

Time for a little education...

A Dozen Things Non-Southerners Need To Know About The South:

  1. Not everyone in the South is a racist. Some of us are; most of us aren't. Kinda like, well, everywhere else in the world, in fact.
  2. Not all of us listen to country music. That said, there is not a thing wrong in the world with listening to country music. It's a true form of American folk music, as much so as jazz, blues, and rock & roll.
  3. Do not misuse the term "redneck". It is not a catch-all term for bigots everywhere. "Damnfool idiots" is a better term for racist morons. I am a redneck, and I resent know-nothing fuckwits slapping that label on any dumbass racist they see.
  4. As noted above, not all people who have pride in the South are white. Many of them are black. Or Asian, or Jewish, or Hispanic. It's their home, too. Being a certain race doesn't preclude having pride in where you're from.
  5. Yes, smartass, there ARE things to be proud of about being Southern. Do not assume that because we do things differently than you do, that we're backwards and ignorant. Remember that you are dealing with a different culture -- a rich, complicated, textured culture -- and treat us with the respect that you would treat anyone else.
  6. Do not assume that, just because a Southerner is being polite, that s/he likes you. Southerners pride civility and manners above all else. We will be polite until we're ready to kill you.
  7. Do not come to the South, insult our ways, and start talking about how you do things so much better where you come from. "We would NEVER eat this in BOSTON!" Well, looks like you better get on back up to Boston, then, doesn't it?
  8. Do not make the mistake of assuming the only part of our history that matters is race relations. There is a lot more to being Southern than that. If you don't know that, you don't know us. At all.
  9. Do not assume that because someone lives in a trailer and speaks with a drawl that they are a piece of human trash. My dad's brother lived in a trailer for twenty years. My mom's sister also lived in a trailer for much of her adult life. My oldest cousin lives in a trailer now. All three of them are intelligent, strong, capable human beings, and I am proud to call them family.
  10. Try not to use ethnic slurs. You would never refer to a black person with the forbidden N-word, so don't refer to a white rural Southerner as "cracker", "redneck", or "white trash". It's not very nice.
  11. DO NOT TRY TO IMITATE OUR ACCENT. You will not get it right and you will only succeed in pissing us off.
  12. "Y'all" is a contraction, short for "you all". It is always, always, ALWAYS plural. It is never ever singular. If you use "y'all" to refer to a single person, you will be rightly regarded as a moron.

Physician, Heal Thyself

The South has its own culture, separate and unique in the history of this country. We are not like anyone else. We have lost a war, had our land decimated, and survived. We've overcome more problems with racism and intolerance in a shorter period of time than the rest of this country put together. Yes, we're still working on it, but you know what? At least we talk about it. At least we acknowledge our history and can still get along with each other. How many race crimes are there in New York every year? How many in Denver, and why don't we talk about them up here? In the South, descendants of slaves and descendants of the people who "owned" them -- often sharing a last name -- can sit at the same table, eat and drink together, laugh together, and generally get on just fine. We're not where we need to be yet, but we're a damn sight farther along than where we were even twenty years ago.

Our history has been far from perfect. Most of us acknowledge that and are trying damn hard to make sure racial intolerance and discrimination never happen again. For those of you who would act so self-righteous about Southern history, particularly Californians and other Westerners, try this: go out to the nearest reservation and ask the Native Americans what they think about your ancestors, mmmkay?

Perhaps next time you hear someone with a Southern drawl, you should hesitate before ascending to your throne of smug superiority and brandishing the sceptre of self-righteousness. Perhaps you should acknowledge that deep down within yourself, you're not as non-prejudiced as you'd like to think, if you immediately label that person an ignorant bumpkin. Perhaps the next time you see a bumper sticker that says, "Stop Inbreeding: Ban Country Music!", you shouldn't laugh ironically and nudge your friends in the ribs. Perhaps you should begin to see Southerners as human instead of the brunt of a big joke.

I am Southern. I say "ma'am" and "sir" instinctively. I listen to country music (and alternative, jazz, blues, rock, folk music...). I have a huge extended family, all of whom I love and see at least once a year at Christmas. I grew up in church, and even though I don't attend now, I still get nostalgic when I hear "The Old Rugged Cross" sung in four-part harmony. I am scandalized by the very idea of buying quilts and afghans at the store, particularly the ones that have been designed to look "home-made". My grandmother made me every quilt and afghan I own, because that's what Southern grandmothers do for their grandkids. I still go to my grandparents' country church when they have all-day singing and dinner on the grounds (a beautiful old tradition -- if you haven't ever been to one, I recommend you make every effort to do so before you die). I call my grandparents "Mamaw" and "Papaw", like every Southern child. I can dine in the finest French classical restaurant and enjoy every bite, but my favorite food is still simple country stuff: cornbread, turnip greens, pork chops, biscuits with homemade gravy, fried okra, chocolate chess pie, sweet iced tea. I still believe in chivalry. I still believe in manners. I still believe the most beautiful sound on this earth is the chorus of crickets that sings every night during the summer.

I am Southern. That's my culture. Like it or don't, I don't care, but at least take time to know me before you decide we all live on Tobacco Road.

And do me a favor... lay off the redneck jokes.