In my first month of blogging, way back in September of 2004, I posted a picture that my father (I think) had taken when he, my son, and I went to hang out in Centennial Park in Nashville while I was visiting home that summer. Here’s the picture:
I remarked in the post that Nashville is just about the last place you’d expect to find a life-sized replica of the Parthenon, complete with a giant statue of Athena inside (to learn a little about why it’s there, go here). I said this as someone who was born in Nashville, grew up 20 minutes away, and has been to Centennial Park many, many times since I was a small child. So I knew it was there. I wasn’t surprised so much as I was, well, amused. I’m still amused. It’s just an odd thing to see, wherever you are, but especially in an American city. Plus, it’s kinda… gaudy.
Why am I telling you this? Well, three years after I posted that, I got a long comment, followed by an email conversation, in which I was told that that post, along with my posting a really, really nasty article from the March, 1871 issue of The Southern Magazine, show that I’m an anti-south bigot. Apparently I haven’t written anything positive about the south to counter the negative impression these two posts (over 3 years) gave. So I need to rectify that.
Let me start by repeating that I am, in fact, a southerner. I was born in Nashville, and raised in Franklin, Tennessee, where I lived until I went to college… at a southern school (the SEC is the best conference in college sports — positive thing #1, and trust me, to a southerner, that’s a big positive!). I love the south, especially Tennessee, and when I’m not there I miss it terribly. I’ve been all over the country, and I’ve yet to find a place as beautiful as the mountains of Tennessee and North Carolina, the bayous of southern Louisiana, Reelfoot Lake, the Ocoee River, downtown Macon, Georgia in spring (with the cherry trees blooming), or just about any point along the Natchez Trace Parkway.
And I love southern people. I’ve met more colorful, diverse, creative, and intelligent people in the south than anywhere else. Nashville, specifically, is one of the most educated cities in the country, and it shows. If I’m not mistaken, it has more universities per capita than any other city in the country, with Vanderbilt University, one of the top undergraduate institutions in the world, at the forefront. And the pace — southern people move at just the right place, slow, steady, and laid back. Excepting Atlanta, a southern city’s pace will make New York City look like a collective heart attack waiting to happen.
Oh, and there’s also the art: the south gave the world blues, jazz, gospel, bluegrass, Ella Fitzgerald, Eunice Kathleen Waymon (look her up), Louis Armstrong, Faulkner, Mark Twain, Tennessee Williams, Eudora Welty, Harper Lee, Flannery O’Connor, and John Grisham (OK, sorry about that last one), etc., etc. If it’s American, aesthetically appealing, and colorful, chances are it’s from the south.
So there, I love the south, and think it’s full of wonderful people, institutions, art, and scenery. But because I love the south doesn’t mean that I’m blind to its faults. I mean, the south was on the wrong side of the slavery issue, and fought the bloodiest war in American history to keep it. That’s a pretty damn big fault. And if it weren’t enough, after the south lost the war (thankfully), we white southerners decided that if we couldn’t keep black people as slaves, we’d make them suffer any other way we could, and instituted apartheid that lasted almost until I was born. I missed sit-ins, fire hoses, and police dogs by just a few years. And the south’s flaws are not just in the past. The south is still dominated by regressive, misogynistic, and dare I say it, racist political ideologies. In a way, the south is like a wayward sibling. I love it dearly, but sometimes when we’re in polite company, I’m embarrassed that we’re related.