Mixing Memory

The South

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-4855ce6ab7e9b26e27f063c0dd2e4647-ParthenonNashville.jpg

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.

Comments

  1. #1 atlasien
    August 8, 2007

    Speaking as a proud non-white Southerner, I am… really quite confused as to what your commenter was going on about.

  2. #2 Chris
    August 9, 2007

    Me too, and his emails didn’t help much, but I figured I’d make it clear that I’m not an anti-south bigot. I do indeed love the south, I just recognize that it’s not perfect.

  3. #3 Genevieve Williams
    August 9, 2007

    No place is perfect, but I love it for the same reasons you do. (I’m half-Southern by way of Louisiana, and grew up in the D.C. environs, a place that really is just a little bit southern. I went back recently for a conference and was surprised: I’d forgotten how friendly people there can be.)

  4. #4 Todd
    August 9, 2007

    Chris, glad to see that you’re back, although I hope that you took enough time away to rest a bit. As for the anti-Southern comment, I seem to remember you made several glowing remarks about the Atlanta Braves, which last time I checked are located in the South…Oooh wait, that’s not the right kind of positive comment, since it could fit a stereotype of a beer-drinking, hill-billy baseball fan. No, not good (On an aside, I went to Shea Stadium today to see the Mets lose to–you guessed it–the Braves. Damn it.). Anyway, I wouldn’t worry too much–your readers have come to appreciate your fair and insightful treatment of a wide array of topics. If you were bigoted, you’d hear it form more than just one person.

  5. #5 David Prince
    August 9, 2007

    “It’s just an odd thing to see, wherever you are, but especially in an American city.”

    I don’t think our fellow southerner, former president Clinton, would find it odd. He says:

    “Hellenic ideals have also shaped our democracy through architecture. Across our Nation and especially in the Nation’s Capital, the seats of representative government are housed in buildings inspired by the grand proportions and beautiful lines of Greek temples. In both nations, these buildings remind us of the ideals of truth, justice, and faith in the human ability on which our societies are founded.”
    http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/print.php?pid=62418

    I guess I don’t find it odd either. This is interesting:

    “With its classic clapboard exterior and bold, simple lines, Greek Revival architecture became the most predominant housing style in the United States, especially in the Southern states.”

    When something is perceived as odd, it means that it doesn’t fit in with one’s preconceived notions.

    “The south is still dominated by regressive, misogynistic, and dare I say it, racist political ideologies.”

    If you can show me how this is true, I’ll be happy to lend my support for change.
    I don’t deny that Tennessee has a regressive tax structure, and I asked Steve Gill personally how he protest so much against “raising taxes” in the form of an income tax, but said nary a word over increasing the sales tax. Over time however, Tennessee’s tax system has been very good for middle Tennessee at least, with plenty of business relocating here and providing some very good jobs. Isn’t Nissan North American corporate coming to Cool Springs? Brentwood seems to have tons of corporate headquarters type stuff. My first IT job was at American Color Graphics, and they had relocated from Buffalo to TN. It was cool because they printed Marvel Comics and that carried with it some fringe benefits. But I don’t know. The economy everywhere seems to be booming.

  6. #6 David Prince
    August 9, 2007

    Sorry to double post. I just wanted to say that I do appreciate you taking time to have this conversation with me. I really like your blog, and I think we share the same primary interests. I also thank you for saying something positive about the south. I think promoting the south could mean that it will become more cosmopolitan. And if the south is more racist than other regions, then perhaps an influx of tolerant minded people will assuage and change the negative value structure you see and dislike so much.

  7. #7 vanjulio
    August 14, 2007

    I can understand why he would think you were anti-South, seeing as your perspective comes from an inferior city such as Nashville. I mean compared to the true capital of music and soul, Memphis, where I happen to be from…. ;P

    Memphis takes that dominating negative ideology and puts it on parade. Sometimes it can be for the worst though there is no other place on earth like it.