Debunking Myths about the South (Part 2)

The other day, I started debunking popular myths about the South — fallacies that my Southern friends and I are constantly asked to corroborate. If you missed the first part, you can read it here. This is the second installment. Now let’s go forth and speak a little truth!

Myth: All southern accents are created equal.

Truth: You just have to listen to my South Alabama versus my husband’s North Georgia to know this one is a lie. Even within Alabama, accents vary quite a bit from one end of the state to the other. And across the Southeast, you’ve got some drawls, and some twangs, and some twangy-drawls and drawly-twangs. You’ve got some big differences based on region such as Appalachian, Low Country, Coastal, and Deep South accents. Sadly, because of television and technology and as people move around the country more readily, our accents are slowly but surely being replaced with a flat, generic non-accent. Personally, I’d rather drawl and y’all than be homogenized into sounding just like everybody else from Anytown, USA.

Myth: All Southerners wear overalls.

Truth: Overalls were once popular work-wear for farmers, and miners, and other laborers, of which the South had many. And why not? They’re comfortable and durable, and they have lots of pockets. You might also be interested to know that many women wore overalls in the 70s as a sign of feminism since they were loose fitting and concealed the female form while allowing a freedom of movement that dresses and skirts do not. Wearing clothing that was traditionally only worn by men was also a nod toward equality.  Nowadays, unless you’re out on someone’s farm, you probably won’t see many people sporting the old Liberty patch. I was, however, recently in Chicago and noticed a big trend of young people wearing overalls, or “overhauls” as I like to call them, so I guess we’ve just been ahead of our fashion time.

Myth: Sweet Home Alabama is our anthem.

Truth: I have traveled quite a bit, and I’m here to tell you that when people hear those first few guitar licks, it doesn’t matter where in the world you are, everybody sings their lungs out just like their Granny was from Slapout. In Alabama, we actually have a very lovely State Song (you can listen to it here), but I’ll admit it could benefit from one of those Skynyrd guitar solos.

Myth: We don’t know “the war” is over.

Truth: It used to be that in the South, when somebody mentioned “the war” you could be 99% sure they were talking about the Civil War. And yes, for the love of Pete, we all know it’s over. Furthermore, we all know the South was defeated. Now I’ll grant you that there are a few people who still maintain that it was a states’ rights thing, but they mostly all have one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel. Most of us know better. Here’s an interesting bit of trivia for you: the very last surrender of the Confederate army east of the Mississippi happened under an oak tree in my hometown of Citronelle, Ala. (Here’s a little of that history.)

Myth: All Southerners are racist.

Truth: When you write a Southern culture blog, it’s hard to avoid the issue of racism. I do, however, try to avoid controversial issues and keep things light and fun, but I have touched on the subject here and here. Unfortunately, the answer is yes. Some Southerners are, indeed, racist. So are some Northerners. And so are some Westerners. One thing that separates Southerners from the rest of the nation is that we are surrounded by constant reminders of our racist and violent past. We have plenty of  Civil War memorials, and if we open our minds and our hearts, we can see these as monuments to what not to do and change ourselves and our thinking. We also have The Civil Rights National Monument right here in Birmingham that commemorates the struggles of the Civil Rights movement. And if you wonder whether a statue can change your thinking, go stand in Kelly Ingram Park, right across the street from the 16th Street Baptist Church where 4 little girls lost their lives. Go stand in front of the statue of a police dog that’s nearly as big as you are, lunging through the air, teeth bared. Then imagine that dog is real. Imagine its hot breath on your face. Imagine the angry white man in a uniform on the other end of the dogs leash. Now imagine that you are a child. A black child. I guarantee you’ll go home and take a good hard look at yourself.

Myth: That the saying “bless your heart” is a genuine expression of concern.

Truth: Sometimes it really is. “I’m sorry your husband ran off with that hussy. Bless your heart!” And it can sometimes be an expression of thanks and gratitude. “You were so sweet to bring that pound cake to Daddy’s funeral repast. Bless your heart.” But the truth is that sometimes, many times, it’s the cushion for the coming blow. It’s a kinder, more genteel, more Christian way to say “I don’t mean to insult you but…” You might hear something like “Bless his heart. He never was very smart.” Or “No matter how hard she tries, she’ll always look like a mattress stuffed in a condom when she wears that pink dress. Bless her heart.” It will usually be accompanied by a raised eyebrow, a knowing look, and sometimes a hushed tone.

Myth: Football is our religion.

Truth: Football is our religion. This is no lie. I’ve been to Saturday Mass in the fall and seen an usher taking up collection with one earbud sneaking up and out of his shirt collar and into his ear. I saw a female usher doing the same thing. I’ll bet you a dollar they’re not listening to Mother Angelica reruns during the service to double the impact of their religious experience. They’re listening to see if Bama will whip Tennessee’s ass all the way back to Knoxville. That’s why if you plan on having a Saturday wedding, christening, or funeral between August and November and want anyone to actually show up, you’d better find out your team’s “bye week” or pick another day. And if you decide to defy convention and walk up to the altar on a big game weekend thereby pissing off most everyone who receives an invitation, well, all I can say is “bless your heart.”

(Oh, but I’m not done yet! There’s more here!)

Photo credit: Alex Mertz on Unsplash