Steel Magnolias and Southern Identity

Not so long ago, my 360 friend Riihele blogged on the “North and South,” and I was interested to learn that countries other than the United States and Great Britain have distinct regions with distinct mythologies and personalities.  One of my pet interests is regional identity in the United States:  what it is, how we get it, what it means, how it is perceived, and how it translates from region to region.  For today, I’m going to talk about the South, the South I love and was raised in, and the South that no matter where I live or what I do, will always be close to my heart.  

In college I took a course with a freshly minted Ph.D. in Southern History, he was still idealistic, still enthusiastic about his material, and still starry eyed at the thought of all of our impressionable young and not young minds (I wonder now, so many years later if he still has any of that left, and though I hope so, experience suggests not).  The first question this remarkable man tossed out to us was:  “What is the South?”  Hands shot up; like that’s a hard question, right?  I mean, the South is . . . .

. . . not as easy to define or explain or understand as we all thought.  It’s a geographical region, sure, but do we include Kentucky and Delaware and Maryland and Arkansas?  Do “Deep Southerners” consider these “southern” states?  Some do, some don’t.  And if there’s a “deep South” then where’s the not so deep South or the shallow South?  Oh, so it’s not like that?  It’s “New” South and “Old” South?  Well, what does THAT mean?  The “old” South is pre-Civil War?  Agricultural, aristocratic, cultured?  And rigidly opposed to abolishing slavery, long pants and the vote for women, and carpetbaggers?  And the “new” South is post-reconstruction (the “reconstruction-era” South is a whole other ball of wax), right?  Meaning what, exactly?  We’d just lost the War of Northern Aggression (aka The Civil War to non-Southerners), and along with it a way of life that included a great deal beyond slavery (though that is all that non-Southerners remember), it included a way of seeing and of being. 

For the South is also a mindset, a way of life, an understanding of ourselves and the world.  Unlike the rest of America, the South knows defeat; we know it in our hearts and souls, so we don’t doubt that it is possible, and we don’t get quite as arrogant about some things as the rest of the country might.  Are there some old traces of the “Good Ole Boy” networks in sherriff offices and state and local governments?  Sure, but these are dwindling; despite popular (non-Southern) opinion, the South is not a backwater clinging to a racist past, nor is the South a hotbed of incestuous morons, inbred to the point of stupidity.  Quite the contrary, the South boasts some of the more intelligent and best of our country’s cultural and political producers, including William Faulkner, Mark Twain, Robert Penn Warren, Tennessee Williams, and Truman Capote.  Not to mention the fact that fifteen of our forty-three Presidents have come from the South (compare to only five from New England).

We are polite, that famous Southern hospitality is no myth, and we are friendly to a fault, but don’t cross us, for under that magnolia-scented Southern (belle or beau) exterior is a steel hard, rust proof center that it’s best to avoid running into.  That swooning Scarlett O’Hara might have advocated tomorrow, “for tomorrow is another day” but let me tell you, that was not about procrastination or weakness, that was about hope and strength and rebuilding from rubble and unblinkered tenacity. . . .  That is a part of and the heart of the South that I believe is underappreciated.  



Link to Presidents of the United States by State:


11 thoughts on “Steel Magnolias and Southern Identity

  1. Here is the blog i am accostumed to my Fuzzy Girl composing. Very good by the way. I wasnt aware you were a southern girl. Not that it matters, but it does make a difference in your personality Im sure. the whole upbringing part, what you will and wont abide by. So, where does the south start ans end. is texas a pewrt of the south, cus it looks pretty much in the middle to me. Is Florida a part of the south, for some reason i just cant wrap my mind around florida being part of the south, even though they are in the very most south, or so it seems. You are going to have mor questions to answere on this topic for sure.

  2. Sorry, Fuzzy, I thought and thought on this one and can’t think of a productive thing to add. Going to much by memory here, especially having only visited the south a couple of times!

  3. Oh, Lisa…you made a point I was going to make, but thought it was too weird. I too do not consider Florida part of the south, eventhough geographically that arguement is pretty weak!

  4. You both raise a very important question when considering the South and Southern identity, and your instincts are, for the most part, spot on. But don’t forget the Panhandle of Florida (it was forgotten in 2000, much to Al Gore’s chagrin, for the panhandle is in Central time, the polls weren’t closed, and Florida, we’ll recall, did not go to Gore at all. I was appalled when they called Florida before the polls had even closed, but then, I knew that a good chunk of it was both red and in the central time zone.).

    Anyway, the Panhandle, where I was raised, is also known as LA, as in “lower Alabama”!! And as that tag implies, it is southern, very southern. As is (as an aside) north central Florida, very southern still. It’s the tourist-y parts and the Gold coast that are more “American mutt” and as you go further south become European in flavor and/or Spanglish.

  5. This is going to be quite a series Fuzz! In case you hadn’t noticed, I am a geography nut for someone who has traveleled so little! Before you write your piece on the northwest, why don’t you come out and do some research!


  6. The only part of Florida I ever visited were the middle and the very tip end..oh, I did visit the gulf once..never the panhandle. But the Florida I was in did not feel southern to me at all. I’m not saying the panhandle isn’t but I agree the tourity part and the Cuban part are most definately NOT. And as far as good old southern cooking. . . well I was never able to get any there and the barbeque. nada! And who in the world serves fish without hushpuppies for pete’s sake.

  7. Oh yes and I almost forgot. Where is the slaawwww! No body puts slaawww on their hot dogs down there. And if you do happen to get slaawwww it is served as a side dish and has too much sugar in it and speaking of sugar. . . don’t put sugar in yur corn bread! Corn bread isn’t supposed to taste like cake!

  8. Gee, Mavis, I’d not even touched the surface of southern cuisine, but believe me, if you’re looking for good southern cooking at Disney World, you’re not going to find it! LOL Lots of good barbeque in the Panhandle (also, sadly dubbed the Redneck Riviera) and in north central FL still. These aren’t places you’d go to visit anymore than you’d go visit Opp, AL (well, unless you went for the rattlesnake rodeo).

    I’ve never had sweet corn bread, Thank God, and is that slaaawww thing all over the South? I’ve never had slaaaww on a hot dog, but I’ll have to try it since you say it’s good. It’s weird how different areas do different things; I was over in Biloxi at a Pizza Hut once, and they had French dressing on all the tables; guess it’s a thing there.

    Up here they have mostly brown eggs, and you have to hunt high and low for white ones (which are so much easier to peel), and they use white American cheese and keep the skins on potatoes when they mash them. It’s been interesting adjusting to all the differences, I must say (and no decent barbeque in the entire region–that I’ve found, anyway!).

  9. Hei Fuzz.

    GREAT entry so tis. I see as in understand better what you are talking here about the south n not so south over there and am soo looking forward to hearing/learning more bout this all.
    I thought that you were a New England Gal, Fuzz. My understanding of the south is that they are warm/loud/hospitable where the northerners are the opposite on each account.
    Am waiting for the next installment on this series when you are ready. Take care and have a grand time with the folks. =)))) HuGGI

    PS. That is a gorgeous pic of Scarlett n Rhett aka Vivian Leigh and Clarke Gable. Also like the explanation that you give re: Tomorrow’s another day.’ Lovely.

  10. Thanks, Riihele! I really didn’t intend to write a series on the regions, but between your and Gregg’s comments, maybe I will do so, at that. I’ve certainly got stuff to say about the Northeast and Midwest (having been to and studied both), but I’m not so “up” on the other regions, having never been to them or read only sporadically and lightly about them. We’ll see. In the meantime, THANK YOU so much for your kind words and encouragement! Huggs, Super Fantastic Riihele!

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