The Southern Myth
Veronica Randolph Batterson
As a transplanted Southerner making my home in the Midwest, I’m constantly amazed at how those in the northern states view Southern people. There seems to be a pre-conceived idea of just who we really are. If you’re Southern and you have ever met anyone who isn’t, then you probably know what I mean. It’s as if some think all Southerners are isolated and live by the “old” days. By that I mean pre-computers, pre-indoor plumbing, pre-Civil War. I’m certain any Southerner reading this can relate in some way or another.
Call it stereotyping, but even in the twenty-first century, whenever my Southern heritage is discovered, I’m suddenly placed under the microscope. Now I know nothing is meant by it, so how can I take offense when I’m asked to say something? My Southern accent is what they want, even though it is somewhat hidden after years of voice and diction classes so I might find a job in broadcasting. I oblige and greatly exaggerate SUM-theeng. That seems to please them.
Speaking of accents, why is it that anyone born and raised outside of the South can’t possibly attempt a Southern one? I know it can’t be helped, but unless you are a Southerner, please don’t try it. It’s not pleasant hearing a northerner massacre, “Ya’ll come back now, ya hear.” When I try to explain that there are different types of Southern accents, just like there are various kinds of northern accents, voices of denial respond. “Jeez, Louise! I don’t have an accent,” come the nasal replies. My mistake, I apologize, and that veil of “ah, she’s Southern” once again is reflected to me, an all-knowing look of what it must mean to be from the South.
Just recently, upon discovering I was Southern, a gentleman told me I looked like I was from Mississippi. Excuse me? LOOKED like? What possibly could this mean? I suddenly envisioned babies being born with their backsides stamped “MADE IN MISSISSIPPI.” What were those from Georgia, South Carolina, Louisiana and all our other southern neighbors supposed to look like? I politely had to tell him that although Mississippi is a wonderful state, I wasn’t from there. I hail from Tennessee.
Sometimes our northern counterparts treat us as if we’re from a foreign country, while at other times I think we’re supposed to know every relative and friend who might have moved anywhere in the southern United States. “Why, I bet you know by buddy Johnny! He moved down South just a couple of years ago. Loves the weather!” Well, I might know Johnny and I might not. Just where in the South Johnny moved is never explained. I don’t bother to emphasize that there is quite a large population overall and, contrary to popular belief, we’re not all related!
Music is another issue that northerners think they have figured out about Southerners. Although I suppose country music’s popularity is owed to Nashville, it is assumed country music is all that we enjoy. Someone said to me once, “I have a friend moving to Nashville. I guess you’ll be excited about this since you’re from the South: she’s going to her first country music concert!” My reply was, “okay.” Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against country music. My husband and I even own some country music CDs. But just because a person is Southern doesn’t mean she dislikes jazz, rock, classical and many other forms of music. I like most.
Now I must admit there were things I had to get used to when my family made the move north…namely the weather. For a person who had never seen more than a couple of inches of snow at a time, moving in January was a big deal. The snow didn’t melt after the first day on the ground. It stayed a while. When my then-kindergartner came home after her first day in a new school, she immediately remarked, “Mommy, my teacher said I couldn’t go out for recess tomorrow unless I bring snow pants.” I stared blankly. Snow pants? Truly, I’d never heard of snow pants until I moved up north. And what were these kids doing in school anyway? At the first sign of snow back home, everything shuts down and a major run is made on the hardware and grocery stores. To emphasize the lack of snow in our lives until that point, my youngest child, at age three, looked up to the sky one day during a heavy snowfall and exclaimed, “What ARE these things?” After a gentle reply of “Honey, it’s called snow,” she then remarked exasperatedly, “Well, it’s getting in my eyes!”
So maybe little things Southerners do, or are not used to cause people up here to think of us in certain ways. I admit I’m not the greatest driver when it snows, and I have never in my life called a Coke “pop.” It even took some time to get used to the fact that restaurants here do not serve sweetened iced tea. I love to eat all those Southern staples such as grits, cornbread and okra cooked any way imaginable. Could it be that we are so “different” that northerners don’t understand us but pretend they do? They rely on old images in a modern world. Sometimes that might not be too bad.
So excuse me as I take a stroll around my veranda, sipping my mint julep as my hoop skirt swishes back and forth in the warm southern breeze…while I watch my kids play soccer.
Veronica Randolph Batterson is a freelance writer with a B.A. degree in Communications from the University of Tennessee. She grew up and lived in Chattanooga until fourteen years ago when her husband's adventurous spirit took her and their two daughters to the unforgiveable cold winters of Michigan to live. She now resides in Chicago. Her daughters are grown but now she shares her days with the family Golden Retriever named Charlotte.
Veronica Randolph Batterson