You know, if there’s one thing people have, it’s definitely the audacity.
I’ve lived in Alabama my whole life. Born in Montgomery, Alabama on October 11, 2000, I have seen the state and the city at its worst and its best.
Unlike many in the South, I’m someone who has had the opportunity to travel the country and a little bit of the world. My family is spread out from Alabama to Georgia, and from Florida to the DMV. When I was a child, I went on two Disney cruises, and as I got older, I had the opportunity to travel to Philadelphia, Chicago, and the Blue Ridge Mountains through YMCA Youth and government programs.
While each of these experiences are cherished, there is one theme that remained the same through all of them.
People have a preconceived notion when it comes to the South.
I know that this is not a groundbreaking statement. The South always takes the brunt of “jokes” and criticism. Whether it be sibling incest jokes or faking a Southern accent while stating a false statistic, we are an easy punchline no matter the venue.
We have a stereotype for being dumb, for being foolhardy and for being the nation’s embarrassment. As a native Southerner, it can be more than frustrating to be from the South. It feels like I’m trying to climb out of a hole on one side while someone keeps digging it on the other. Even though I have a firsthand view of the good, it can be disheartening when the assumptions are proven true. It can be frustrating to defend a region that seems to be committed to proving the worst assumptions correct.
However, whenever I feel like this, I always try to remember that:
Some of America’s most notable historical figures come from the South.
Whether it be civil rights heroes like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. or Rosa Parks (Happy Black History Month!), or former U.S. presidents like Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, the South is no stranger to producing people who have changed this country’s history.
Even though it may be hard to imagine history being made in the present, it cannot be understated that this trend has continued into our lifetime. From the birth of the Black Lives Matter movement to the massive voting rights movement in Georgia, Southern organizers are committed to pushing the country towards better days.
The South is not a lost cause. It is suppressed. The trend from the post-Civil War of stifling those who live within this region has carried on into current times. In terms of resources, funding, and positive reinforcement, our home has been heavily stifled. Constantly under scrutiny, we are under the pressure to perform perfectly in incessant extenuating circumstances.
That being said, I don’t know who needs to hear this but…
The superiority complex epidemic throughout the United States is largely unfounded.
Like I said before, people have a preconceived notion when it comes to the South. In their minds, Southerners are equated to walking ignorance and our statement Southern accent immediately deducts IQ points. Not only are these assertions false, but they lack any kind of analytical thinking.
How are we supposed to compare in test scores when our schools lack funding? How do we retain college-aged students when those in charge lack the foresight to push us to stay? How much progress can be made when we’re running a race with weights in our shoes?
Furthermore, I would argue that the South is not necessarily that much worse than the rest of the country. Maybe we’re just worse at hiding it. After all, how many gentrified neighborhoods have pride flags in their yards? How many mom-and-pop shops have been displaced from their communities for a new and trendy hipster coffee shop? And, if we want to take it a step further, how many minority opinions are being spoken over and disregarded in the boardroom after they were recruited by companies in the name of an “increased emphasis on DEI.”
You don’t deserve to see yourself as above another just because your faults are not as visible. The effect of the damage is still just as devastating.
While I have spent most of this article analyzing how the South deserves more respect, I do not want anyone to mistake that…
Southerners should not have to be “outstanding” to matter.
While there are plenty of people and movements attributed to the South, it cannot be overstated that just existing as a Southerner is enough. You do not need to change the course of history to be important. You do not need to speak without an accent to be appreciated. You deserve to exist.
The notion that someone born into a less-than-ideal situation can only be recognized as worthy if they break out of it is one that needs to be destroyed. The finish line should not change depending on the region it is placed into. Southern states have a completely different race to run than their northern counterparts, one with winding roads and never-ending hurdles.
It cannot be overstated how existing in the face of oppression should be recognized within its own right. Nothing else is needed.
If you only take one thing from this entire article, I want it to be this…
It’s time to flip the script. The South is not an embarrassment; it’s a testament to resilience and innovation.