Oh, The Shame of Being Southern...

A buddy of mine recommended this site to me last night over a few beers. We started discussing shame as a motivator in the Southerners: shame over not being northern, shame over losing the Civil War, shame over being the butt of jokes, shame over being perceived as dumb because of our beautiful drawls, etc. Shame over being no more than one generation from barefoot, toothless relatives living in trailers.

We live out this shame in different ways: some determine to be cultured, needing to be perceived as more than just some hick from the South. Others use their Southern-ness as a weapon, deliberately allowing others to underestimate their intelligence. Still others hide their shame with consumption, hoping that the “right” designer goods will hide that drawl and the fact that Daddy grew up eating possum stew.


HeHe try being a southern Jew.

I dunno. About the only thing I could think of for (some) Southerners to be ashamed of would be embracing stereotypes.

I, personally, don’t know any uneducated, ill-clad Southerners, so I may be prejudiced against all those good images by a lack of reinforcement.

I dunno, mrsbunnie, this doesn’t really ring true for most people I know. I love the South and I would consider myself a proud Southerner. Sure, the South has a legacy of seriously messed-up race relations to deal with, but does that make me ashamed? No. It makes me determined help overcome that legacy. Do I feel shame over losing the Civil War? Hell, it happened over a hundred years ago and I don’t think the secessionists were in the right, so no. Do I feel shame over not being a Northerner? Hey, the North is fine for them as likes it, but I’d rather chew off my own arm than live in New York City.

What does bother me is the stereotype that all Southerners are dumb, slack-jawed yokels. However, this stereotpye doesn’t make me ashamed of the South. I think those who promulgate it display a profound ignorance of American history. Thomas Jefferson was a Southerner, Martin Luther King Jr. was a Southerner, and the list goes on.

I do consider myself cultured, but being Southern and cultured are in no way mutually exclusive. I don’t hide my accent or my background, but that’s not an attempt to flaunt my Southern-ness, it’s just who I am.

I think this has the making of a fascinating thread and I’ll be interested to read other answers.

I’ve never been ashamed to be Southern. I’ve sometimes felt anger over stereotypes of Southerners, but I’ve never been ashamed because of them.

As for “being no more than one generation from barefoot, toothless relatives living in trailers”, this isn’t limited to the South. I know plenty of people from the Mid- and Northwest who this is true of. As for me, none of my people ever lived in trailers, although I am just one generation off the farm.

I am 100% Southern (Louisiana) and I love the South. I live in Massachusetts now but I will always be a proud Southerner. Now is not the time for any Southerner to be ashamed of Southern heritage. While the South has been historically rather poor, economic growth is higher than the national average for many Southern states as the United States moves away from an urban manufacturing based economy to an economy based on information and services. The South is capitalizing on that transition quite well.

Also, the weather is warm most of the year (I can’t tell you how important that is to me right now) and people may laugh at the accent but we all know that it is really charming and attractive if carried well.

Racial equality is still somewhat of an issue (as it is everywhere else in the country) but I certainly don’t think that it is getting any worse and those wounds will take time to heal.

In short, I don’t have any idea what you are talking about.

Personally, I think “Southern shame” is much more psychological than real. Some Southerners take their identity to the next level, believing that they deserve special “oppressed” minority status since they live in a world full of “Yankees”. IMHO, that’s foolish.


I was born and raised in Atlanta, GA (now living in the northeast) and I have never felt ashamed for being un-northern. Perhaps if I came from a rural background I would, but then again “countriness” isn’t something that’s specific to the South. You can be country and be from upstate New York.

Some folks may be self-conscious about their Southern accents. Sometimes I blush when someone points out that I’ve pronounced “hill” like “heeeeel” or when I’ve said ya’ll when a “you” would have sufficed. But then again, I’ve pointed out people’s harsh Brooklyn accents before, and perhaps they feel shame as well. So, I doubt that being worried about one’s regional tongue is something characteristic of Southerners.

And anyone who feels shame over losing the civil war IS shameful and we shouldn’t shed any tears over them.

About the barefoot/trailor thing, that’s a stereotype that doesn’t apply to many Southerners and to say so just perpetuates misconceptions about the people we’re talking about.

I think Southerners who are gung-ho about their Southerness (like those who hold up Gone With the Wind as a text second only to the Bible and believe the rebel flag is just as sacred) invite more derision than those who are take their background less seriously. If you are ashamed of who you are and where you’ve come from, that’s your problem, not anyone else’s.

Never seen any evidence of this.
I think you’re just fine. And the food is good.

And stereotypes run both ways. Peace.

I have to say this. I was very impressed by the fact that when I was traveling through the South, I was not ass-raped by anyone like in Deliverence.

That’s great that Southerns also feel a need to come over and talk to me when I’m in a diner by myself. Unless you are a hot chick, that kind of behavior can get you punched in New York. HEY!! I’m eatin’ here!
I guess you can blame the media for the Southern stereotype of either backwood inbred hillbilly racist or eccentric mint-julip sipping aristocrat.

burundi (and others)-

I know a lot of people who take pride in being Southerners as well, but don’t they sometimes seem just a little too prideful about it? As if maybe the pride is a mask for insecurity?

Let’s face it, the South has some serious image problems, from its heritage of racial strife to its educational failings, to its teen pregnancy rates, to the stereotypes of Southerners in the media.

Could it be that rebel-flag-in-your-face southernism is a mark of some cultural self-doubt?

I freely admit that I sort of have a chip on my shoulder about being Southern. (I try to fight that impulse, but I know it comes through on these boards sometimes.) And I think that the chip-on-the-shoulder is a product of insecurity, or “shame” as the OP puts it.

And it’s not just an individual phenomenon either. I think the boosterism that has always been a part of the personality of the City of Atlanta is a product of cultural insecurity. Atlanta loudly touts every achievement as if to say: “See? We’re as cultured and as important as other cities!”

This is a less pronounced phenomenon today, but it was very evident in the past.

Interesting topic.

(Welcome to the boards, mrsbunnie2you!)

Ah, you people from the real South have it easy. Try growing up in West Virginia, which is neither fish nor fowl. The stereotype of the dumb, moonshinin’, cousin marryin’, barefoot goin’, tobacco chawin’, feud fightin’, trailer livin’ hillbilly is one that we get from both the North and South.

An anecdote: I was 13 or 14 (early 1970s), and going on a BSA trip with about 10 other guys. We stopped in Charlotte NC for the night. Our scout master was checking us in, which included filling out the vehicle information (state, license plate, description). When the desk clerk saw that we were from WV he leaned over the desk and looked at our feet. This was in North Carolina! I’m sure that this clerk would have been outraged if some Damn Yankee had asked him if he wore shoes, but he had no problem treating us the same way.

Does this attitude drive some people to play down their WV roots? Yep. Does it drive others to try harder so as to disprove the stereotypes? Yep. And do some people take pleasure in living out some version of the stereotype, in reaction to the first two groups. Yep again.

im from the west, so all i can add is that on several business trips to tennessee and s. carolina i found most southerners to be pretty proud to be southern. also, i was fairly appalled at the racist attitude that passes as normal, everyday happening. i had never quite understood the flap that was made over the “race issue” having grown up in the west. sure, it exists, but not like in the south, where it is on display openly for the world to see. i was pretty shocked. i found the majority of the southern folks very nice and not at all racist, but i fail to understand how they could tolerate the minority of racists to exist in this day and age, tainting the image of the southern states to this day.

they should be ashamed of some of that fried food and sweet tea.

You don’t want to understand women. Women understand women, and they hate each other.

Why would we be ashamed of not being Yankees? They’re the ones that keep moving down near us. Anyway, it’s obvious that you’re not a real southerner anyway, probably some kind of yankee-wannabe, as you did not refer to it by either of the possibly correct names - it’s either The War Between the States or The War of Northern Aggression, not this ‘Civil War’.

On a more serious note, gatopescado, I found much more outright racism during the short time I lived in Yankee Central (NYC) - for example, my apartment complex manager told me out of the blue ‘well, down there you got things under control. you got the KKK to keep the n*ggers in their place’, and I recieved similar comments from a number of people up there (and this was just casual day-to-day stuff, it wasn’t like I was hanging around any odball organizations). There also seemed to be a lot more fine-grained racism (Italian-Irish-Jewish-Hispanic-German type distinctions), though not to the same degree. Since I heard ‘the n word’ a lot more in casual conversations up in NYC (generally from people who thought I’d be a receptive audience) than in NC, I have to wonder if the alleged yankee racial tolerance is real, or if it just stays hidden unless they think you’ll agree with them.

I dunno. I live in a town of about 100 people located 25 miles outside Raleigh NC (pop. 300,000). We moved here from an allegedly progressive Northern city of 27,000.

I hear the occasional prejudicial or closed-minded comment. I see news reports that indicate that all is not well in Dixie yet.

But by and large both small town and large city South folks are much more open, accepting of differences, and welcoming than my self-styled “progressive” hometown’s people ever thought of being.

Gatopescado, the West is hardly immune from racism. You have heard of California’s skinhead movement, I presume?

Speaking of which, the only recent hate crime of note in Atlanta was the beating of two black men in Little 5 Points by a trio of California skinheads. (Can’t y’all please keep your trash at home?)

I won’t even get into California’s history with Chinese and Mexican immigrants.

But there’s that chip on my shoulder again…

Anyway, I think folks are missing the point of the OP. Sure people are “proud” to be Southern, but don’t you sense an element of defensiveness in that exaggerated pride?

Yes, I do. I think Southern pride is reactionary in that it wouldn’t exist if the Confederacy had won the Civil War and there were no longer any “Yankees” to make fun of.

I’m Southern and I’m not ashamed of it, but I’m not particularly proud either. My identity isn’t built around my Southerness. I wasn’t raised to think of myself as a Southern belle. I was taught to hate the rebel flag and to be wary of those who loved it. I like fried chicken and iced tea, but I also like pizza and frapuccinos. I have no special love for the Black Crows or Outkast just because they’re Southern, though I like that their musical styles reflect regional nuances. To me, being from the South is no more special than being from the Midwest or the west coast. I don’t think I would have turned out any different if I had been born in Chicago or New York.

In regards to southern vs. northern racism, I’d rather take the former. Folks up North tend to get this holier-than-thou attitude as they vilify the evil Southerners for their racism. Please. The North is just as ugly–if not worse–than the South. It just looks different.

Agreed, it isn’t much different growing up in kentucky. I remember when I first moved to Ohio and was signing up for school. The lady said, “well where’s your accent?” then led into a whole conversation of what’s the point of being from the south if you don’t got an accent. Kentucky’s hardly southern IMO, the majority of us faught for the north anyway. I got well worth my share of redneck jokes and the reply “shutup and go listen to some bluegrass” all the time. None-the-less I love KY and am glad I lived their, no shame.

I remember seeing a stand-up routine by Steve Landesburg on this subject a few years ago. He attempted a southern accent and asked “Y’all goin’ to temple, or what?”

Actually, I think mrsbunny is confusing “being southern” with “descending from white trash”. My ancestors were southern, and more on the poor side than the wealthy, but they were far from being trash.

I grew up in the north, but my ancestry is pure southern. As an adult, I moved to Texas. I’ve had to deal with northern snobbery of my ancestry when younger years, and southern prejudice towards my northern upbringing later.

I have found myself defending both regions, since there are positive aspects of both. For example, cars are MUCH cheaper here in Houston because they apparently don’t come with turn signals, and Ohio is a fantastic place to be from.

North Virgina actually. The house I did most of my growing up in was 18 miles or so from the White House. The area was typical suburban America.

I was born and raised too far south to be accepted by Yankees and too far north to be accepted as a real southerner. 

But, the worst part is having no accent. I lived south of the Mason-Dixon line until I was 16. I want my southern accent! Why, I say, why suh kin I not speak with a fiiine southan accent?

I was a southern Jew ;j . There were so few Jews in the area that my circumcision made front page in some local papers. The Rabbi had brought along medical diagrams to explain to all the curious onlookers(Any body can attend the ceremony. It’s considered a good deed to attend a stranger’s Bris). He explained what he was going to do, and most of the crowd raced for the doors.

  Naturally my parents tell this story and display the clippings(from the newspaper! Gitcher mind outta the gutter!) to all my friends and any girl I was dating.

I’m definitely not confusing “being southern” with “descending from white trash”, nor did I use that terminology in my original query.

My father was from Little Rock, Arkansas, my mother from outside Charleston, SC. I was born in Atlanta. And my problem has more to do with the portrayal of Southerners in popular culture. The stereotype doesn’t make me personally feel ashamed, however, I abhor that it exists.

And I definitely agree that militant Southernism could actually be a cloak for insecurity.