A few years ago my then elementary-school aged niece was learning about the South in class and mentioned that it was “the place where they used to have slaves.” I thought it odd that this was the only thing that she was being taught about the South but, then again, it was probably the only thing I had been taught about the South too, and probably the reason why I – a Yankee – used to be so afraid to travel through the South all alone.
I’ve visited a lot since then and have now lived part time in two Southern states. When I read the words of photographer Chris Arnade, it reminded me so much of my own initial reaction to what I was seeing here:
After my morning in South Memphis, of seeing the New South nobody wants you to see, the New South very much like the Old South…
His reaction to seeing poor folks, abject poverty and dudes hanging out in parking lots of liquor stores…it’s hardly unique to the South. But it probably was contrary to what he believed he might encounter. Stereotypical inner city scenes, after all, do look especially jarring when juxtaposed against a more rural setting.
Still, I remain a tourist and fascinated by everything little thing I see. Dudes in parking lots, people on porches and even the banality of “the same soybean field or low-slung cinder-block building we’d seemingly passed twenty minutes earlier” that David Sedaris mentions here. Things I used to take pictures of and still do, despite being shamed by a former editor at The Oxford American. “Oh, another picture of a rusted truck in an overgrown field. How quaint.”
(No, I’m still not over that!)
One of the first things I saw on my Facebook timeline this morning was Toure riffing about Southern Tea Partiers in the house and American trend lines moving against the South – rural, religious, conservative.
Yes that South exists. It’s partly why my friend Debbie ran screaming from Mississippi, is hesitant to return, and still can’t write about her experiences growing up there. But there’s also another layer interspersed and coexisting: new creatives, entrepreneurs, and makers – designing in Waverly, returning to Florence, reviving Opelika and Water Valley, building in Newbern, making music in Jackson.
And North Carolina.