You’ll recall that I pointed readers to the following comment made in an ongoing effort by someone to define southern heritage:
… secession, the creation of the Confederacy, the South’s struggle for independence, the shabby treatment of the South by the “victors” for several generations after the war — these are unique, integral, defining components of our region and the cultural inheritance handed down to each generation of Southerners. These elements are MORE defining of the South than as slavery and racial issues.
This is simply misinformed, but it’s also problematic, in large part because it excludes much that I would think one would want to include in an understanding of a region whose “heritage” one claims one wants to defend.
First, it clearly overlooks the South prior to 1860. No Washington, no Jefferson, no John Marshall, no Andrew Jackson, no John C. Calhoun, no Nat Turner, no Frederick Douglass, and on and on and on. This point’s been made before. No Native Americans driven westward by the Trail of Tears. Nothing about the rich mix of cultures in places such as New Orleans and (to a lesser extent) Florida. Southern history doesn’t begin in 1860, and a full understanding of southern heritage claims these folks (as well as their predecessors … Nathaniel Bacon, anyone? Where’s Patrick Henry and George Mason?).
Second, the very wording precludes just about all African Americans living in the South. This has been pointed out before. Perhaps for some people the best way to remove race and slavery from southern heritage is to remove African Americans altogether, as if out of (one’s) sight means out of (one’s) mind. Enough said.
Third, it excludes those whites who did not support the Confederacy. This has also been pointed out before. They are as much real southerners as the ones who supported the boys in gray.
And fourth, it sets aside a good deal of the southern experience since the 1870s as important in defining the South. William Faulkner, anyone?
Indeed, it even excludes areas that the Confederacy claimed, including New Mexico and Arizona.
One could indeed define southern heritage as shaped in part by a continual struggle against oppression by a society supported by state power … but that really describes African Americans in the South far more than it does white southerners.
The fact is that for many advocates of southern “heritage” the concept is little more than an experience at a buffet. You take what you want and what you like to feed an appetite shaped by present-day political, social, and cultural beliefs. It’s little more than a warped version of the past fashioned into usable shape to serve one’s own political correctness, so to speak.
In short, as some people have actually admitted, southern “heritage” has very little to do with history. It does not rest upon an understanding of the past. It is a distorted rendering of that past to serve present interests, and it should be understood as such. Apparently to some one need not have been born in the South or claim southern ancestry to proclaim an interest in celebrating southern heritage. That reduces southern heritage to St. Patrick’s Day.
Perhaps this is why the whole concept is in such deep trouble in the first place, and it helps explain the desperate shrillness of its advocates. The South will rise again … but only as part of the United States.