Where are you from? That’s something I’ve been asked a lot since starting work at The Democrat.
The truth is that I’m not really from anywhere. Growing up, my family moved all over the Southeast – Georgia three times, South Carolina, Arkansas, Alabama, Tennessee, not to mention Louisiana and Mississippi, long before I came along.
I’m more Southern than I am a Tennessean or an Alabamian, and for a long time I didn’t quite know whether to reject or embrace that identity.
For many Southerners, the status of one’s identity can be a complicated issue. With that identity comes the sins of history – the genocide and expulsion of native populations, slavery, the defeat of the American Civil War, the battles for equality and conformity in the streets and the looming stereotypes of backwards thinking and religious zealously.
Through all of these issues, contemporary Southerners – regardless of race or political affiliation – have made the South not just somewhere where people say “please,” “thank you” and “y’all,” and where we fry everything under the sun, but a place that pushes the boundaries of regional identity and importance.
You can look as close as Nashville or farther away to cities like Birmingham, Alabama or Atlanta – cities that have changed dramatically in the last decade, flourishing by their willingness to lead the region in the 21st century.
This does not mean that progress is limited to the cities of the South, nor does it mean that we as a people have triumphed over or forgotten about the issues of the past. I think we’re all pretty aware many of our contemporary national issues not only were around for a while, but also they have a special significance to what it means to be Southern.
At the end of the day, I guess I’ll never be from anywhere in particular, but as I age I am less ambivalent about my status as a Southerner and more curious about what all that actually means and how I can make meaning out of the humidity, the battlefields, the pines, the magnolias, the one-light towns and the people who reflect the past and forge the future.