As many of our mothers or grandmothers might say, “Well!” No, make that “Wa-ul!!”
Before any of us go to thinking that Thompson should shut his mouth, let’s hear him out and see what it is about us that’s making him foam at the mouth.
Well! Wouldn’t you know it? One thing is our racism. So South Carolina and Louisiana don’t currently have Indian-American governors, Mississippi State University didn’t have the first black head football coach in the Southeastern Conference, Florida doesn’t have a black rising-star GOP congressman, Virginia never had a black governor, Middle Tennessee State University doesn’t have a black president who was preceded by a black president, and Georgia never had a black state attorney-general, a black state labor commissioner, or a beloved black Presidential candidate. We don’t need to go on with this.
Something else Thompson doesn’t like is our obesity. Uh, folks, he’s got us there. Have you been to the mall lately? Or to a state fair? I know you’ve been to the Post Office. Church? Gatlinburg? I’m not trying to be ugly. We all know that fat is not funny; it’s deadly. Southern states do have more obese people than any other region in the country. I’m going to give Thompson this one.
Before pin-pointing some more of Thompson’s criticisms, let me assure you that he is a well-established writer. He is the former editor of Travelocity magazine and former editorial director of CNN-GO.com. (Did he ever live in Atlanta???) Thompson is also dead serious. Like the old curmudgeon South-hater and Baltimore editor, H.L. Mencken — the first to call us backwater — Thompson considers the South a cultural swamp.
May I humbly inject that opera singer Leontyne Price apparently doesn’t matter? Neither do Georgia’s Johnny Mercer, or Van Cliburn, Flannery O’Conner, Eugenia Price, Pete Fountain, or Harper Lee. We don’t need to go on with naming all of our cultural icons either, except to say that a good hand full of presidents have come from the South.
I think I know the source of some of Thompson’s prejudice. In writing his book, Thompson relied heavily on “The Mind of the South” by W.J. Cash. Like Mencken, Cash was no lover of the South. His 1941 work was an indictment of all things Southern. As a high school student I could tell that Cash wasn’t even pretending to write an objective description of the South.
Of course if you write about the South, particularly if you’re criticizing it, you must mention religion. Thompson doesn’t like our supposed “biblical literalism.” He characterizes the South as being drenched in the Bible, to which some of us would say, “Would that it were so.” Neither does Thompson favor studying the Bible as literature in public schools.
Southern obsession with football is another Thompson target. Let’s see. We do love our week-end warriors, “the boys of autumn,” Saturday gladiators, or whatever you choose to call them. And those college stadiums do seem to reach almost to Heaven. And we do flock to them like worshippers. I’m afraid to say anything else about this topic since I don’t like to offend anybody’s religion.
For his first-hand sources, Thompson traveled south and interviewed a “birther,” a rural gift shop owner and a few farmers. Sounds like honorable sources to me, but why not Atlanta, Nashville — the Athens of the South — or bohemian Asheville? Here is Thompson’s problem: He thinks the South is still monolithic, still one geographical and cultural entity. If only he knew of the delightful differences between Savannah, Natchez, New Orleans, Oxford, and a thousand green pastures along Interstate 20 that spans the South.
For my part I no longer find myself pitting one section of the country against the other except in fun. I have a sister who lives in Indiana and loves it; two nieces in Pennsylvania who still talk funny.
Besides, America is no longer divided by region. What divides us today is political philosophy. Snow continues to drive Northerners south, but so does economic opportunity. Generational change continues to shed the South of her racial past.
So why Thompson’s claim that we are so culturally detached that we should be a separate nation? I say that he just doesn’t know us and that what he really needs is a good Southern friend and a glass of cold sweet tea.
Roger Hines of Kennesaw is a retired high school teacher and former state legislator.