This is the South, NOT the Confederacy

As the government shutdown dragged on, journalists everywhere, on the left and the right, raised the level of their rhetoric in search of what they believed to be the appropriate scapegoat for their wrath. The American South, it turned out, was one of their favorites.

Enough of this.
Enough of this.

The Washington Post’s Colbert King offered a sardonic editorial in which he used the metaphor of the Confederacy to describe today’s Tea Party.  Over at, Stephen Richter of The Globalist wrote that the shutdown was a reminder that the Civil War never ended.  Richter argued that “the South is once again rebelling against modernizing shifts in American society” and makes the analogy that “Southerners and white conservatives everywhere” fear that offering healthcare to Americans is akin to “freeing the slaves.” Of course, the article would not have been complete without illustrations of the Confederate battle flag.

Well, thanks for nothing.

The quagmire in Washington, DC, cannot be explained by simply tossing it into the lap of the South since just as many states outside of this region are being represented in Congress by members of the Tea Party caucus. When Ari Berman wrote in The Nation that the GOP has a “white southern Republican problem” by noting the high numbers of southerners in the Tea Party caucus, he failed to address the reality that the shutdown would have been impossible if only GOP conservatives from the South were involved.  The fact is that this southern faction has co-conspirators across the country. (See the list.)

Not only do these comparisons perpetuate the idea of a monolithic South, it keeps alive regional divisiveness (to say nothing of continued stereotyping) as the comments section of these articles attest. It also ignores the changing demographics of the region, which over the last few decades has included a considerable migration of people from North to South.

Moral Monday protest
Moral Monday protest

More importantly, this Neo-Confederate rhetoric does nothing more than embolden Tea Party leaders and their acolytes, while at the same time it undermines the efforts of southern progressives. All the anti-South commentary illustrated with battle flags damages any inroads that are being made through grassroots efforts like those of the Moral Monday protesters here in North Carolina who are doing their damnedest to hold the GOP’s feet to the fire.

The real power struggle is not inside the Beltway, but in individual states. Conservative Republicans have gerrymandered districts to insure their power, but southern progressives in the state are not taking it lying down.

Wendy Davis, Democratic candidate for Texas Governor
Wendy Davis, Democratic candidate for Texas Governor

Sen.Ted Cruz (R-TX) may still be a Tea Party darling (and a shoe-in for Joseph McCarthy), but State Senator Wendy Davis is offering a change to politics as usual with her candidacy for governor. And in Georgia, Democrat Michelle Nunn is off to a strong start to replace Republican Saxby Chambliss in the U.S. Senate.

The point here is that progressives nationally need to support southern progressives. (Apparently, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) agrees.)  It makes no good political sense to dismiss an entire region as a “lost cause” behind the drumbeat of Civil War rhetoric.

What’s happening in Washington is not a result of the return of the Confederacy. It might make good hay to allude to the South as the “Old South” or to suggest that it lacks the diversity (and by suggestion, education) to accept “modernizing shifts,” or insinuate that all southerners are conservative.  But this kind of commentary only serves to inspire southern conservatives, while placing yet another obstacle in the path of those seeking change.

Yes, conservatives appear to have a stranglehold on the region, but throughout the South there are strong progressive voices that need to be heard. So here’s a novel idea: rather than bolstering conservatism in the South by pointing fingers to its Confederate past and discouraging progressive voters, which is what the Tea Party wants, how about shining more light on candidates and grassroots efforts and give Progressivism a fighting chance?

And, by the way, I live in the South, NOT the Confederacy.


8 thoughts on “This is the South, NOT the Confederacy

  1. I wish every mainstream media outlet read pop south. This is some of the most powerful writing to challenge anti-southern biases I’ve see in a long time. Thanks for the great work. Sharon groves, director, Religion and faith program, HRC

    • On another note, when I first moved back to NC from DC about 10 years ago, I was talking to someone from HRC about moving to Charlotte who had really not nice things to say about the South. I knew that Charlotte hosted one of the largest HRC Dinners and couldn’t believe that someone from the organization held such biased views since it went against everything that HRC stands for. Hopefully, that has changed. Please feel free to share Pop South with co-workers and media types. Spread the love!

  2. As an American who grew up in the northern part of the lower 48, and has had to endure being called “Yankee” (and most of the time this was not in a friendly, hospitable way), well, I hate to break it to Southerners but some of your more vocal (and hostile apparently) compatriots kinda make it difficult to see you as anything else.
    I have met and loved a lot of Southerners — loved those lovely manners, loved their overall decency and that charming sort of naive/innocent streak a lot of them appear have (could be the manners), loved the food, the outdoors, and the cultural scene which should get really high marks in some areas, even loved the accents — but then there’s the flip side: which seems to consist of a bunch of rude, close minded, arrogant yokels (as opposed to down home folks, who can be quite the best people ever) who do indeed seem to not only exhibit, but embrace, racism, sexism, class-ism, every sort of bad “ism” to be found (and willing to discover some more)…and getting called “damn Yankee” all the time doesn’t help much either (uhm, my folks came here after the war…wasn’t this supposed to all have been taken care of by now?). It’s even been to the point of having some drag their feet obeying a superior’s orders because they were not white (or) a woman (or) a “Yankee”..
    WTF?! Being on the receiving end of that (again, and again, and oh heck again and again) does not encourage a “Yankee” to take a more balanced view of the south (goodness knows, I try — and usually succeed, thinking “American” more than anything else…until somebody starts in with the “Yankee!!!” sometimes while sporting a Stars and Bars something, sometimes even while disrespecting our American flag in a way that would make the so called hippies blush…at which point I start getting waking fantasies of erecting a huge statue to Sherman in the middle of Atlanta, heck all over the south!…with a Union blue base and LED flashing sign that says “American, ____Yeah!” on it, just because at a certain point a person’s last nerves do get tripped).
    While I do believe Southerners are unfairly stereotyped and misunderstood, please realize that there are those in your midst that seem to help it along, even revel in it.

    • I’m going to assume that you are talking about some white southerners who have rubbed you the wrong way, which is certainly understandable. My beef in this post is with the national media, not with individuals from the North. So, just as you can say that some southerners have offended you, I am saying that some journalists in the national media (who have far greater influence that you or I) are making blanket statements about the South. Significantly, and I think you may fall into trap, when these journalists use the term “southerners” they are, without fail, generally speaking of whites. So, not only are white liberals in the region getting bad rap, black southerners are being ignored completely. They are not “Neo-Confederates.” They don’t wave the Confederate battle flag. And yet, somehow they (along with white liberals) get lumped into this category.

  3. Oh, don’t get me wrong — I tend to take what the media says with a grain of salt; they aren’t reliable when it comes to telling the truth about anything.
    No, I am talking about individual experience (and I’ve had plenty of experiences with southerners who weren’t at all “Southern” as the media defines it, and plenty who were very stereotypically white “Southern” except for the racism, who were some of the nicest people I’ve ever met) which could back up what the media says. I’m pointing to the neo-Confederates (is that what they are?) kinda helping along all the bad things the media says. And they do give the entire South a bad name; sorry if that didn’t come out…I realize what’s going on, just trying to give a Northerner’s perspective on this issue — it was really off putting because it was so random and out of the blue…and didn’t have to happen, and it can lead to a person believing what the media says. Why is it that those types get all the press? Are they just the squeakiest wheel? I realize it only takes one bad apple, especially if that bad apple is the loudest of the bunch…but I’d be lying if I said they didn’t have an effect.

    And by the way: I’m a “Yankee” who happens to come from a rural, poor background, loves hunting, fishing, pick up trucks (ok, no NASCAR, but I had lots of friends and family growing up who did), had a grandma who passed down her secrets for the best biscuits and fried chicken, went to a small beyond belief country school, did not see a “big” city (of over 20K population) until I was 9, and would not self-identify as liberal (more moderate and refuses to engage in politics actually). In short, the media would likely conflate me as Southern! So much for stereotypes (which I suppose might have added some irritation to the rubbing of the wrong way…the guy who gave me the worst of it was a well to do boy from the Atlanta suburbs who I’m pretty sure has never done his own mechanical work nor has gone squirrel hunting…I have). Also gives some insight to how I got pounced — it was really passive aggressive.

    *except the devotion to sweet iced tea 😉 Haven’t met one of you folks that hasn’t tried to push that stuff on me at some point or another — just say “no”! LOL!

    • The neo-Confederates are certainly of no help, but despite their minority (and they are a minority), they get the most press because it fits the national narrative of the South as a place that harbors this kind of thinking. The reality, of course, is that this kind of thinking (anti-government, anti-immigration, anti-gay, etc.) can be found all over the country. Thanks for sharing your views on Pop South. It’s appreciated. As you comments suggest, the South is a nuanced place and doesn’t fit squarely into any one category.

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