Thursday, September 17, 2009

Regionalism

In light of the (somewhat reductionist, mostly exaggerated) stereotypes of different United States' regions evidenced in the comments section of my post a few days ago, I thought I might remark briefly on this rather unfortunate phenomenon. (Please click on the image to the right to see what I mean.) "Regionalism" expresses itself both positively and negatively, of course, as "Southern" can mean "gentile, polite, and endearingly eccentric" in one context, and "backward, racist, and violently ignorant" in another. Characters, dialects, customs and beliefs that we believe to be endemic to certain areas, however, are rarely as uniform in those places as we credit them with being. Surely, anyone who's ever lived anywhere knows this.

I wish we questioned our reflexive (and non-reflective) regionalist characterizations more often. Liberally-minded people seem otherwise willing to accept that the popular stories we tell about broad swaths of the human population-- inasmuch as those "groups" are identified by race, class, gender, sexuality, ability, or creed-- are woefully inadequate descriptions, if not outright misrepresentations. And yet, alas, regionalist stories somehow escape critical attention.

To that end, let me just say for the record... again... that "the South" is a complex and complicated place. None of that complexity, and none of those complications, are accurately reflected in popular, negative, regionalist accounts of the South. In fact, I would vernture to say that it is precisely those accounts (part history, part just plain "story") that occlude any kind of productive reflection about the complexities that the South makes appear as complex in the first place.

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