What is Southern culture?

Posted on Dec 6 2013 - 8:47am by Carl Case

Lately I’ve noticed many people talking about Southern tradition and culture. This conversation greatly piqued my interest because of my linguistics minor and studies of culture from those classes. What is Southern culture? What does the word “tradition” mean? Is Southern culture just comprised of fried foods, sweet tea and bow ties? I’m sure many people would probably tend to agree to this. Let’s expand this conversation further. An unpopular opinion, one many people fail to consider, is that these things will vary from person to person.

Wow! Shocking, isn’t it?

Anyone who has studied culture knows that it is not made up of one idea or thing. Instead, it is a multitude of things — from food, to language, to religious practices and so on, and so forth. You are absolutely wrong to condemn someone’s idea of what their culture means to them.

Since culture is comprised of so many diverse elements, we cannot simply say that culture is one thing or another. Southern culture will differ from a Mississippian to a South Carolinian. Everyone will have an opinion on what does or does not exemplify the South based on how they categorize things. As part of the move of this university into a more modern existence, administrators are trying to rid the university of ties to tradition and things that may not sit well with different groups of people. Why is tradition so important? Do we hold onto a tradition that has ties to the past, even if they may be the wrong ones? I say the answer is no. To me, and probably to several others, holding onto tradition has a type of close-minded connotation. People who are unwilling to let go of the past are not able to move forward with adequate pace.

As far as the word Southern goes, what is this exactly? It has connotations, too, but it actually just refers to the region in which we live. A Southern gentleman is no different from a gentleman from the North. I know we all like to think about how different we are from others, especially Southerners, but we’re actually very much like others (mainly Americans). The Southern discourse is an interesting topic that I don’t really believe can be covered in one opinion article. Many people wish to project being Southern as being this preppy (a word that I absolutely abhor), aristocratic society of people with an educated Southern drawl drinking mint juleps and sweet tea from their Victorian-style home. This stereotype is based on nothing but opinion and should be stopped.

To outsiders, being Southern really doesn’t mean much besides being born and raised in the South. However, to Southerners, this varies from person to person and from state to state. Culture is such an inclusive word and can be used to cover a broad topic. My main point is this: Culture is akin to an opinion in that it’s neither right nor wrong. It is a subjective experience.

Carl Case is a senior psychology and Spanish double major from Brookhaven.