“I am from the South.”
Neither of us have introduced ourselves in this way without feeling a certain level of self-consciousness, pride, and anxiety. For fear of being misunderstood, we know we need to be ready for a conversation. Claiming to be southern is a loaded thing to do.
Thus, we are constantly thinking about the boundaries and implications of our Southern identities.
The South is juicy. And the thing is, regardless of geographic location, we’ve all been nourished by the sticky, cloying, sweet, tart, bitter juice from southern fruits—whether or not we know how to recognize the taste.
The South is a place both ignored and over-performed. A region strictly defined and constantly reduced. It is one of the most diverse geographic regions in the United States with boundaries that are hotly contested. It is characterized as a place where everyone is “racist”, “backward”, “bigoted” and known as a hotbed of social action and cultural production. It is loved, stolen from, feared, and remembered conditionally. And the harvest and pillage of the South has set the stage for the U.S. to be an economic and political global super power.
Because of this, it is a place – imagined and geographic – worth our deep consideration. As two broads who are thinkers, creators and lovers, interested in developing, using, and documenting our voices we want to explore the stuff that is (one of) our homeland(s). We are dedicated to social justice and the critical analyses of race, gender, class, sexuality and identity and we see the process of “worrying”* southern boundaries as important. Rather than searching for “southern authenticity,” we are interested in blurring and smudging and the borders of “the South.” Like blending the colors of sidewalk chalk by rubbing our hands over rough concrete. Or perhaps like stepping on the edge of an inflatable kiddie pool, letting the water spill out.
“The South” holds many different definitions. A Google search returns the following from Wikipedia, “The Southern United States—commonly referred to as the American South, Dixie, or simply the South—is a region of the United States of America. The South does not match the geographic south, but is predominantly located in the southeastern corner; Arizona, which is geographically in the southern part of the country, is rarely considered part of the Southern United States, while West Virginia commonly is.”
There is a reason that our understanding of “the South” is not purely geographic.
For us, the South is a place that is inherently moving and shifting. There are geographic borders, but it is also an idea of a place that lives both within and beyond those borders. The boundaries are always contingent and contested. It depends on who you ask and it depends on how you are using the definition.
First and foremost, it is a land first stewarded by the indigenous peoples of North America. Throughout the 16th and 17th centuries, European powers began the process of colonization. They stole and controlled the land by using violence, forced enslavement, and genocide of the native people. As a region rich with natural resources, the South was a fertile and profitable place to colonize. Southern society was built upon economic scaffolding that supported the continued control and extraction of resources. As Paul Gilroy said, chattel slavery is “capitalism with its clothes off.” These social and cultural power relations within its borders were an integral part of the growth and maintenance of the South as a global powerhouse beyond its borders.
The South continues to shift and change, while firmly rooted and tied to the history that it springs from. It continues to be filled with hope, pain, contradiction, and complexity. Growing diversity functions within histories of institutionalized racism. Entrepreneurship and and social ventures are launched from within tobacco warehouses. The concept of the “New South” is one that interests and concerns us as it seems to depict new development as a departure from the “Old South” instead of investigating the how the South’s history is intertwined in its current projects.
We see the South as anything but singular. It is layered, contested, and contradictory. But it is also specific. “Broadly Speaking” is an attempt to stand firmly on this anything-but-firm territory.
So, basically, when we say, “the South,” that’s what we’re talking about.
Alison is a southerner with tropical roots. Alison is a southerner with no roots in the South, except the baby ones planted by her transplant parents. And the ones that sprout from her toes into red North Carolina clay. She is the offspring of transplants from Jamaica, Cuba, and Ohio. She is Diane and David’s daughter. She is firmly situated between and betwixt. Born in a bordertown in Texas and raised in North Carolina by her Jamaican-Cuban, Queens, NYC-raised mother and all that comes with being the youngest of 3 light-to-white appearing children with a brown mother and white father. She is a dancer, educator, and a movement-builder. Shades, lines, borders and maps occupy her mind. She currently lives in New York City and has concurrent fantasy lives in New Orleans and Bahia, Brazil. Her favorite word is “juicy.”
You can learn more about her at http://www.alisonkibbe.com
Virginia was born and raised in Chatham County, North Cackalack. Her southern roots go back to some of the first Carolina Scots in North Carolina and English settlers in Virginia. In other words, she is as anglo-saxon as they come. She grew up with parents whose parents spoke with the sweetest southern drawls you’ve ever heard and snappy tide-water sayings straight out of the Chesapeake Bay. She watched the highway in front of her house expand from two lanes that she and her dad used to cross to get the mail every morning, to four lanes with a median. She watched Gordon’s country store with glass coke bottle-lined walls turn into a Walmart. Her southern accent has faded after moving to Rhode Island, but is quick to return when she gets mad or after a beer or two…or both. Feminist spaces grown out of southern soil, southern performances outside of the South, and southern foodways are usually on her mind (she is a vegetarian with exceptions made for real NC BBQ—eastern preferred.) She can’t get enough of “Thelma and Louise” and is currently pursuing her PhD in American Studies at Brown University.