Alison is currently in Cuba and looking for Internet strong enough to it up her post!
It’s like the false posturing of the Chicken & Waffles shop downtown has seeped into my bones and built the goddamn hippest wall between me and my actual experience of anything. And as I take a bite of my gourmet food truck pimento cheese and fried green tomato biscuit, I am Eve biting into the apple: with this new self-awareness and over-analyzation of all things southern, there goes all the innocence I have left. There is no belongingness. It’s hard to say you are a thing and really believe it.
I am accentless.
My parents are both transplants to the area. All my friends and their parents are transplants to the area. I grew up in private schools full of doctor moms and dads from Massachusetts. The triangle itself is an island of education, wealth, and liberalism in an otherwise more traditional southern state. I had never been to a small town until I went away to the midwest for college. I didn’t grow up shooting guns, making fried chicken, wearing pearls, listening to country, being down-home, whatever, etc.
Even before hipsterism hoisted that sturdy and lovely and wild southern spirit up on the pedestal it now sits, I had already developed a sad striving to be some kind of picturesque little belle or farm girl or whatever real southern girls are. I’ve watched a lot of friends double down on their country-ness, digging pretty deep into their pockets for a history that isn’t really theirs. Our parents and grandparents didn’t give a fuck about obscure country music geniuses or pickling their own vegetables. They just did their thing.
Not to knock it. I get it. I’m a living, breathing, contributing member of the millennial generation, too. We are all starved for something that is really private and personal, yet deep-rooted and historical, and it only gets worse as our self-awareness grows. We have the burden of contextualizing everything we see, do, and love into the vast web of cultural references we (or our friends ;)) are buzzfeeding and pinteresting every day.
We get so delighted by our regional differences because it reminds us that we are organic people, people of our environment, born and raised in a real world and not a confusing ethereal stew of ideas. We pray (with every single purchase and instagram pic) that we are not a transient, cultureless generation. And so, whenever I celebrate my grits or my ‘y’alls’ too much, reaching for some badge-of-honor real southerness, I know I’m really exposing my insecurities. What do I get to claim? What is real versus what is put upon? And when does my awareness start to erode what is real and make it a parody instead?
There are too many ideas.
When I think about what I am, I try to remember what is backed up by facts.
These things indisputable: every summer is unbearably hot and humid, the crickets outside sing you to sleep. People are kind (as they are in other places, too). I grew up with fruit trees and horses. It is of utmost importance to my mom that I am a good hostess. I ordered polynesian sauce at a McDonalds once (shout out Chik-fil-a!). We picked persimmons off the ground in kindergarten and ate them during recess. I spent high school playing six cup beer pong (not 10. Shit, those games are toooo long). We camped at bluegrass festivals in the woods.
I have a little collection of experiences. They can be pieces of data but they are not reference points for anything in particular. I remind myself that I can feel good or bad about it, but everything that has happened so far is real. I don’t want to have to hold on to things too tightly or enjoy them too much. The food parodies and the twine DIY projects from the internet are real. Line dancing to Copperhead Road with a drunk redneck is real. Going to bonfires and watching Honey Boo Boo is real. And so are the times where I’m just myself, uncaring about dichotomies and social context, immersed in what is in front of me, creating little happenings that are for me or for nothing.
This Other Southerner:
Krista Anne Nordgren lives in Durham, NC and owns a little shop selling handmade goods in the heart of downtown. She also works for a startup. She loves making new things, whether they are businesses, blog posts, or silly dances.
Welcome to Broadly Speaking! We are excited to share this space that we’ve created with you and to steward it as it grows.
Here’s what we’ve outlined as Broadly Speaking’s mission/vision/raison d’etre. (Otherwise known as an “About” page). It’s permanent home is here.
If you’re wonder “What is this?” or “Why?” this should answer some of those, along with our post “Where and What is the South?”
“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.
Broadly Speaking is organized into three main sections:
“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.
“We know, in the case of the person, that whoever cannot tell himself the truth about his past is trapped in it, is immobilized in the prison of his undiscovered self. This is also true of nations… Societies never know it, but the war of an artist with his society is a lover’s war, and he does, at his best, what lovers do, which is to reveal the beloved to himself and, with that revelation, to make freedom real.”
– James Baldwin, “The Creative Process”
“The personal is political”
“Dig into a dialect of your own design”
– Madlines the Lioness
“History cannot be held privately”
– Della Pollock, Remembering
“Now, anyone who has ever been compelled to think about it—anyone, for example, who has ever been in love—knows that the one face that one can never see is one’s own face. One’s lover—or one’s brother, or one’s enemy—sees the face you wear, and this face can elicit the most extraordinary reactions….the truth about us is always at variance with what we wish to be. The human effort is to bring these two realities into a relationship resembling reconciliation.”
– James Baldwin, “The Creative Process”
As Virginia and I discussed beginning “Broadly Speaking”, we began to wonder what might come out of doing oral histories with each other. We originally imagined it as a way to introduce ourselves to you, our readers. We also saw it as an opportunity to be reflexive. Oral history and ethnography are central to both of our professional and creative practices, but we are usually the interviewers. We felt it was important to understand that process from the interviewee perspective.
Participating in this process was incredible. It was unique because the two of us are very close friends and have been a part of each others lives for almost half of the time we have been alive. We have been essential to each other in our process of growing up and into ourselves. Interviewing and being interviewed by a close friend allowed our conversations to be open. The process also challenged us as interviewers and revealed new things about our relationship and ourselves. It heightened our sense of the distinction about what’s important to record. What conversations need to be captured? We were re-membering together – retelling stories that we both lived – but we were also learning new things about each other. Elements that shaped the other before we knew them, as well as things that we hadn’t known were happening, even though we were a part of each other’s lives at the time. What came out in the combined 4 hours of interviewing is a mosaic of the highly personal, the very analytic, the deeply insightful, and bouts of explosive laughter.
The process of re-listening to our own interviews and writing reflections was intense. Rarely do we have the opportunity to listen closely to ourselves. We had to relive and come to terms with not just our stories, but also the ways we tell those stories. And what that tells us about ourselves. We had a rare opportunity to see and listen to the “face” that we don’t often have to look at. In the process of attempting to answer our two straightforward questions – “What is important for readers to know about us?” and “What is it like to be interviewed?” – we had to dig into our personal nuances, complexities and shadows.
We decided to publish these in two parts, one reflecting on the experience of being interviewed and reflecting on short segments of our oral history interviews.
Thank you for remembering with us.
“The Doors I Carry With Me: Part 1 – Being Interviewed” by Virginia
“The Doors I Carry With Me: Part 2” by Virginia (coming soon!)
“Dig Deep, Stand Firm: Part 1 – Being Interviewed” by Alison
“Dig Deep, Stand Firm: Part 2 ” by Alison