A Polite Southern Response to the Stupidest Article Ever

“Civility is also waning at that most civil of events, the Southern wedding. How comfortable a bride made guests feel was once the mark of a successful event. Now, weddings are more selfish affairs, said Barbara S. Clark, the owner of An Elegant Affair in Raleigh, N.C., and a graduate of the Emily Post Institute.

‘It’s more about the bride and groom and what are we going to get out of it,’ she said.”

Selfish sluts! Imagine wanting to enjoy your wedding day. Lord, have mercy!

So, hey, I know you’re dying to see some of this new, uncivilized South for yourself. Fear not! We (ie. the whole country) are going to have front row seats to the freak show come Fall 2012.

“The country will have a chance to see Southern civility on display next September, when Charlotte, N.C., hosts the Democratic National Convention.

Life in Charlotte is not as pleasant as it once was. Like many other American cities, it has its share of road rage and rudeness. And although crime rates have dropped, in May the city called out its Civil Emergency Unit and arrested 70 people who rioted two hours after the end of a Nascar event.

But in the best of Southern tradition, the city will try to lead with its manners come September.

‘It’ll be all sweet tea and hush puppies,’ says Michaele Ballard, a writer and lifelong Southerner.”

I’ve given you a lot to take in here. A veritable buffet of Southernness and, as all Southerners know, that shit’s rich. As a good southern hostess, it’s customary to give your guests a moment or two between courses to digest, so let’s take a step back and spend a few moments here reflecting.

We are now in the 32nd paragraph of THE STUPIDEST ARTICLE EVER, which has been published in The New York Times. Thus far, it has peddled a version of the South wherein the region’s biggest problem is its loss of manners, an assertion so flat out ignorant that I can find no appropriate end for this sentence.

Yes, there’s a paltry two-sentence nod in the general direction of the admission that those manners attempted to conceal racism and inequality but— aside from the opening anecdote, which is presented as a novel, though grievous, loss of chivalry rather than a continuing social ill— there’s no notice paid to the continued existence of that racism and inequality.

We’re talking about a region of the country with high illiteracy, high poverty, epidemic obesity, imperiled educational systems and massive wealth disparity. Nine out of our nation’s ten poorest states are located here.

An article on any one of those topics could have drawn attention to issues that continue to plague the region. But- and this is why it fucking sucks to be a Southern writer, because you can see so clearly what needs to be said and you know The New York Times is never going to say it- when people look at the South, they’re either blind to these issues or they’re too polite to tackle them seriously. Instead they observe that our manners are slipping, as though that were our biggest problem.

We need righteous anger, not musings on civility.

Oh, sweet Jesus, bless our hearts.

But back to that paragraph, the one full of shockers… Life is not pleasant in Charlotte? Southerners experience road rage and rudeness? Fetch me my smelling salts!

There’s something deeply sinister happening here but I can’t quite tease it out. It’s somewhere in the fact that it took people “two hours after the end of Nascar” to organize a riot and the cool, calm assurance from the “lifelong Southerner” that the DNC convention will “be all sweet tea and hush puppies.”

But, really, there’s got to be more to this death of manners. Aside from “the demise of the home-cooked family meal,” who else can we blame for the erosion of southern gentility?

“Mrs. McLeod [who has spent decades teaching thousands of children ballroom dance] attributes the slide of civility on the stress of families with two working parents and children who have not been held accountable for their actions.”

Ah, yes, “families with two working parents.” And children. Let’s blame the kids just for kicks. And let us also draw reassurance from Mrs. McLeod, who is not discouraged by the selfish weddings nor the loss of the “courtesy and deference” and the “home-cooked meals” that were “central to a Southerner’s identity” and the backbone of our “harsh racial system.”

“[S]he is undaunted.

‘I will not give up,’ she said, firm in her belief that Southerners still want to raise children who are kind and well-mannered.”

I would like to end with this:

 “Manners also helped create the South’s famous ‘bless your heart’ culture — a powerful way of seeming to be polite without being genuine.”

First of all, New York Times, points to you for the adjective “famous.” I would not have gone there. I give you props because you did. Second, further points for the civility of your definition: “A powerful way of seeming to be polite without being genuine.” Because, as every Southerner- lifelong or otherwise- knows, “bless your heart” is Southern-speak for “fuck you.”

This is a guest post.

Share This Post:
    • Eileen

      I think that a long time ago The New York Times was a respectable paper?

      But I’m reminded of Lilit’s post from a year or so ago in which she pointed out that etiquette and manners are really just a test to make sure you’re coming from the right social class and know how to play the game. And also, as you pointed out, of the fact that the South has a shit-ton of problems that have nothing to do with the fact that they’re capable of being as impolite as us Northerners.

    • Maggie

      What kills me is that, as a southerner, I will say most of the men I was romantically involved in, shall we say, had some of the finest manners, yet were the biggest dicks. Oh, sure, they opened doors, suavely offered seats, etc. But at the core? Terrible people. And I swear, it took me longer to realize that because I had to get through all the manners first!

      Current boyfriend is a city-slicker from Chicago. I don’t know that he’s ever sprinted around the car to open a door for me, but I can tell that he genuinely loves me from other, non-manner-related, genuine actions.

      So what if “manners” are slipping? They were just a thin facade anyway to brush over all the social injustice that were around. I don’t need a seat offered to me anymore because I’m not about to faint due to my corset restricting my airways. And I’m kickass at opening my own doors.

      I hate sifting through BS when dating someone, so the death of superflous manners is fine by me. I will, however, always hold on to “bless their heart.”

    • traci

      as a Louisiana girl, i will admit i will still yes ma’am and no ma’am you to death. that is just how my momma raised me. but come onw now ya’ll. really!?!?! and my interpretaion of bless your heart is ” you poor dumb bastard” hahaha

    • oline

      @e, i agree. even if it’s not intentional now, the culture of manners certainly has its roots in keeping everyone in their right place- whether that be based on class, race or gender.

      @m, AMEN, sister. my experience has been similar and politeness only goes so far in masking a core of dysfunction.

      and @t, i’d be curious to see whether “bless your heart” translates differently across state lines. is there anywhere in the south where it actually does mean “god bless you”?

      • alexandra

        No. It means, “fuck you.” Everywhere. Sometimes in Virginia people don’t know what it means, but then they tend not to say it.

      • Maggie

        I think my boss put it best when he said, “Now I’m from the South, which means once I say ‘Bless their heart,’ I can say whatever I want after.”

      • oline

        @m, i vividly remember sitting in a chicago bar a few years ago while the north carolinian i was dating attempted to explain that principle to my friend from detroit. her mind was blown.

        @a, this makes me want to go to virginia and bless everyone’s heart just to see if they comprehend.

    • JLee

      Maggie, I too have noticed how southern gentlemen have that honey tongued, well-mannered, chivilrous thing going on. I’ve always felt that they seemed thoughtful, not necessarily out of kindness, but because they thought that being a female caused one to be half retarded…therefore requiring them to be kind and well-mannered to us lesser homo sapiens. SCREW YOU DIXIE.

    • Sarah

      I agree with most of the comments here. I just moved to New England from Southern Missouri. Not exactly the South, but close enough. People here are definitely not as polite but I find people much more honest and overall nicer. Manners, by definition, are somewhat phony. And I think that encourages an overall state of being kind of disingenuous. At first it was very jarring to have people be so blunt with me, but now I really appreciate it. In conclusion, manners are nice, but honesty is better!

    • Kathy

      I’m a Savannah (southern) woman and a teacher. I expect courtesy and respect from my husband, students, and sons. Teaching manners and expecting children to respect elders and one another makes for a wonderful classroom climate. Don’t ridicule southern manners. It’s not a false veneer but a disappearing nicety in a world filled with hate and ugliness.

      • Leigha

        Yup, filing a claim for $3 million dollars against men who wouldn’t give up their seats in a bar…we need more of that in this world. And courts ruling in favor of the bars doing it, now that just makes EVERYTHING cheerier.

        You know, except that those men were paying customers, and they were their first, so there is absolutely no way they should have been expected to give up their seats, and it’s ludicrous that any court would do more than just dismiss that case out of sheer stupidity.

    • MR

      Well as is, my family has had a winter residence in North Carolina the last 5 years – thanks to my grandmother. Yes, the residents are all very pleasant, but in my limited experience – I’m usually only there during the Christmas holidays – I’ve always felt there is this pulse below the surface.

      I like history and have read a lot of it and think to really get the South, you’ve got to understand the Civil War. The North (that is, the Union) fought not to free the slaves, but to preserve the Union. Hmm, could this be why it took all the way til the early ’60s to finally poliitically and legally adress the race issue in this County? And yes, what disgrace. But the truth is the North wanted a ‘single’ wage earner, based economy that didn’t include slave labor. The South (that is, the Confederacy) fought to preserve the slave labor component, mostly to the benefit of a small political and economic elite, also known as the Planter Class.

      I think the North’s ‘Wilderness’ battle campaign and its objective, the final destruction of the South’s army, says it all. There in the last year of the War, the North’s full military and industrial economic weight, including all its male population advantage, crashed down on the non industrial South. 5 times during it, the North (Grant in command) hit the South (Lee in command), and each time the South pivoted and faced the North again. Grant knew overtime he could break the South (Lee) under such pressure, but the South (Lee) didn’t run and wasn’t overrun.

      You know if it weren’t for Lyndon Baines Johnson’s (LBJ’s) balls, that is his steerage of the ratification of the Civil Rights amendment in ’64, who knows where we would be today. The South and the rest of the US are now one, and the debacle of Vietnam aside, that will always be LBJ’s legacy. So Southern politeness is being undermined? Then so be it.

    • len132

      I definitely think the article was a bit strange, and verged on stupid. However, I am a southerner, I have been my whole life. There are a whole lot of problems here, many which are rooted strongly in our history of agrarian economy. If you look at other countries, the same pattern has occurred. Regions with more industrialization are more educated and liberal, precisely because they are richer as a whole.

      I think a lot of our problems, and why they have persisted so long, is because of regionalism in the United States and how we are perceived. I have a slight southern accent, and you would not believe how it changes the way people treat me. If I turn it off, I am a smart, educated woman. If I go with it, I am an ignorant southerner.

      We are people. Many of us think it’s crazy not to say “ma’am” or “sir” or not to open the door for the person behind us. That doesn’t mean we are secretly judging you or implicitly racist. And yes, there are plenty of racists here, but there are also plenty of people who hate racism just as much as you do. We just won’t talk to “yankees” about it, because it has been made perfectly clear what you think we are.

      • MR

        I realize I’m northerner, and yes, my comments are meant to be objective. You’re right. LBJ was a southerner (Texas fought with the Confederacy) and only a southerner could address the problem. JFK gets too much credit, but was all LBJ. Cause only he, a southerner, could hold all the marbles that delivered the solution. Just so you don’t think I’m too snarky, and cause I wanted to prove I got thick northerner skin :) , this past summer, I hiked in the Appalachian Mountains in the South. First, in northern Georgia and then very eastern Tennessee. Yeah, I found race is still a very sticky issue. But a Georgian helped me immensely; helped transport my rental car, which I leased in Atlanta, back to Atlanta. She let me push on without the car drop off detour in Asheville, NC, which was suppose to be part of my rendezvous with my brother.

    • Shiantric Gozon

      Indeed a very stupid article :)

      Charles Brown – Blogger