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A Downeasta's Southern Education
'That's Not the Way It's Done Down Here'

by David S. Smith
March 21, 2006

When I heard Martin Luther King, speaking from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, tell me about his dream I was moved by his idealism, and ignorant of what he spoke.  Growing up in the enclave known as Maine, I had no comprehension of a hatred based on race.  After all, my heritage was a mix of American Indian and European descendants, and so was the culture in which I lived.  And, whatever God's commandments, I had been taught first and foremost, that  I was endowed by Him with "certain inalienable rights" and it was my governments responsibility under the Constitution to protect those rights.

How naïve I was.

In trying to understand the South and quell my own frustrations and prejudices, I have read a lot of "histories", articles and novels about the South.  I have come to understand some of what I've seen and experienced, but in spite of this, there are still nagging difference that I can‘t quite seem to fathom.

But then a comment in a recent letter from Jennifer (remember Jennifer? She's from Charleston) provided some insight that was missing.

It's a status quo that dates back to at least Medieval Europe called the caste system.  A mind set summed up in the cliché "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."  Subtle, almost unseen, it's why a black man is making only $8/hour and in the same position after spending over 20 years of his life working for the same employer.

I've been told people are the same wherever you go.  Strangely enough by a Southerner who's never lived anywhere else or been very far.  Obviously that's true in varying degrees;  We all have similar features usually; we all have basic physical, psychological, and spiritual needs.  But, the motive and means by which we fulfill them aren't always the same.  If they were there wouldn't be so many different philosophies, theologies, occupations, vocations, fashions, fads, hobbies or pastimes.  There wouldn't be a North or South . . . except on the map.

There are people in Maine who are laid back and easy going,  who only do what they have to for their employer.  And, though I'm sure there are many reasons for it, my experience has been that they are content with what they do and their interest lie elsewhere.

The South, however,  is laid back, and although some work hard to "get ahead", many live with a resignation that little will change and no matter how hard they try no one will give them an opportunity.  So, they do what they have to to survive and look elsewhere for fulfillment.

In the early 60's, Bob Dylan released "My Back Pages".  I used to think  everyone understood what the song meant.  But then I also thought everyone knew that "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" wasn't about the inmates in a psychiatric ward.

"Ah, but I was so much older then.  I'm younger than that now."

About the Author:
David is still a damnyankee trying to find a place among the good ole boys in the South.

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