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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

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A Downeasta's Southern Education

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."

Comments (3)

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Brooks Gardner from Mebane, North Carolina writes:
March 21, 2006
I don't have any confidence that David will ever understand the South. I tried to understand Mainers for 5 months. I found that they held their own prejudices. Mainers prejudices are just as unfounded as any notable prejudices in Dixie. In Maine, I was treated as a second class person because I am from North Carolina, a born and raised son of the South. David, I believe is looking in the wrong place for answers. He needs to experience the affection and love in the south. Sure things are perfect here and there are attitudes that I would love to change in many Southerners. Being Southern is more than David can see and being a Mainer was more than I could see.

Janie Ward from Luverne, Alabama writes:
March 21, 2006
Hey There Yall! Why dont you give David Smith a chance? Listen, I am a friend and a fan of this guy. He is was so very excited when he first met the south. Never have I known anyone so ready to embrace our culture. We need to be more open with people like David. He will never be a real son of the south until we show him some real gracious hospitality. Here in this steamy part of the world there is a tendency to agree to disagree with anyone with ideals or ideas that may differ from our own. Offer David real southern love and affection along with just a smigin of respect. smigin is a southern word our mama's used to mean just a little bit. I assure you that David will grow roots here deep as Magnolia trees. Call off the dogs! David is a man of high ideals and beleived that we Southerner's were very special. So what if he is a little jaded due to our lack of good manners and chilvery. Give this guy a real taste of what we are and he will be teaching his grandkids to say yes mam and no sir. I get the feeling that David has just not met quality folk. With deep affection for David The Lady Janie Yes the title is real

Brooks Gardner from Mebane, North Carolina writes:
March 28, 2006
I don't doubt that David is a nice guy. I welcome him to Dixie, also. However, as long as he compares Maine to Alabama, he will not truly understand the south. Until he appreciated the music of you own Alabama, and understands that Dixie is not a place, but a condition, he is going to have trouble.

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