When I asked my 14-year-old brother what I should write this column about, he told me to “write about how much better the South is than the North.” I replied that I could not write in such rigid terms, that I would have to present a balanced and fair-minded assessment of the different strengths and weaknesses of the two regions. Then I realized that my predilection for disinterest was only the knee-jerk reaction of a soul too long saturated in the effeminizing, diplomacy-obsessed mores of Yankee-land.
I’m half-kidding. Nevertheless, in honor of Colonel Sanders, Davy Crockett and my brother, I will be forthright: The South is categorically better than the North.
The first reason is obvious. Southern English actually has a pronoun for the second person plural. Y’all probably use it from time to time, having grown tired of your vexing “yous” or your disyllabic “you guys” or (God save us) your vexing and disyllabic “yous guys.” A high school friend of mine, who wasn’t a native Southerner, used to say “y’all guys,” which was partly endearing and partly disgusting, but plain old “y’all” is about as good as it gets, dictionally speaking.
Southern weather is astonishingly superior to its boreal Northern counterpart. As I write, it is 44 degrees here in New Haven. On nights like these one can understand why Eliot called April the cruelest month. After six full months of temperatures in the 50s, 40s, 30s and colder, one would hope to be able to walk to class without a jacket. After more than a month of “spring,” one would expect to be able to walk to Gourmet Heaven for a late-night snack wearing shorts and a T-shirt. Two nights ago, as it happens, I made the walk in shorts and a T-shirt, but I did so shivering and cursing the frigid North.
In the culinary arts we find another point for Dixie. The best meal Yale serves is its Southern fried chicken and mashed potatoes, and even this — as any Southerner will tell you — amounts to little more than a feeble imitation of the real McCoy: Momma’s cooking. Add to this the fact that many Northerners have never heard of Blue Bell ice cream, and you begin to see why the people here are less — how do I put this diplomatically? — renowned for their friendliness.
I suppose I should pause to qualify these judgments with a kind of disclaimer. I barely pass for a Southerner myself, having grown up in Orlando and spent my teenage years in a suburb of Dallas. I do not like country music, do not own cowboy boots, do not “reckon.” In high school I would not have labeled myself a Southerner. Things change.
It took an urban, Northeastern, cosmopolitan school like Yale to awaken my inner Southerner. It happened naturally enough. I simply looked around and thought about the things I missed. Southern food, warm weather, decent pronouns, yes — but what struck me most of all was something more difficult to describe. Something to do with the South’s aliveness, as it were — its passion. Its pulse.
Let us not confuse pulse with hurriedness. Southerners are notorious, of course, for their dilatory pace, their slow speech. What I’m getting at, rather, has something to do — at least, I imagine it does — with what is also one of the downsides of the South — namely, its higher rates of violence.
As detestable as violence may be, it is nonetheless a sign, a symptom, of the stirrings of passion within the human spirit, of a still unvanquished sense of pride or honor, of what William Faulkner called “the old verities and truths of the heart.” There is a vehement Southern spirit that fends off any tendency toward the soulless state of Nietzsche’s blinking Last Men.
Southerners do not necessarily have more energy. But their energy is in touch with something deeper than the concerns of everyday life, deeper than the discoveries of science, deeper even than the ideas of great literature and great art.
Flannery O’Connor, a Southern writer who was also a fierce critic of the South, described the region as “Christ-haunted.” She recognized that for all their faults, for all their past sins and current vices, Southerners continue to be pestered by a persistent sense of the holy — the sacred — and it is this that gives them an aliveness that is lacking in almost every other part of the Western world.
I do not presume to submit this as some sort of definitive apologia on behalf of the South. Such a task should be tackled by a truer Southerner than I. Much less do I intend any offense to my Northern friends. My hope is simply that as the world grows more homogenized, as Yale grows more cosmopolitan and regional distinctions melt slowly away, we Southerners will remember where we come from.
Away, away, away down south in Dixie.
Bryce Taylor is a sophomore in Silliman College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .