I grew up white in the South. Forty-five minutes outside of Atlanta lies Covington — right on the cusp of the greater metro area. In many ways, I lived on a border. There were two Georgias: white and Black. The western half of my town was closer to the greater Atlanta area. It was mostly Black. The eastern side of the town was rural, scattered with farms. It was white. Looking back, it’s easy to draw these distinctions; actually growing up there, the town was simply the town. Like other borders, communities on either side are a lot more mixed than they may seem. My high school, for instance, was roughly half white, half Black — a fact I only recognize retrospectively as I now have few Black students in my classes here.

I love where I grew up — all of it. I love my town. I love my state. I love the South.

But maybe I shouldn’t. 

I think about the legacy of the South and all that comes to mind is guilt. I grew up less than an hour away from the largest Confederate monument in the country. On the side of Stone Mountain lies the largest sculptural relief in the world: Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson and Jefferson Davis — all noblely portrayed on horseback. I took school field trips there in elementary school. Blinded by youthful and learned ignorance, I marveled at this truly impressive piece of sculptural art, yet only learned of its horrible subject later.

I think this conflict between pride and guilt lies in what we think — we, as a country, think — when we say “the South.” 

The common connotation is that the “The South” consists of poorly educated, racist, rural white people who are still grasping onto an idealized Confederacy. These people do exist. Shocking nobody, it turns out that there are racist people in the South. To sum up the South to those few, however, is grossly parochial. Stereotypes are harmful not because they are always false, but because when you apply stereotypes to people, you remove any semblance of their individualism. I feel guilt for the southern stereotype not because it is entirely true, but because we were taught that that is what the world thinks of us.

Where is there room for Southern Pride?

Pride comes from redefining this stereotype. Pride comes from showing the country and the world that we, the South, are not the Confederacy. Pride comes from people like Martin Luther King Jr. and Ted Turner. I’ve come to realize that what I am proud of encompasses what the South is today — and more importantly, what it is becoming. I feel guilt for our history, I feel shame for the truth behind these white rural stereotypes. But I’m proud of what I think of as the New New South. A South where, even in states that consistently try to silence a large part of their citizens, we can elect Georgia’s first Black Senator. 

Understand that the fight is far from over. Those racist stereotypical southerners are out there. Systems are still in place to keep fellow southerners from equal opportunity. While there is room for some pride in the distance we have come, we still have a long way to go to achieve our maximum potential. 

I have hope. Perhaps my stance of growing up white in the south has fueled this optimism.  Regardless, I still can’t seem to shake my Southern pride, my pride for what I believe we are becoming.  It’s time to kill these stereotypes. It’s time for us to become a region truly hospitable to all.


BRAXTON BUFF is a Sophomore in Davenport College. Contact him at braxton.buff@yale.edu.