Editing Writing about the South

People say a lot of shit about the South. They assume southern accents when they want to portray someone that is dumb. They make jokes about the backwardness of the South. Or they romanticize it. They buy Confederate flags as a sign of being a rebel.

But what I want to talk about is the romanticization of the South. I am a white woman born and raised in the South, just so you know where I come from, and I now live among the damn Yankees. I do plenty of romanticizing on my own, I miss the biscuits, the weather, and the landscape. The South is a beautiful place. But there are limits.

The Confederate flag is one. I once stopped at a diner in rural Connecticut, of all places, and the waitress had on a stars and bars belt buckle and I wanted to point out to her that her great great great great grandfather had had a good likelihood of being killed by someone under that flag, but I didn’t. The South, for all its sins, does raise you to have a modicum of manners.

There are people who try to justify the Confederate flag. They have bumper stickers that have a picture of the flag that say “Heritage, not Hate.” While I appreciate their effort, I still think they are wrong. The South is rich with history. But you can’t just embrace one part of it without acknowledging the rest of it. I don’t believe white Southerners should spend all their time wringing their hands and moaning about how guilty they feel. But they should acknowledge that

You’ll see this in writing time and time again, particular in marketing material for tourism. Let’s take Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson, as an example. Area bed and breakfasts market themselves as helping the guest experience “Jefferson’s Virginia.” Well that’s pretty much a guarantee that a black person would never stay there (which may be the intent). They would have been slaves in Jefferson’s Virginia.

But I’m assuming you guys are less racist than that. Think about what you’re editing. You have the power to change this. Remind the marketers of their bottom line. There are ways to market an elegant Southern inn without alienating people and thus cutting into profits. Cliches are easy, which is one of the reasons why they’re so easy to fall into them. But you, my dear writers and editors, are smarter than that.

What cliches do you see around you?

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11 responses to “Editing Writing about the South

  1. This is light years from your post about the South, but I do hate the cliche that erotica has to involve cheating, one night stands, the accessory chick in the bedroom. I like monogamous relationships because they’re more difficult in real life and therefore more interesting on the page. Sometimes the familiarity breeds contempt, or at least conflict, and to me that’s fodder for a more complex scenario than just, My Girlfriend and her BFF . . . Together at Last.

  2. The cliche that tears me up into little pieces is the one that assumes stay at home parents don’t really work. To this I reply, “I’m insured for twice that of my husband. Why? Because it would take a chauffeur, a cook, a cleaning person, a personal activities director, a babysitter, a tutor, and a pole dancer to replace me should I pass away.”

  3. cliche: damn Yankees. (I’m from the Midwest and never thought of myself as a Yankee, but at a bed and breakfast in Texas, the owner referred to me as a Yankee, and then apologized. I missed it altogether.)

  4. Unless the writing is really stellar, I stop reading when the effeminate, funny gay man shows up, or the butch, hard-as-nails lesbian with her girlfriend in red lipstick. Uggh.
    It’s amazing to me that there can be an entire spectrum of heterosexuals but three or four homosexual “types” and they usually show up as a sidekick.

    • It’s true. How often do you read books about the feminine straight woman who struggles with her desire to eat chocolate and get married and the ruggedly handsome man who can’t express his feelings? It can be hard to find nuanced heterosexual relationships. That used to be why I read a ton of books by queer authors.

  5. From Canada it’s hard to fathom that history. It seems, to me anyway, that a lot of Americans forget slavery as they wax poetic about their country being the greatest on Earth. Not that we were much better to the slaves who escaped only to meet disdain in the North. This is described very well in Lawrence Hill’s The Book Of Negroes (known as Someone Knows My Name in the US- likely one of the most beautiful books ever written)

    But Newfoundlanders are the Southerners of Canada. We have a very distinct accent and for some reason it automatically connected with stupidity. I always find that so sad. I love the way we talk although I suspect it would drive a copyeditor batty. Example: I loves, you loves, she loves, we loves, they loves.

    As for cliches, I wrote a whole book that uses cliches entirely too much, I’m not better than that it seems.

    • We’re trained from early childhood to think that our country is the best ever. Which, theoretically, gives us yet another chance to smash assumptions and bust cliches.

      I will look for the book, thanks!

  6. Pingback: What Keeps Me From Writing About Race | Fangs and Clause

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