Delusions of Beulah

by Jas Faulkner 

paula paula paula

writer’s note: I had planned this really great photo essay about bookstore dogs and cats.  Then I started to upload my pictures and my CF card failed. While I was at Geek Squad trying to get my pictures, the nice young man who corrects all of my technical SNAFUS asked me if I’d heard about Paula Deen.   I’m rather fond of this kid, as he hails from Detroit and we have a favorite hockey team in common, so  I let it slide that he would think I cared one whit about the doings of La Deen.  

I went back home to find a stack of galleys waiting for me.  On the top of the pile was a new account of the American Civil War as told by a Dominionist historian.  Doing a little research, I found that he’s part of a group of people who envision a rather scrubbed version of  mid-Nineteenth Century America. He, and many people like him (and like our Paula Deen) find 2013 lacking and wish to go back to a simpler time, a time when there was little pushback at the social hierarchy, a time when they could be gentlepeople of refinement and leisure.

It’s a pretty picture of people dressed in beautiful clothing, moving around in sumptuous surroundings, innocent of anything outside of their angelic touch on the life around them.  Butter would never melt on the tongue of such a soul.

Of course this is not true.

Look to the far margins of those pictures of genteel plantation life and you’ll see whose lives are touched.  That Orwellian iron fist in a velvet glove was slamming into the uniformed help who stood by, expressing nothing more than pleasure at serving to Lord and Lady of the house.  It was counting every scrap of food and deciding (even well into the Twentieth Century) how much The Help could count on “totin'” home to feel their own families after spending long hours feeding the folks at the house.

This brings me back to Paula Deen.  Oh, Paula.   Paula, Paula, Paula…Is there any substance beyond the put-on accent, overabundance of spray tan, bleached teeth and hair and paucity of any sense for anything beyond raking in the mammon?  It is people like Paula Deen who make the literati feel justified in the beating Southerners, especially Southern women, get in American arts and letters.

Am I appalled by her racism?  Does her abuse of women in her employ anger me?  Absolutely.  There is something else that prompts so much ire from this Southern writer, a visceral disappointment that yet another person from my part of the US has lived down to expectations.

When dealing with people from outside of my part of the US, I find the discovery of my provenance more often than not leads to some tacit assumptions about my character, almost all of them negative.  I know this did not come out of a vacuum.  The fact that people think and act like everything to do with the south begins and ends with the 1860s adds a soupcon of “Shut up!  You’re not helping” to the discourse.

This will be the third day I have started this essay, gotten myself all worked up, walked away and then came back to try to say what I want to say in a way that will not have my Mother and the shade of my Father getting the vapors and thanking The Good Lord I adopted a pen name. The fact is, people who cannot let go of that small segment of who and what we are down here represent an ugly side of our history and culture. We are so much more than that.

Instead of continuing to mitigate the ulginess, I will steal an idea from a now-defunct cable station, Turner South, and show you a video patchwork of my home: stereotypes, saints, sinners, bliss, hell, and as much as I can squeeze in between:

This is my South:

and this is my South:

and this is my South:

and this is my South:

and this is my South:

and this is my South:

and this is my South:

and this is my South:

and this is my South:

and from Turner South, this is my South:

My South is heat and humidity.  My South is the food, the music, the politics for better or worse.  It is Bill Moyers and William Faulkner and Eudora Welty and Zora Neale Hurston and Edward Albee and Grantland Rice. It is football.  It is ambient Jesus.  It is the complex crazy quilt of Christianity, Judaism, and every other ism that comes here to live, love and create a life. It is the desert gothic of Larry McMurtry and the dulcet swing of Bob Wills.  It is Lyle Lovett and Amy Grant. My South is the line of Corvettes that burn up I-65. My south is the rebirth of Beale Street. It is the Hunstville Space Center and Cape Canaveral and Johnson Space Center.  My South can be found in “To Kill A Mockingbird.” It is Adelicia Acklen haunting Belmont’s campus and Elizabeth Mynders wandering the halls of the building that bears her name at The University of Memphis. It is the fan nation that bleeds orange and white in Tennessee and still follows Payton Manning’s every move. It is the Bama faithful who will tell you the spirit of The Bear never left Birmingham. My South is museums and festivals and artists and writers who ignore the grim statistics and carve out careers down here. My South is the natural beauty of the place and those who fight to preserve it. My South is Grinder’s Switch and Copperhead Road, both of which I have visited.

To borrow Turner’s ad tag:

My name is Jas Faulkner and this is my South.

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  • […] Delusions of Beulah […]

  • Ms. Faulkner,

    I want to believe you. I really do. Back in the early 1990s, I had friends who grew up in the South, and a branch of my mother’s family was in the South. These were good human beings, not perfect but with the strengths outweighing the flaws by a good margin.

    But that was just after Clinton took office and before the Tea Party had become a genuine political force in the United States.

    In the past ten years, I have not met a single Southerner who does not endlessly praise his misogyny, his homophobia, his xenophobia, and his religious hatred of any religion other than his specifically joyless, hate-filled Christian denomination. This past decade, I have met many Southerners, but I have not met a single Southerner who does not refer to our president using a word beginning with the letter ‘n’ which I refuse to type out. I have met only a handful of Southerners who are not actively anti-intellectual and opposed to higher education, and most of them lust after homeschooling specifically so they can teach creationism, racial superiority, and other “flat earth” perspectives.

    Now, in respect for your writings, I will admit that these are all displaced Southerners in that they live near me in the western Midwest instead of living in the South. Perhaps they live here because the South doesn’t want them any more than we do.

    On the other hand, there are my Southern relatives, who now want nothing to do with me, trying to use “family ties” as extortion to force me to conform to their narrow-minded and hateful beliefs. Lest you think I exaggerate, I have heard them pray to God before a meal that the U.S. soon enacts the death penalty for gays, atheists, Muslims, and any “traitors” in favor of a more open-hearted immigration policy. They have told me that I am no longer their kin until I “repent” of my “liberal ways” and promise to date only White women. Yes, they now love the Tea Party and FOX News; until they fell in love with FOX and Tea Party types, they and I got along fairly well, and back them, I don’t remember ever hearing them use the ‘n’ word. Sometimes I would swear they intentionally exaggerate their Southern accents these days.

    In contrast, I have never met anyone without a Southern accent who has simultaneously used the ‘n’ word AND condemned all LGBT and atheists and Muslims AND condemned reinterpretted Christianity from a religion of peace into a cult of militant hatred. I have met many non-Southerners with flaws, but none who treat FOX News and the Tea Party with more reverence than they treat Jesus.

    If Southerners are as admirable as you indicate (i.e. no worse than any other part of the U.S. and in some ways better than some parts of the U.S.), then why hasn’t the entire South risen up in loud and relentless public condemnation of the Paula Deens and Pat Robertsons and Ted Cruzs and Jerry Falwells and FOX News supporters of the world?

    Why have Southerners endlessly allowed the most hate-filled and anti-intellectual and bigoted members of your community represent you to the public without a single disputation?

    If there were Southern voices raised in defense of the LGBT community, in defense of civil rights regardless of race, in defense of a woman’s right to choice, in defense of religious pluralism, in defense of legitimate journalism instead of FOX News, I assure you that Northerners and Westerners and Easterners would all join you in solidarity, and after the decade or so it would take to wipe away the last of the soiling of your communal reputation wrought by people like Paula Deen and William Akin with his “legitimate rape” lies, you would never seen another anti-Southern stereotype again.

    So, if you really do care about the South, please write a column explaining why the South has seen fit to allow these bigots to be its public face.

    Because until then, the silence of the South has given the rest of us every reason to believe that all Southerners agree with these public figures in their hate, violence, arrogance, and fear of science and learning.

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