On a decade of living in the South
The northeast will always be home to me. That’s where I grew up. But the South is Grandmama House.1
Me in an old conversation with JT. Why yes, I did just quote myself in a blog post.
As a kid, Down South was the land of Kountry Folk, people like loud-ass, country-ass, twangy-talking Tina and her quieter, yet rougher-in-that-country-ass-way brother (Donald maybe?) who visited their auntie (a neighbor of mine) a couple of summers.
Down South was the land from which my people came — and got the fuck out of (thank the good Lord Sweet Jesus) — because of barking dogs, and fire hoses, and job discrimination, and Jim Crow, and that damned n-word. Later, the South was the land where I was sentenced to spend boring-ass (I repeat: Boring. Ass.) summers counting the pickup trucks rolling down York Street as penance for being a teenager.
So <ebonics>why in da hey-ull2</ebonics> has my family of (mostly) native New Yorkers migrated to the South?3 And why did my Southern grandparents migrate north and then return south, to their hometowns (or nearby)?
I have lived here — first in South Carolina and now in Georgia — for ten years. That don’t even sound right to my ears. Neither does this country-ass, twangy-talking voice I hear coming out of my own mouth. But there it is and here I am in a place I once viewed with equal parts fear and suspicion. I still give the South the side eye on occasion, but it’s tempered by the kind of nuanced understanding that only comes from living here and adopting a bit of that Southern pose.
The South is a region with a complex history and a truck-bed’s worth of contradictions. It’s the Bible Belt. And yet strip clubs and adult novelty shops are really visible, and seemingly everywhere. The South had slavery, a war to keep it, and almost a century of de jure racial segregation. But it also had (and has) a deep level of intimacy, familiarity and contact between blacks and whites. I think folks here align as often along class lines as they do along racial lines. In most northern cities, race is primary.
Now, don’t get me wrong, the South does not feel like “home.” You will never, ever, ever hear claim the South4 because I’m from Strong Island, son!!!!5 — but, as I told JT, it does feel like grandma’s house.
1 Apostrophe dropped for effect.
2 Translation for the non-ebonics speakers: that’s “hell” with two syllables for emphasis.
4 You might, however, see me throw up an A or two, particularly if some Tito’s or Patrón is involved.
5 Yes, “son” is more of a Brooklyn word than a Strong Island one. Yes, Strong Islanders like to pretend we are just as hard as BK. We are not, unless you are from Terrace Avenue in Hempstead. Then, you just might be. Also: anyone who isn’t from a town that has produced at least one major hip-hop recording artist (that’d be Hempstead, Roosevelt, Uniondale, Central Islip, Amityville, Wyandanch, and Brentwood) is from Long Island, not Strong Island, and needs to STFU. Yes, I am looking at you douchebags from The Daily Show. Skip to 1:58 to see who I am talking about.