Saturday, July 11, 2015

Southern Heritage

I grew up in the South. It was a strange part of the South: Northwest Arkansas. NW Arkansas is one those odd places in the South with no appreciable Africa-American presence. Before I left for college at 18, I had only seen maybe four African-Americans, and one of those was on a family trip to visit relatives in Texas. My father and pretty much every one I knew called them something else. You could say stupid things about minorities because there were no minorities to speak of. Or rather, gays, lesbians, transgender, etc knew to stay out of sight, in the closet. Because of this lack of minorities no one had to take responsibility for what they were saying. There was no one to call them out on their use of hateful language.

That one exception on the trip to Texas, was pleasant, friendly and seemed quite likable. I think I was 6 or 7 at the time. Given my limited exposure, he made quite an impression on me with his exoticism and kind demeanor. It takes a while for children to put contradictory experiences together and recognize the cognitive dissonance. I remember thinking that something was up the racist language people around me were using.

My attitudes about race and minorities have evolved over the years. I've never been hateful toward minorities, but I will also admit to not having any friends of color, either. I should point out that at this time in my life, I do not have any close friend of color or otherwise. There is one person of Italian descent that I chat with frequently on the phone, but she lives in another state and we haven't seen each other in 6 or 7 years. The divorce that I've mentioned elsewhere was devastating to my emotional and social life. Besides, I like being a recluse. But I wandered off topic.

When I hear and see the Stars and Bars today, I still feel a nostalgic pull and identification with that flag. Yes, I do see the Stars & Bars as a powerful symbol of Southern heritage. At the same time, though, slavery, Jim Crow, segregation, share-cropping and unfettered contempt for African Americans are also part of that heritage. Denying the unpleasant part of our heritage is dishonest and shows ignorance of our own history and heritage. Worse, still for men who like to think of themselves as Men with full-grown testicles, it indicates something possible amiss in the nether regions.

It wasn't until I developed a strong interest in the Blues, primarily pre-WWII acoustic blues and songs from the songster tradition, that I found myself having to think long and hard about what my father would have dismissed as n***** music. My primary source of information was liner notes and the occasional Wikipedia article, but most of all the music itself. I'm way overdue for reading about the history of the Delta region, the development of African-American music, and biographies of important figures. I was surprised at the importance of the themes of prison and law-enforcement. I wish someone with the proper resources and industry connections would put together a multi-disc compilation around the themes of law, prisons, and the police in African-American music throughout the 20th Century.

Listening to to pre-WWII African-American music made me start thinking about race (again). Ever since I was a child I've always like old Country Music. For me old Country is Country music from before the mid-Seventies when I first listened to Fleetwood Mac and discovered a much, much larger musical world. Of course, old Country includes Hank Williams, Sr., Bill Monroe, Flatt & Scruggs, Ernest Tubb, Kitty Wells, Roy Clark, Conway Twitty (even if he did write "Okie from Muskogee") and the like. At this time in my life I have access to a public library with good music collections and just as importantly the time to listen to Jimmie Rodgers, Uncle Dave Macon, etc. and to assimilate what I'm hearing.

It is widely recognized that the so-called racial barrier was quite porous, especially in music. A big chunk of country music comes from the Blues (especially). Musicians prior to the development of recording industry relied on live performances for income. All music (except for classical and even then there are exceptions) was dance music. The Blues was originally music to dance to, not just to sit around and listen to. Musicians played what their audiences wanted to hear. They would always be on the lookout for some clever hook, new songs, new ways of playing old and new favorites. If it increased their income, musicians didn't care about the color or origin of the source

So, yeah. African-Americans and how we as (white male) Southern treated them are very much a part of Southern Heritage.

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