I am a Bitter Southerner

Here’s the thing: I’m still trying to fall in love with the South.

A short time ago, I was dead set on joining the mass exodus of young people who are fleeing the South. My whole life, I operated under the assumption that the South was just a stop along the way. Most people who have grown up here and gotten their degrees take ‘em and run.

And honestly? I don’t blame them for leaving. The South is hard to love. It’s still harder to defend. There’s a tightrope strung between loving the South and acknowledging its many failures, both past and present. That double-edged sword of shame and pride is one that we’re keenly familiar with—you know the one. Teeter to one side, you must have a confederate battle flag or two lying around. Teeter to the other, you’re a de facto Yankee. Go on, git. You probably put sugar on your grits anyway.

Sure, I could wax poetic about our food and our culture. I live in Louisiana, so it would be easy. I could write a dissertation on the beauty of sunlight filtering through Spanish moss, the serenity of a murky bayou covered in tattered ribbons of mist. But I’m not going to do that, because it does a great disservice to the place I now call home. The South—Louisiana in particular—is far more than accents, seasoning blends, or literary tropes.

The South is worth loving because it’s damn hard to love.There are many good things about this place I call home, but they don’t come to mind easily. It takes effort to be proud of a place with this much baggage... especially since the many problems of our past are still alive and well today. More often than not, I need to be reminded of why I’m still here. And that’s where The Bitter Southerner comes in.

“The Bitter Southerner exists to support anyone who yearns to claim their Southern identity proudly and without shame — regardless of their age, race, gender, ethnic background, place of origin, politics, sexual orientation, creed, religion, or lack of religion.” -We Are Bitter

I started reading The Bitter Southerner in earnest a short while ago. It’s been floating on my periphery for years now, but when Caleb and I decided to put down roots in Louisiana instead of participating in the brain drain, I found myself in need of encouragement. I’ve found that, and so much more, in the Bitter Southerner family.

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The Bitter Southerner is an online, reader-supported magazine that promotes stories (short and long,) poems, photo essays, music, and more—all created by Southerners, all showing different facets of the place we call home. It was created to give us a voice—to show the world, a piece at a time, what the South is truly made of.

But it’s not just here to show the rest of the world who we are. More often than not, the magazine has shown me bits and pieces of myself. A lost accent here, an ingrained prejudice there. To be southern is to realize that your place of origin has been written off as a backwards, intolerant, racist, sorry excuse for a homeland. And the worst part about it all is not how the rest of the world sees you—but to know that, without quite realizing it, you’ve internalized the same lie about yourself and about your home. 

The stories that have been shared at this publication speak to the heart of every person who has felt that familiar twinge of resentment—excuse me, bitterness.  

The Bitter Southerner challenges the rest of the world to see our region in a new light, but it also—perhaps more importantly—shows us how to cast that light on ourselves. For most of my life, I hadn’t felt at home here in the South. I never felt at peace. And make no mistake: I’m still not at peace, far from it. There is much work to be done.

But this place is my home.

Today is the last day of The Bitter Southerner’s annual membership drive. You can become a part of The Bitter Southerner family and support the continuation of their valuable work. And for the record—I don’t work for them, and I haven’t been asked to write this on their behalf. (If I had, you would hear of nothing else for a solid six months.)

These days, it’s difficult to find a group united in a cause you can 100% support. I feel that I’ve found that in this community, and if you feel different—that’s fine; you’re still family. This year was the first time I donated to the membership drive, but it won’t be the last.