Race as Region, Region as Race: How Black and White Southerners Understand Their Regional Identities

Grading stripping tobacco, near Yanceyville, North Carolina, 1940, courtesy of the Collections of the Library of Congress.

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Race as Region, Region as Race: How Black and White Southerners Understand Their Regional Identities

by Melissa M. Sloan, Ashley B.Thompson
Southern Cultures, Vol. 18, No. 4: Winter 2012

"'You've never been black, have you? No, if you'd been black, you wouldn't ask no silly-ass question like that.'"

The “South” is virtually inconceivable without sustained attention to race, yet most scholarly examinations of southern identity have focused almost exclusively on the experiences of white southerners, ignoring the experiences of other racial groups in the region, most particularly black southerners. A similar phenomenon occurs in everyday conversations about the South, evidenced by the well-worn habit of talking about “southerners” when actually referring to white southerners. For example, most of us, at one time or another, have heard, or perhaps even said, that “southerners are racist” or “southerners owned slaves.” Such statements implicitly connect being southern with being white.