An end to civility in the South? Damn Yankees

Well, so says the NY Times. But if true, it’s a sad day indeed.

As many of you know I have a particular affinity for the South. Not only did I live 4 years in Tidewater, but both my sister and brother have lived the vast majority of their lives in Georgia, Tennessee, and northern Florida. So I find the story disturbing.

The Times reports, using University Professors as sources, reports that the days of “Yes mam”, “no sir”, are quickly ending. The days of giving up a seat to a lady and treating everyone, at least publicly, no matter race, or gender with respect, are ending. If that is indeed happening, it’s a tragedy.

At least, it used to be. The Tavern at Phipps case, and a growing portfolio of examples of personal and political behavior that belies a traditional code of gentility, have scholars of Southern culture and Southerners themselves wondering if civility in the South is dead, or at least wounded.

“Manners are one of many things that are central to a Southerner’s identity, but they are not primary anymore. Things have eroded,” said Charles Reagan Wilson, a professor of history and Southern culture at the University of Mississippi.

To be sure, strict rules regarding courtesy and deference to others have historically been used as a way to enforce a social order in which women and blacks were considered less than full citizens.

Interestingly the reason is being blamed on a virus infecting the culture … Yankee brusqueness.

As those issues faded, proper manners remained an important cultural marker that Southerners have worked to maintain. Since the Civil War, any decline in Southern civility has largely been blamed on those damn Yankees.

Newcomers still get much of the blame. In the past decade, the South has seen an unprecedented influx of immigrants from other states and countries. The population in the South grew by 14.3 percent from 2000 to 2010, making it the fastest-growing region in the country.

But there is more behind the social shift, scholars say. Digital communication and globalization have conspired to make many parts of the South less insular. Couple that with a political climate as contentious as anyone can remember and a wave of economic insecurity rolling across the region, and you have a situation where saying “thank you, ma’am” isn’t good enough anymore.

“There are just so many more complexities,” Professor Wilson said. “Manners and a code of civility can’t help you negotiate everything.”

Some say the South’s great cities seem to be losing civility faster than country communities, where stopping to ask for directions can still end in an invitation to supper.

Too many outsiders trying to escape the pressures of life in bigger cities have migrated to Atlanta and Birmingham, said Saahara Glaude, a media specialist whose clients include some members of the Martin Luther King Jr. family.

As a result, reliable affinities once based on race or religion are gone. “It used to be that an African-American could trust an African-American down here,” she said. “Those days are long gone.”

My years in Tidewater were made more pleasant by the common courtesy Southerners displayed. And one of my great joys was my frequent trips to my brother’s former hometown, Nashville. And I was told in no uncertain terms when my Yankee crankiness would surface, that’s just not how it’s done here. Conversations were not just hello, goodbye and when asked how I was doing, there was genuine interest. And when people found out I was a visiting Yankee, that always treated it as an honor that I would vacation in their hometown. Invariably I would be asked to join a crowd.

That doesn’t mean people weren’t surly, but when they were it was in private. I hope this is overblown but if not …. sigh!

10 replies
  1. Stephanie
    Stephanie says:

    We recently moved to GA about 40?minutes north of Atlanta.? Kids in the neighborhood do say yes mam and yes sir.? My kids have started responding to us this way as well.? We explained to them, you live here now and you will conduct yourself the way everyone else does.? Generally speaking, the kids here are more respectful of adults.? I’m so grateful for this experience as sometimes (living in CT) I felt like I was fighting a losing battle regarding the expectations I had of my kids vs the expectations of their peers parents.

  2. WKUHilltoppers
    WKUHilltoppers says:

    Being a life long Kentuckian, I can’t specifically blame this on “Damn Yankees” (or as in most gentile circles say “Danged Yankees”).? Oh yes,? you can still expect someone to let you in front of them during rush hour, expect someone to hold a door open for you and even bring brownies to you when you’re sick.? But I’m afraid there are subtle chinks in the armor of? chivalry.
    I live in a neighborhood of many transplants from up “Nawth” way.? And some come to us un-trusting and somewhat distant.? But soon they thaw.? Eventually, and quickly, they learn the concept of “hospitality”–helping your neighbors. ? Eventually they’ll even mow your lawn without even asking if there’s a reason you can’t get to it yourself.? And, the blessing of all blessings–they’re the only one’s who have snow blowers and gleefully use them on our driveways (again, without asking) when we get that 2 inch blizzard.? Courtesy and reciprocating manners come on a two way street.? They’ve adjusted because that’s what they’ve experienced with the “local culture”.
    However, it is changing.? And it is changing because of “foreign” odd-nationalistic school agendas (not developed by local boards–agendas forced on it by an…

    • WKUHilltoppers
      WKUHilltoppers says:

      However, it is changing.? And it is changing because of “foreign” odd-nationalistic school agendas (not developed by local boards–agendas forced on it by an ever intrusive federal government). Propaganda, if you will.? And while you’ll still find prayer and God referenced in public school in many locales here, I’m sure that’s just one law suit waiting to be filed.? But truly, if you believe you’re an animal, won’t you also act like one?? Would you address your dog as “Sir” or “Ma’am”? ? So it shouldn’t be a surprise those whose educational indoctrinations include this ludicrous mantra as part of their lesson plans.
      Television is probably the biggest affront against the loss of civility as it pounds away at our once proud culture.? I remember when “Seinfeld” first came on.? Most of the water cooler conversation of the day expressed the amazement that one of his “friends” haven’t taken a “poke” at the guy because he was so smart-aleck and insulting to his pals.? But eventually–we became numb and thought maybe it was a good idea and maybe even funny to be brash and boorish.? After all, that’s what it was reinforcing–and it is on TV so it must be just fine.? Now, I’m not blaming the ills of the…

      • WKUHilltoppers
        WKUHilltoppers says:

        ?Now, I’m not blaming the ills of the world on Seinfeld, but its is an example of one small, tiny drop in the bucket of deterioration. Other examples, more horrific examples,? are probably best left unmentioned and reviewed given a public forum.
        Churches–the south is big on Christianity, its morality and message.? Most of the “decline” can be related to an ever increasing “wishy-washy”, nonsensical idea of the Gospel message.? In some cases, no longer is the Gospel message? one of conveying the “sin of all men, repentance and faith in Jesus”,? but many have fallen into the trap that somehow, someway the message of Christ is a “financial plan”–an idea propagated by the “modern” Church.? As a way to make a buck, fill pews, satisfy their own agendas.?? Ask the Chinese or Arabic brother or sister in prison for teaching the Gospel how their portfolio is doing…Because most southerners have historically placed their personal moral code based on a Judeo-Christian Biblical worldview, if that view is confused and convoluted, you can expect the same from the individual. Without the true Gospel message you can expect the “golden rule” to be tarnished.? You can justify “loving your neighbor as yourself” as just…

  3. WKUHilltoppers
    WKUHilltoppers says:

    ?Without the true Gospel message you can expect the “golden rule” to be tarnished.? You can justify “loving your neighbor as yourself” as just another “old timey” saying–and thus can express no obligation for compassion or discernment for another.? You can expect many to forget humans were especially created by God and in His imagine and, that alone,? is worthy of respect. ? You can expect to be treated rudely like an animal–because after all–they tell us this everyday in school–so it has to be right.
    I could do an entire dissertation on this subject.? But I think it is “quaint” that university professors are avoiding discussing elements causing this decay that are, in fact,? promoted from their very own circles of influence/industry–some of which I’ve briefly highlighted. And yet try to blame it on a vague idea that the yankees are comin’!?? Our entire national culture is? changing (with design and intent, I might add) and being dragged through the cesspool of post modernistic drivel.? But have a Milk-Bone–you’ll feel better.

  4. WKUHilltoppers
    WKUHilltoppers says:

    Sorry–didn’t know I was had a character cap!? LOL–that’s what I get for being so long winded and eating too many candy bars just before typing.? I blame my blood sugar–of course, I’m not to blame at all!

  5. winnie
    winnie says:

    Some people are just good, decent individuals…and some people just aren’t.? I think what may be happening is that the speed of life is increasing down south as they begin to provide the jobs that used to be available up north.? Everyone (especially in new england) always seems to be in such a hurry and they get so cranky getting to where they’re going they seem to forget to use the manners their mothers taught them.?? I find it rather sad…But as for the kids down south losing some of this southern charm, I believe it’s a result of the elders around them losing it first.

  6. Lynn
    Lynn says:

    You guys can leave the “Dark Side”,? if you identify with the Red Sox instead of those “Damn NY Yankees”. OK I know Boston was the start of the Revolution, so I guess that doesn’t help much.

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