This Ain't Chicago: Race, Class, and Regional Identity in the Post-Soul South

This Ain't Chicago: Race, Class, and Regional Identity in the Post-Soul South

This Ain't Chicago: Race, Class, and Regional Identity in the Post-Soul South

This Ain't Chicago: Race, Class, and Regional Identity in the Post-Soul South

Excerpt

Ruth Ann, a thirty-two-year-old returning college student and server at a chain southern home-style cooking restaurant, had become exasperated with me during our interview session at a coffee shop in downtown Memphis. She feigned annoyance at my line of questioning, in which I asked her to elaborate on what she had called black southerners’ “superiority” to non-southern blacks. Popping her gum and carefully moving her hair behind her shoulder, she summed up the sentiments of many of my respondents, black Memphians whom I had interviewed and exchanged ideas with for five years between 2003 and 2010. “We just do things better down here, you know. Bigger. Better. Better hair. Better loving. Better singing. Better churching. Better cooking. We look better. Just better. We just all around better black folks.” Delivered without an air of judgment and as a statement of verifiable fact, Ruth Ann’s assertions underscore ongoing debates about racial authenticity and identity, about great migrations and reverse migrations, and about the place of the South, past and present, in African American social memory. This notion that the South, and in particular southern cities, represents a best-of-both-worlds blackness, or even a better blackness, is not one confined to black southerners’ backyard barbecue or kitchen chatter. Claims of black southern superiority are also framed and articulated in a powerful segment of popular culture coauthored by competing and intersecting black, white, corporate, and national interests. From the plays, films, and television shows of writer and producer Tyler Perry, to commercial advertisements for Popeyes featuring Annie, a properly buxom southern black woman selling the Louisianaspiced yardbird, to hip-hop music’s definitive turn toward crunk and the Dirty South, the South has risen again as the geographic epicenter of authentic black identity.

Although popular culture is replete with varied explorations and constructions of contemporary black southern identities, and southerners like Ruth Ann are thinking through, fashioning, and reconstructing those identities in their everyday lives, social scientists have been slower to consider region as an important dimension of the multiplicity of black identities in . . .

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