“I could never live in the South.”
Far too often, this statement tumbles from the lips of typically white, middle-class liberal folks from the likes of self-deemed progressive cities like New York City or San Francisco. Many of these individuals are marginalized on the basis of their sexuality or gender identity, seemingly lending credence to their intolerance of the South. After all, Southern states do predominantly mistreat transgender student-athletes, curtail reproductive rights, and restrict access to vote. But the South is also home to a rich diversity of cultures, a fact that is often overlooked.
The South is the beating heart of the United States, representing a microcosm of the country’s political and cultural battles. In 2019, 56% of Black Americans lived in the South. Between 2010 and 2019, the South saw the fastest growth in the Latino population. 3.6 million LGBTQ adults (or 32% of the nation’s LGBTQ adult population) also live in the South, which is more than in any other region of the country. In 2020, Georgia had more Democratic voters (2.4 million) than Massachusetts (2.3 million), Oregon (1.3 million), Washington (2.3 million), or a number of other states traditionally thought of as solidly blue.
Black and queer people are the blueprint behind this, making the South home to cutting-edge trends and radical movement making. More movies are now filmed in Atlanta, the South continues to pioneer developments in hip hop and R&B, and historically black colleges—the vast majority of which are in the South—remain ground zero in the never-ending fight for racial justice.
America would not have the thriving and diverse culture, nor the advances in civil liberties, it has today without contributions from the South and its people.
The stereotypes painting southerners as "backward" or majoritarian ignore the lived reality of the millions of liberal QTPOC like me who live here. A lifelong Georgian, I used to internalize these stereotypes, desiring desperately to “escape” the South and live in the North or Midwest. I too fell for the imagery of the South as a white, cisgender, heterosexual, and Republican region where my safety and comfort would always be at issue. But the more I visited other regions, the more the truth became clear: there is nothing wrong with being a southerner. The word “y’all” and it’s meteoric rise in non-Southern speech is a microcosm of this realization. Once a denigrated giveaway of being southern, the phrase has gained popular acceptance for being gender-neutral and is now used by non-southerners and non-Americans alike.
This is not to say that life in the South is perfect. We are gerrymandered, disenfranchised, and marginalized at many turns. But I refuse to let those in control of our political systems dictate the way I view myself, my state, and our future. Furthermore, Northern and Western states are no strangers to racism, transphobia, and institutionalized bigotry. Oregon infamously banned all Black people early in the state’s history, which has undoubtedly led to the fact that only 2.2% of the state's population today is Black. Maine currently has more black bears (approximately 35,000) than Black people (almost 22,000). Boston, Massachusetts elected a white man as mayor for 199 straight years, a streak only broken with the 2021 election of Michelle Wu.
To claim these states and regions as superior to the South is an ironic exercise in white supremacy, placing almost exclusively white areas on a pedestal above areas with significantly more diversity. It is the same paternalism that makes spaces outside the South so hostile and unforgiving. Whether it's making assumptions about my intelligence because of my gratuitous use of “y’all” or the cries for boycotts from coastal liberals in response to the latest Republican hijinks, non-Southerners cannot help but to erase and infantilize Southerners and Southern culture.
Different folks naturally prefer different environments to live in, and I’ll never judge someone who finds their own home outside the South. But to those who say they could never live in the South, remember there are millions of Southerners who couldn’t fathom living where you do. As for me, ain’t nothing beating an ice-cold Coke and boiled peanuts on a warm autumn night in the backyard of my Atlanta home. The South—full of dark-skinned faces like mine and a queer person on every corner—is where my heart feels at home. I am finally proud to be a Georgian, and from now on, I don’t plan on going anywhere.