Outrage From Old Virginia

Update 2: Guilty as charged. It turns out that I “completely agreed” with a comment that included the word ‘manure’. I was responding to the reference to Baptist. Williams really needs to get a life. Although there is a Part 2 scheduled from Williams, I will do you all a favor and move on.

Update: Hypocrisy lives in Old Virginia. Apparently, Richard Williams disapproves of my reference to him as “insecure” but he has no problem describing me as a “Northern elitist” and “envious.” And how does linking to a story implicate me with every word choice? I simply linked to the story. Unfortunately, this is business as usual for Williams. He should look more closely at the kinds of websites he links to as well as his own track record of generalizing and insulting people that he knows nothing about before he goes after others.

Only Richard Williams could interpret my last post about Blake Lively’s new fashion line (inspired by “Georgia peaches” and “sweet tea”) as a full-blown assault against all things Southern. According to Williams, “Some folks just don’t seem to understand that there’s a lot more to the South than 1861-1865, cotton, slavery and hillbillies.”

Perhaps the anger is envy. It’s demonstrably evident that Southern culture dominates much of American life….

We have Southern belles, but no Northern belles. (And what man wouldn’t rather listen to a woman from Alabama with a soft Southern drawl talk to you over the phone vs. the nasal twang of a young lady from New Joisey?) To conclude, having lived in the South for 56 years, I have very little patience for Northeast elites who suggest such insulting nonsense about Southerners.

Richard also includes a “not [so] totally scientific” survey that is meant to reveal the pervasiveness or popularity of Southern culture. His choice of search terms is revealing in and of itself. What this has to do with my post is unclear.

If I understand Williams correctly, the Blake Lively clothing line ought to be defended as part of our rich Southern culture even though she was born and raised in California. As far as I can tell, the clothing has nothing to do with the South or its history and it’s not even clear that the photographs were taken anywhere near the South. The website offers nothing more than the typical worn out cliches, but I guess in Williams’s world this is worth defending. I had no idea that his understanding of Southern culture was this shallow.

Now back to your regularly scheduled programming.

28 thoughts on “Outrage From Old Virginia

  1. James Harrigan

    “The south has produced the world’s best literature. It dominates world culture. Southern culture is the most powerful and expressive in the world.” ~ Timothy Tyson
    This is just too funny. I wonder how much of world culture Timothy Tyson (whoever he is) and Richard Williams are familiar with?

    Reply
      1. James Harrigan

        he certainly doesn’t seem like a white Southern apologist, but the quote attributed to him remains inane at best.

        Reply
        1. David

          I’d be interested to see the source for that quote. I googled it, and the only links were (surprise!) from Richard Williams.

          Now I’m wondering if he made it up.

          Reply
          1. Kevin Levin Post author

            It looks like Williams first cited back in July 2010. I very much doubt that he made it up. My guess is he came across it while doing a Google search for “The Dominance of Southern Culture” that is no longer available 🙂

            Reply
            1. Andy Hall

              Closest I can find is this, from a paper Tyson wrote in 2007, “Culture and Creolization: The World the Slaves Made” (DOC file):

              When children are born to a people who speak a pidgin, the pidgin becomes those children’s native language. Linguists call a pidgin that acquires native speakers a “creole.” That is, unlike a pidgin, a creole serves all of the functions of a language.

              Along the South Carolina coast, on the Sea Islands, the resulting creole language was Gullah. It continued to develop, taking on mostly English vocabulary while retaining a largely African grammar; that is, the deep structure of Gullah was mostly African, while most of the individual words were English. And thus black culture in the South was never fully separate from white Southern culture, and yet it was always separate, too, in another sense.

              This process of creolization did not limit itself to language but was about the whole creation of the most powerful expressive culture in the history of the world. Creolization established “Africanity,” in a sense; the pressures of slavery in the New World clarified underlying commonalities among the many African nationalities, and then created African American culture. And it was never entirely separate and never even close to fully assimilated, either. Even when it seemed consonant with white European culture, its purposes were always different, because the culture of the black South was inherently an oppositional culture—oppositional to the idea that a person can be a thing.

              As you can see, Tyson is talking about influence of linguistic patterns in a small, ethnically- and geographically distinct community — not at all about “Southern culture” writ large.

              Perhaps Williams is citing another publication by Tyson and will identify it.

              Reply
              1. Kevin Levin Post author

                As you can see, Tyson is talking about influence of linguistic patterns in a small, ethnically- and geographically distinct community…

                I am surprised Richard would want to align himself with one of those intellectual types. 🙂

  2. Jerry Sudduth Jr

    You struck a nerve, as someone who grew up in Kentucky-a state that desperately tries to prove it’s “southern” at every turn I’ve seen this mindset played out on a daily basis. Instead of confronting an uncomfortable truth, Mr. Williams spit a bunch of biased bile with no context. I’ve dealt with it from personal experience trying to bring truth to the southern mythos.

    The South I think, has always thought
    itself as superior to the rest of the country. One would figure losing the Civil War would’ve cured that but it only became worse. Robert E. Lee and other rebel leaders attained something approaching sainthood, myths like one rebel soldier was worth 20 Yankees, the Union Army was full of mercenaries and led by unscrupulous men who were out to pillage and all sorts of other hogwash become accepted fact.

    It gets old, it is broad brush stroke, black and white (pun intended) thinking that has little to no correlation with the truth. It’s as if the people most strident about southern honor and heritage have a an inferiority complex en masse. These beliefs can ease the pain of that perception of inferiority.

    That said there is a lot to appreciate about the south, it has an interesting culture and there are some nice people there. But guess what? There are nice people in New Jersey, Indiana, Ohio and all over America. They’re of all races and creeds. All of these areas have their own cultures which add to the richness of America. They’re all important to the understanding of the American character.

    The thing is you weren’t condemning the south and upholding the virtues of the “superior” north. You were merely pointing out how this insipid, half baked ad campaign for overpriced women’s clothing had no relation to truth and how that ugly truth has been covered by a pretty lie. The fact that he got upset with it indicates more about him and less about you.

    (As an aside, the southern accent is overrated.)

    Reply
    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      That said there is a lot to appreciate about the south, it has an interesting culture and there are some nice people there.

      I absolutely loved living in Virginia just over the Blue Ridge Mountains from where Williams lives. To suggest that I am an “elitist” or that I hate the South has nothing at all to do with me. Much of Williams’s blogging comes from a place of deep insecurity.

      Reply
  3. Andrew Raker

    Without Mr. Williams, I wouldn’t have known about the North’s role in the cotton trade. I mean, except for what I learned in my US History classes at my high school and college in the North (though, to be fair, Indiana is basically the middle finger of the South).

    I promise to him that as soon as I see an actress come out with a line inspired by antebellum cotton merchants or slave traders from New York or Providence, I’ll condemn them with as much snark as I levelled at Blake Lively.

    I’ll agree with the others that there are plenty of good things about the South, and I loved living in both Virginia and Tennessee. This kind of insecurity is not one of them.

    Reply
    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      Without Mr. Williams, I wouldn’t have known about the North’s role in the cotton trade.

      I teach an entire unit in my survey course on the Lowell Mills and their connection to the Cotton South. My readings are pulled from those biased academic historians that Williams loves to worry his readers about. 🙂

      Reply
  4. Marian Latimer

    Oh, my Richard darling, as a Northerner, who is somewhat related to Nathan Bedford Forrest, something I am NOT proud of, I resent the hell out of your claim there are no Northern Belles. We are all, apparently hags and beaten down by life. You know some of us get by on our brains and our looks are enhanced by the fact that are teeth have not rotted out by decades of sweet tea. And while we don’t have a Northern Living, there are such literary efforts to the magazine world as “Midwestern Living,” “Lake Superior Magazine,” and a magazine out of the Grand Traverse area that has been a frequent award winner but since I have been away from Michigan for over three years and living in, gasp, NC, although not initially by choice, I have forgotten the full name, but all of those magazines have large circulations and all circulate out of the area. You, sir, with all due respect, are no southern gentleman. We Northern Women do not disrespect you.

    And, oh, yes, our side won the war and President Lincoln said, “Thank God for Michigan.” I bet you now vote for his party as many of your southern brethren do. War’s over. Can’t we all get along?

    Reply
      1. Marian Latimer

        Kevin,

        I’m still seething about this tonight (or tomorrow, since technically it’s Thursday), having thought of other literary names belonging to us, like Joyce Carol Oates and the recently departed Elmore “Dutch” Leonard, but alas I see that his archives/library have gone to Columbia, SC, however the scuttlebutt is that they paid and University of Michigan expected them to be gifted by the family. Sigh.

        I expect I’ll be stewing on this for awhile.

        Reply
  5. Brad

    This is almost laugh out loud funny, much ado about nothing.

    Instead of trying to make up an issue where no one exists and since you spent a lot of time discussing Mr. Baptist’s book, how about some discussion of a book like Prof. Michael Ross’ book about The Great New Orleans Kidnapping Case, which was discussed the other day in the New York Times.

    Reply
      1. Brad

        Sorry if it seemed I was giving you advice. I just thought the whole southern belle marketing was basically a non-issue, unlike some of the other great issues you bring to the fore.

        I haven’t read Ross’ book yet either but sounds like a real interesting one.

        Reply
        1. Kevin Levin Post author

          On one level I think you are right, but at the same time it feeds into an incredibly distorted view of what took place on plantations, which is exactly what I think Baptist was dealing with by describing them as slave labor camps. Try such a marketing move with that in mind rather than our collective memory of the plantation.

          That’s not meant to be a reductionist claim which brushes aside the entire spectrum of life at such places. Yes, I made the mistake of responding to an incredibly defensive and insecure individual who sees himself as the spokesman for the South and Southern history and culture.

          Reply
  6. Michael C Williams

    Then just don’t respond when he posts somthing about you.

    Oh and another thing that’s kinda not related,

    The commite at W@L removed the flags from Lee’s tomb.

    Whould you feel the same if they went to a cementary nearby and had a flag that was flying above the cemetary removed along with any flags placed on the graves?

    I’m just wondering……

    Reply
    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      Again, I thank you for your advice.

      I’ve addressed the flag controversy at W&L. I suggest you look for the posts by going back through the archives or by doing a keyword search in the sidebar.

      Reply
  7. Andrew Raker

    Sorry I did’t include a “bless her heart” so I could sound Southern when being critical of this marketing spread. That might have saved you from some of this trouble and/or entertainment.

    I also meant my phrasing to refer to this spread, rather than to Lively herself (and I don’t even know if she’s the one that wrote it, but it came with her imprimatur, so I’m not absolving her of responsibility – just pointing out the thoughts in my head that I did not make that clear with my first comment). I offer my apologies for using that term for another person. I’ll still stand by my assertion that the creator of this spread doesn’t know what s/he is talking about, both about antebellum plantation life, and, as Vox’s piece on this pointed out, the biology of hummingbirds.

    Reply
    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      I also meant my phrasing to refer to this spread, rather than to Lively herself (and I don’t even know if she’s the one that wrote it, but it came with her imprimatur, so I’m not absolving her of responsibility – just pointing out the thoughts in my head that I did not make that clear with my first comment).

      No worries. I also thought you were talking about the spread as well. Williams, on the other hand, has no ability to draw such distinctions. It’s more convenient for him to take the path that leads to whatever conclusion serves to reinforce his beliefs about me.

      Reply
  8. Julian

    as ” Kevin the Carpetbagger ” so named in one of the comments on the Old Virginia Blog – you have a perverse status and profile down South, but Southern land and industrial infrastructure must be pretty undervalued if you can swoop down and buy it up on a teacher’s wage LOL

    Reply

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