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White Southerners
Regions with significant populations
Southern United States

White Southerners, are White Americans from the Southern United States, who are considered an ethnic group by some historians, sociologists and journalists, although this categorization has proven controversial, and other academics have argued that Southern identity does not meet the criteria for definition as an ethnicity.

Academic John Shelton Reed argues that "Southerners' differences from the American mainstream have been similar in kind, if not degree, to those of the immigrant ethnic groups".[2][3] Reed states that Southerners, as other ethnic groups, are marked by differences from the national norm, noting that they tend to be poorer, less educated, more rural, and specialize in job occupation. He argues that they tended to differ in cultural and political terms, and that their accents serve as an ethnic marker.[4]

Upon white Southerners Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton being elected to the U.S. presidency during the late 20th century, it symbolized generations of change from an Old South to New South society. Journalist Hodding Carter and State Department spokesperson during the Carter Administration stated: "The thing about the South is that it's finally multiple rather than singular in almost every respect." The transition from President Carter to President Clinton also mirrored the social and economic evolution of the South in the mid-to-late 20th century.[5]

Historical identity

Some Southern writers in the lead up to the American Civil War (1861–1865) built on the idea of a Southern nation by claiming that secession was not based on slavery but rather on "two separate nations". These writers postulated that Southerners were descended from Norman cavaliers, Huguenots, Jacobites and other supposed "Mediterranean races" linked to the Romans, while Northerners were claimed to be descended from Anglo-Saxon serfs and other Germanic immigrants who had a supposed "hereditary hatred" against the Southerners.[6] These ethnonationalist beliefs of being a "warrior race" widely disseminated among the Southern upper class, and Southerners began to use the term "Yankee" as a slur against a so-called "Yankee race" that they associated with being "calculating, money worshipping, cowardly" or even as "hordes" and "semi-barbarian".[7] Southern ideologues also used their alleged Norman ancestors to explain their attachment to the institution of slavery, as opposed to the Northerners who were denigrated as descendants of a so-called "slave race".[7] Union Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles and German-American political scientist Francis Lieber, who condemned the Southerners' belief in their supposed distinct ancestry, attributed the Civil War's outbreak to that belief. In 1866, Edward A. Pollard, author of the first history book on the Confederacy The Lost Cause, continued insisting that the South had to "assert its well-known superiority in civilization over the people of the North."[7] Southerners developed their ideas on nationalism on influences from the nationalist movements growing in Europe (such as the works of Johann Gottfried Herder and the constructed north–south divide between Germanic peoples and Italians). Southern ideologues, fearful of mass politics, sought to adopt the ethnic themes of the revolutions of 1848 while distancing themselves from the revolutionaries' radical liberal ideas.[8] The slaveholding elite encouraged Romantic "antimodern" narratives of Southern culture as a refuge of traditional community hospitality and chivalry to mobilise popular support from non-slaveholding White Southerners, promising to bring the South through a form of technological and economic progress without the perceived social ills of modern industrial societies.[8]

In the eleven-thirteen states that seceded from the United States in 1860–61 to form the Confederacy, 31% of families held at least one African American in slavery.[9] According to a 2014 study, about 10% of self-identified White Southerners have African ancestry, compared to 3.5% of White Americans in general.[10][11]

Sociologist William L. Smith argues that "regional identity and ethnic identity are often intertwined in a variety of interesting ways such that some scholars have viewed white southerners as an ethnic group".[12] In her book Southern Women, Caroline Matheny Dillman also documents a number of authors who posit that Southerners might constitute an ethnic group. She notes that the historian George Brown Tindall analyzed the persistence of the distinctiveness of Southern culture in The Ethnic Southerners (1976), "and referred to the South as a subculture, pointing out its ethnic and regional identity". The 1977 book The Ethnic Imperative, by Howard F. Stein and Robert F. Hill, "viewed Southerners as a special kind of white ethnicity". Dillman notes that these authors, and earlier work by John Shelton Reed, all refer to the earlier work of Lewis Killian, whose White Southerners, first published in 1970, introduced "the idea that Southerners can be viewed as an American ethnic group".[13] Killian does however note, that: "Whatever claims to ethnicity or minority status ardent 'Southernists' may have advanced, white southerners are not counted as such in official enumerations".[14]

Precursors to Killian include sociologist Erdman Beynon, who in 1938 made the observation that "there appears to be an emergent group consciousness among the southern white laborers", and economist Stuart Jamieson, who argued four years later in 1942 that Oklahomans, Arkansans and Texans who were living in the valleys of California were starting to take on the "appearance of a distinct 'ethnic group'". Beynon saw this group consciousness as deriving partly from the tendency of northerners to consider them as a homogeneous group, and Jamieson saw it as a response to the label "Okie".[15] More recently, historian Clyde N. Wilson has argued that "In the North and West, white Southerners were treated as and understood themselves to be a distinct ethnic group, referred to negatively as 'hillbillies' and 'Okies'".[16]

The Harvard Encyclopedia of American Ethnic Groups, published in 1980, includes a chapter on Southerners authored by John Shelton Reed, alongside chapters by other contributors on Appalachians and Yankees. Writing in the journal Ethnic and Racial Studies, social anthropologist M. G. Smith argued that the entries do not satisfactorily indicate how these groups meet the criteria of ethnicity, and so justify inclusion in the encyclopedia.[17] Historian David L. Carlton, argues that Killian, Reed and Tindall's "ethnic approach does provide a way to understand the South as part of a vast, patchwork America, the components of which have been loath to allow their particularities to be eaten away by the corrosions of a liberal-capitalist order", nonetheless notes problems with the approach. He argues that the South is home to two ethnic communities (white and black) as well as smaller, growing ethnic groups, not just one. He argues that: "Most important, though, and most troubling, is the peculiar relationship of white southerners to the nation's history." The view of the average white Southerner, Carlton argues, is that they are quintessential Americans, and their nationalism equates "America" with the South.[18]

See also


  1. ^ "Religious Landscape Study".
  2. ^ Reed, John Shelton (1982). One South: An Ethnic Approach to Regional Culture. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press. p. 78. ISBN 978-0807110386. southerners ethnic group.
  3. ^ Reed, John Shelton (1972). The Enduring South: Subcultural Persistence in Mass Society. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press. p. 11. ISBN 978-0669810837.
  4. ^ Reed, John Shelton (1993). My Tears Spoiled My Aim, and Other Reflections on Southern Culture. Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press. p. 29. ISBN 978-0826208866. john shelton reed Southerners.
  5. ^ Applebome, Peter (10 November 1992). "From Carter to Clinton, A South in Transition". New York Times. Retrieved 30 June 2015.
  6. ^ De Bow's Review Volume 30 Issues 1–4. J.D.B. De Bow. 29 August 1861. pp. 48, 162, 261.
  7. ^ a b c McPherson, James M. (2014). ""Two Irreconcilable Peoples": Ethnic Nationalism in the Confederacy". In David T. Gleeson; Simon Lewis (eds.). The Civil War as Global Conflict Transnational Meanings of the American Civil War. University of South Carolina Press. ISBN 9781611173260.
  8. ^ a b Towers, Frank (2010). "The Origins of the Antimodern South: Romantic Nationalism and the Secession Movement in the American South". In Don Harrison Doyle (ed.). Secession as an International Phenomenon From America's Civil War to Contemporary Separatist Movements. University of Georgia Press. pp. 179–180, 183–187. ISBN 9780820330082.
  9. ^ Bonekemper III, Edward H. (2015). The Myth of the Lost Cause: Why the South Fought the Civil War and Why the North Won. Washington, D.C.: Regnery Publishing. p. 39.
  10. ^ Christopher Ingraham (December 22, 2014). "A lot of Southern whites are a little bit black". Washington Post.
  11. ^ Katarzyna Bryc; Eric Y. Durand; J. Michael Macpherson; David Reich; Joanna L. Mountain (December 18, 2014). "The Genetic Ancestry of African Americans, Latinos, and European Americans across the United States". The American Journal of Human Genetics. 96 (1): 37–53. doi:10.1016/j.ajhg.2014.11.010. PMC 4289685. PMID 25529636.
  12. ^ Smith, William L. (2009). "Southerner and Irish? Regional and Ethnic Consciousness in Savannah, Georgia". Southern Rural Sociology. 24 (1): 223–239.
  13. ^ Dillman, Caroline Matheny (1988). "The Sparsity of Research and Publications on Southern Women: Definitional Complexities, Methodological Problems, and Other Impediments". In Dillman, Caroline Matheny (ed.). Southern Women. New York: Routledge. p. 6. ISBN 0-89116-838-9.
  14. ^ Killian, Lewis M. (1985). White Southerners (revised ed.). Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press. p. 169. ISBN 978-0870234880. White Southerners Killian.
  15. ^ Gregory, James N. (2005). The Southern Diaspora: How the Great Migrations of Black and White Southerners Transformed America. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press. pp. 166–167. ISBN 978-0807829837.
  16. ^ Wilson, Clyde (13 August 2014). "What is a Southerner?". Abbeville Institute. Retrieved 24 June 2015.
  17. ^ Smith, M. G. (1982). "Ethnicity and ethnic groups in America: the view from Harvard" (PDF). Ethnic and Racial Studies. 5 (1): 1–22. doi:10.1080/01419870.1982.9993357.
  18. ^ Carlton, David L. (1995). "How American is the American South?". In Griffin, Larry J.; Doyle, Don H. (eds.). The South as an American Problem. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press. pp. 44–45. ISBN 978-0-8203-1752-6.

Further reading