A Change of Identities…

My friend Peggy Brunache is a Miami girl now living in Perth, Scotland…As she is struggling with being Haitian-American urbanite in a predominately rural, white country, I’m facing a different challenge in Magnolia, Arkansas…

As I alluded to in my previous post (Call To Home), I’m from a small southern town myself….Hell, the county seat of Benton County, Tennessee, is three-times smaller than Magnolia. So when I moved to Memphis, I was the token “hick-town kid.”….even while I was completing my Ph.D. in the “oh-so hip” town of Austin, Texas, my colleagues reinforced my rural, southern identity….I frequently spoke for rural, poor, southern America even though I had not been a part of that world for more than a decade…At one point, a good friend and classmate even referred to me playfully as “a reject from the Charlie Daniels Band”….I’m not quite sure what he meant, but I assumed it had to do with my long, one-length hair, my scraggly beard and my frequently worn black Harley-Davidson T-Shirts.

Now that I have returned to a rural southern town, I find that I am not allowed to claim the identities that I have worn for fourteen years. I am constantly referred to as being from the city as in: “You city folks are always going home n’ checkin’ on your dogs…we just let ours run wild.”

Even more perplexing, I am often not allowed to claim the South as my own…three different people have commented on the fact that they thought I was from California…WHAT IS THAT SUPPOSED TO MEAN?!?!? Others, echoing the words of my old friend Mary Evelyn Starr, comment off-handedly that Tennessee is not really very southern. I understand that I have lost most of my southern accent during my higher education, but–by God–I still listen to country music, dip snuff and say “Yes, Mam’.” The accusation that I am not very rural, or very southern at all wounds me to the very core of who I have become very comfortable being…

I have spent a great deal of time attempting to parse the cutltural meanings behind these statements…One thing is certain….To most folks in Magnolia, I am clearly not from here.

Today on an NPR segment about Muslims in America, two young Chicago-born girls were asked which they most identified with–being Muslim or being American….Their reply was very perceptive…they cliamed that they felt more Muslim in America and more American in other Muslim countries….You are whatever makes you different…

Silly me….Any anthropologist should understand that.

Of course, it’ll probably take me another 14 years to get comfortable being a token urban, urbane, left-wing intellectual in Magnolia….but it looks like I got no choice.

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Categories: academia, life, post


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One Comment on “A Change of Identities…”

  1. September 22, 2006 at 2:41 pm #

    Yeah, well it still sucks not to feel at home anywhere, but at least we can get some moral superiority out of it…

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