Article in Southern Writers Magazine

Please enjoy my article in Southern Writers Magazine:

How to Write About the South (Especially When It’s Not Cool to Write About the South)conference3

War Eagle Women: It’s All About the Secrets

Name a Gothic novel without secrets. You can’t. Secrets are the core of all things Gothic.
I take that back. Secrets that refuse to be kept are the core of all things Gothic. And Southern Gothic? Of course! Even more so.
With perhaps the bloodiest non-war history of any other section of our country. I think the number one reason why the Gothic fits so well here is the history and geography both.

Think of the Old South. What do you see? Plantations in ruin, people starving, many homeless…especially those who had received their freedom from slavery–and very little else. The soil itself cries tears of blood straining to keep its past and present crimes a mystery.

But secrets are funny things. They are stubborn and unruly and don’t like to be kept. Especially in the deep mountains of Arkansas where few people have trod. Especially in the hidden caves next to the wild river. Especially, in the heart of a girl.

War a Eagle Women is now available in print.

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/war-eagle-women-tina-coleman-bausinger/1120443907?ean=9781619355873

It’s Southern Gothic–Steel Magnolias, Heaven and Fried Green Tomatoes all rolled into one. How can one secret affect four generations of women? By refusing to be kept.

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On Loving the South and the Southern Gothic

WarEagleWomen2_850 (1)

O magnet-south! O glistening perfumed South! My South! — Walt Whitman

Loving the South doesn’t mean we don’t hold its injustices or secrets in a faraway place of denial.

To be Southern is to identify with its beauty–but at the same time naming our wrongs to others both past and present. Though the South may be indeed mired in the past, we enumerate our sins and attempt to learn from them. This makes us unique from the rest of the country, and indeed, the rest of the world.

It’s even more difficult to explain how it feels to be a Southern woman.

We have all experienced the “good old boys” network. We’ve all scratched and clawed our ways through antiquated ideas of male dominance, whether in the workplace, the family, or in the church. We’ve been taught that to be a lady means to not make a fuss.

Sometimes it’s necessary to make a fuss.

Sometimes, it’s necessary to scream and cry and force others to hear us. In Southern culture, to attempt to move from one’s designated place, either within society, our family and our own demons will always invite opposition.

But we, the New Southern Women, dig in our heels and cry “Bring it.” Because we, of all people, know of the danger that is found within the beauty of this land. The South is not perfect–the events that have happened here in our bloody past refuse to be forgotten or buried.

It’s these past transgressions, horrors and secrets that stamp an indelible tattoo of the gothic on our literature, our poetry, our music and even our very lives. We don’t deny our past–we could not even if we tried. But Southern solidarity and identity renders within us a beauty from the ashes.

Southern women are often the first to label the wrong we see, the ones who say “no more.”

Sister, I hear you. Your voice whispers into the chilly wind of winter, but is heard nonetheless.

For after the winter, the spring blooms anew.

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Hillbilly Scholars: Studying Poor Whites in Academia

morris

While working on my graduate independent study, I wanted to see if I could find evidence of prejudice against female students with Southern accents. It took a lot of sorting through quite a few books on dialect, sociolinguistics and feminism before I found what I think are the best sources around. Because working class studies and dialects link closely together, I looked at both.

Jennifer Beech’s “Redneck and Hillbilly Discourse in the Writing Classroom: Classifying Critical Pedagogies of Whiteness” goes a step further in not only claiming “middle-class” as identity but daring to proclaim oneself as “redneck” or “hillbilly” in an academic setting (172). Finally, someone is using the terms “redneck” and “hillbilly” in a non-threatening way. She also discusses “Writing With and Even as Rednecks and Hillbillies: Critique and Advocacy” which closer approaches the subject of a Southern female student (177). Though not gender-specific, it comes perhaps as close as any scholarship thus far.

Edward W. Morris’s “From “Middle Class” to “Trailer Trash:” Teachers’ Perceptions of White Students in a Predominantly Minority School” touches on a crucial issues: social class based on teachers’ opinion of the “whiteness of students” within a “predominantly minority school” (99). Morris contends that in his experience, white teachers were more racist towards the poor whites than teachers of color.

This is important because it focuses race and classism in the classroom and how being “poor white” is sometimes considered an allowed biased. This is an integral concept because it introduces the topic of inter-racism within the classroom. Teachers were found to look down upon the poorer white students attending the minority classroom without quite being conscious of it. His book An Unexpected Minority:White Kids in an Urban School delves deeper into interesting questions regarding race and perceptions of race in the classroom.

Casie Fedukovich is one of the first (and few) to broach the idea of Southern women in the classroom. Her work “Strange Imports: Working-Class Appalachian Women in the Composition Classroom” really delves into issues of seemingly impossible binaries of student and hillbilly, as brings to light certain issues and strengths working-class women bring to the university. This work, outside of Working Class Women in the Academy, is perhaps most directly relevant to my experience as a southern woman in academia.

By taking a good look at the roots of when the Southern accent became acknowledged initially, this paper attempts to trace its transformation from merely being accepted to being a legitimate mouthpiece for expression for an unrealized marginalized group.

Interested in Morris’s book? Here’s a link http://www.amazon.com/Unexpected-Minority-White-Urban-School/dp/0813537215/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1401827466&sr=1-1&keywords=edward+morris+unexpected+minority

On the “Other” Southerner: Jim Goad’s Redneck Manifesto and Reverse Discrimination in the Classroom

borderlands

The idea of Middle-Class Studies becomes even more prominent in the late 1990s. Writers like Lynn Bloom, in her article “Freshman Composition as a Middle-Class Enterprise” began disclosing their middle-class roots in an effort to focus on the “number of major aspects of social class that freshman composition addresses…that will make them good citizens of the academic (and larger) community, and viable candidates for good jobs upon graduation” (655). She discusses how “middle-class standards” sometimes cause discrimination in the classroom. With the beginning of middle-class studies we also begin to see work regarding working-class studies, which becomes more important to the study of the southerner in the classroom. Again, class is important, because the young, rich sorority girl attending Ole Miss encounters different problems from the working-class mother attending the University of Arkansas.

Soon after, Jim Goad’s The Redneck Manifesto: How Hillbillies, Hicks, and White Trash Became America’s Scapegoats came on the scene, demanding respect for his kind, and discussing how Southerners are “Othered”. While tracing the history of poor whites to the beginning of American culture, he insists that all Caucasians not be lumped together into one group, and that poor white southerners should not be punished for the sins of their richer forefathers.

This reminds me again of Borderlands where Anzaldúa writes, “The dominant white culture is killing us slowly with its ignorance. By taking away our self-determination, it has made us weak and empty” (108). While searching for release from her own discrimination, Anzaldúa makes the mistake of pooling all of white culture into one neat box, when clearly we are more than just one heritage. Such mixing inhibits Southern women like me when searching for our identity. I don’t fit into a nice tidy box.

Jim Goad, author The Redneck Manifesto: How Hillbillies, Hicks, and White Trash Became America’s Scapegoats, explains:

The stereotypes [of the South and Southerners] aren’t new, just more persistently cruel of late. The Dumb White Bumpkin has always been a stock figure in the American dramatis personae. But fifty years ago the depictions tended toward the benign and comical, from Li’l Abner to Ma and Pa Kettle” (Goad 16).

Goad’s acknowledgement of negative Southern stereotypes such as Li’l Abner pales in comparison with some of the female counterparts on popular television programs.

Goad notes that since the days of the “Beverly Hillbillies,” the stereotypes have gravitated to more dangerous and fearsome (Goad 5). Goad mentions movies such as Deliverance portray poor whites as social deviants who should be avoided, not just generally but at all times (8). If a student is poor and white, from a working class family (as well as from the South), what are the identifiers that spring to mind? By allowing poor whites to be ridiculed, the separation or alienation within the classroom is inevitable. Goad explains:

Referring to “white trash” name calling “What should I call the nontrashy Caucasians? White Gold? The Valuable People? The true profiteers of white imperialism? These are the same class of folks who create negative media images of white trash, the writers who use “redneck” as an adjective. They disparage white trash much as one insults an embarrassingly drunken relative. And in so doing, they shunt nonwhite resentment away from themselves and toward white trash” (32).

Goad’s idea of estrangement of poor whites from their own race is the most significant sort of alienation. Why should they be accepted within the composition classroom, a place where students are taught to communicate for academia, if they are sometimes rejected from their own racial domicile? He continues, “Even within their own race, people seem to need an “other.” It appears impossible for societies to conceive of an “us” without an antagonistic and constantly threatening “them” (32). Within societies, even in a smaller scope like the university setting, the concept of othering and alienation exists.

http://www.amazon.com/The-Redneck-Manifesto-Hillbillies-Scapegoats/dp/0684838648/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1401739515&sr=8-1&keywords=redneck+manifesto

Jim Goad's The Redneck Manifesto

Jim Goad’s The Redneck Manifesto

 

Southern Accents: Breaking the Tradition of Silence

Me and Mom circa 1975

Me and Mom circa 1975

“If you want to really hurt me, talk bad about my language. Ethnic identity is twin skin to linguistic identity–I am my language. Until I can take pride in my language, I cannot take pride in myself…I will no longer be made to feel ashamed of my existing. I will have my voice…I will have my serpent’s tongue–my woman’s voice, my sexual voice, my poet’s voice. I will overcome the tradition of silence.” ~Gloria Anzaldua.

“There is nothing like the abjection of self to show that all abjection is in fact recognition of the want on which any being, meaning, language, or desire is founded.” ~ Julia Kristeva

After reading Gloria Anzaldua’s Borderlands as well as Julia Kristeva’s Powers of Horror for my graduate level classes, I began exploring the idea of abjection and “othering” of foreigners. After some research with these and other feminist writers, it occurred to me that some of these same discriminations could also apply to Southern student attending college for the first time, most especially older students who have been a part of the workforce and are attempting to change occupations through the gateway of education. This short creative piece is a reflection of that experience.

Whispered Accents

So many times, when a new acquaintance finds out I am from Arkansas, the first thing she will say is, “Oh! You don’t have an Arkansas accent. How is that?”

The reason I don’t have an Arkansas accent (or what non-Arkansas perceive as one) is years of conscious effort to suppress it. If I say, “Y’all” or drop my “g’s” at the end of a word, or otherwise use language that causes spell check to disapprove, it somehow makes me feel guilty. It is because of this suppression that my children also have no accent.

I have, in the past, felt pride in this accomplishment, patting myself on the back that they do not have to struggle as I have had to in order to keep that part of my voice suppressed.

To have an Arkansas accent, a hillbilly way of talking, implies ignorance, poverty and other unpleasant stereotypes I have worked so hard to rip myself from. See, here, and here, are the scars that still bleed from the tearing.

It is so farfetched to see the connection from women who live on the border, between two worlds, to the scarcity of my own childhood where silence was often necessary? Where, to talk of college and seeking an education was viewed as self-serving or arrogant, too good for the life of my parents and their parents? I did not have toe right words to explain that seeking an education was by no means a personal slight, but an aching thirst that could not be quenched in any other way.

I too live on the border.

I have learned the right words to speak, to write. I have learned the words academia expects. But why are these words better than the ones inside me? Who decides, and why must I concede to their judgement? Why must I choose between the language of my peers and the words of my heritage?
I refuse.

For me, for my children, I will teach them the old words, the ancient stories that I have hidden from them. I realize now that I was not helping them by silencing them the way I had been silenced. I will tell them the stories and legends of who we are and where we came from. I will try to salvage their pride in their roots. Because the words I use are blended and diverse as the blood that runs through my veins.

My dialect, the words I know deep down inside the hidden places descended from the settlers who first braved the harsh Arkansas winters. Their words are a mix of Cherokee, Irish, Scottish, German and Chickasaw.

They are the words of the hard-working pioneers who settled the land; that rocky, unforgiving wild place called Arkansas.

My words are the suffering of the Cherokees mourning their dead.

My words are the fatigue of soldiers on watch at sunrise.

My words are the screams of my grandmothers in childbirth.

My words are the whispers of the moonshiners.

My words are the preacher’s pleas for repentance.

My words are the sinner’s tears of salvation.

My words are the sharecropper’s curses.

My words are myself.

I will teach my children the truth: these words are not shameful. For my mother, who was silenced, I will teach them.

And I (we) will no longer be ashamed.

6 Misconceptions About Arkansas

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My family and I were watching Jim Gaffigan last night. He is really hysterical. Seriously, if you haven’t heard of him I BEG YOU to look him up on Netflix or YouTube. You won’t be sorry.

One of his funniest bits is when he dissects Southern culture. He explains with great amazement the unashamed Southern diet. (Hey, at least we’re honest about it). He says that the reason why Southerners move so slow is, “I’ve figured it out. It’s the biscuits and gravy. Everyone in the South moves around like they’ve just had two helpings.”

At least he’s not mean; it’s all in good fun. And you have to give the guy props for his self-depreciating humor (especially about his own flourescent whiteness).

As you know, I’m from Arkansas, and though I love living in Texas, I left some of my favorite people back there. All this talk about the South reminds me a LOT about the endless Arkansas jokes I’ve endured over the years. People think they are SO funny. Yeah, you’re hilarious and no I haven’t really heard that joke six million times.

At least Jim doesn’t try to talk about places he’s never visited. That is the epitome of ignorance in my book.

Sure, there is a lot of beautiful country in Arkansas. But there’s more to it than meets the eye. CNN listed Rogers, Arkansas as the number 10 “Best Places to Live in 2010”. Here’s an excerpt from their article:

“If you’re inclined to dismiss a small city in Arkansas as a backwater, you’re making a big mistake. Rogers is right next door to Bentonville, where Wal-Mart is headquartered.”

http://money.cnn.com/magazines/moneymag/bplive/2010/snapshots/PL0560410.html

NW Arkansas also hosts the following big-money businesses: J.B. Hunt, Tyson Foods, Coca-Cola, Proctor & Gamble, Motorola, Nestle, General Mills, Dell, PepsiCo, either as a primary business or a vendor of Wal-Mart. That’s some big money.

Also, the University of Arkansas trains some of the best engineers, nurses, and writers in the world. I know a few of them. There is also talk of Fayetteville bidding to host the Olympics:

http://www.rockcitytimes.com/fayetteville-bids-host-2024-winter-olympics

Here are some of the stupid  (real life) questions I’ve been asked about my life in Arkansas.

1. Q. Did you marry your cousin?

A. No, I don’t really check out my immediate family for dating material. That’s Victorian England you’re thinking of.

2. Q. Did you have indoor plumbing growing up?

A. Yes, and thanks for your concern. I was wondering if you currently have indoor plumbing because your body odor begs to differ.

3. Q. Is there anything to do in Arkansas? I mean, besides checking out your cousins? I mean, isn’t it pretty backwoods?

A. Actually, Northwest Arkansas is quite a lot more metropolitan than most people realize. Bentonville, Rogers, Springdale, and Fayetteville have pretty much grown together and support a population somewhere close to half a million people, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

4. Q. Ever see “Deliverance?” Wasn’t that filmed in Arkansas?

A. Yes, I have seen it. Wasn’t that much to write home about, so I didn’t. Did you get your facts from the internets?

5. Q. Did you live in a trailer?

A. No, but I don’t judge people who do, and I’ve lived in some real craphole apartments. I think you were my neighbor once.

This isn’t really a question so I won’t label it as such. My favorite line from Jim: “The South won’t rise again because they don’t have the energy.”

This is where I beg to differ. If Arkansas is any indication of the laziness of the South, everybody better get ready. In my view, it’s really the Sleeping Giant of the nation.  Don’t mistake the slow talking for slow thinking or Southern hospitality for ignorance.After we have some more biscuits and gravy, we’re really gonna kick your butts.

Now, have a glass of sweet tea. Y’all want lemon with that?

If you haven’t visited Arkansas, I highly recommend it. Here’s some links to get you started.

Stuff to do in Bentonville, Arkansas:http://www.arkansas.com/places-to-go/cities-and-towns/city-detail.aspx?city=Bentonville

Stuff to do in Rogers, Arkansas —http://www.visitrogersarkansas.com/what-to-do/attractions/4.

Stuff to do in Fayetteville, Arkansas —http://www.arkansas.com/attractions/attractions-in.aspx?city=Fayetteville

Stuff to do in Springdale, Arkansas —http://www.arkansas.com/attractions/attractions-in.aspx?city=Springdale

Tell ’em Tina sent ya.