Treet™, Trash, and Pride: Finding Out What It Means for Me to Be Southern, essay by Kevin Brown

I have lived almost all of my life in the South, but I have nev­er felt par­tic­u­lar­ly South­ern.  How­ev­er, the two years I have lived out­side of the South have taught me just how wrong I have been.  They have also caused me to strug­gle with exact­ly how I fit into the South and what one even means by claim­ing to be South­ern these days.  Luck­i­ly, they also helped me to devel­op a bit of South­ern pride, which I strug­gled with grow­ing up and con­tin­ue to do so.  In fact, I can remem­ber the first event that made me proud to be from the South, and it start­ed as noth­ing more than a joke.  A young woman I taught with was pass­ing me in the hall and sim­ply said hel­lo.  I respond­ed with “Howdy, howdy.”  I should point out that I do not have a well-devel­oped South­ern accent; in fact, for most of my life in the South, peo­ple asked me if I was from else­where, usu­al­ly the Mid­west.  I have also nev­er lived in Texas, but, for some rea­son, I have picked up say­ing, “howdy,” to peo­ple.

Rather than sim­ply walk­ing on to wher­ev­er she was going, she stopped and asked, “Why did you say that twice?”  Of course, there was no real answer to this ques­tion.  I believe she tru­ly want­ed to know why I had said it twice, but I had no idea then, nor do I today.  I’m sure that I’ve done it since then with no real rea­son; how­ev­er, since she asked, I gave her an answer.  I smiled and said, “Because I’m twice as proud to be from the South.”  Now, that was sim­ply not true.  I was in my late 20s, liv­ing out­side of the South for the first time in my life.  I had lived most of my life in Ten­nessee, but I had attend­ed grad­u­ate school in Mis­sis­sip­pi, so I was well versed in the South, and I can­not say that I was par­tic­u­lar­ly proud to be from there.

Since I knew that she was from New York state, I was sim­ply try­ing to be a bit mis­chie­vous, but I real­ly did not expect her next com­ment.  She took my com­ment seri­ous­ly, as I lat­er learned that she did not have a sense of humor, and looked at me incred­u­lous­ly, sim­ply respond­ing, “Why?”  It was at that moment that South­ern pride was formed in my heart, as I want­ed so des­per­ate­ly to have an answer for her ques­tion.  I want­ed to be able to explain to her every­thing that was great about the first twen­ty-sev­en years of my life because they were spent in the South.  Instead, I had noth­ing to say.

That encounter hap­pened ear­ly in the school year, in the fall semes­ter, but a lat­er event showed me that, no mat­ter what I thought about my back­ground, I was unde­ni­ably from the South, and it was up to me to own it.  I was hav­ing din­ner with a young woman I was try­ing unsuc­cess­ful­ly to con­vince to date me.  She was per­fect­ly will­ing to be friends, though, so we were out one night hav­ing piz­za at a restau­rant where the pow­er had gone out.  Thus, it took a long time to get our food, as they were try­ing to get every­thing back in order.  Luck­i­ly, per­haps, it gave us a long time to talk.

As was my wont, I was telling sto­ries about my child­hood and ask­ing her about hers.  She was from St. Louis, orig­i­nal­ly, and she had gone to col­lege in Rhode Island.  To the best of my knowl­edge, she had nev­er been to the South, nor has she to this day, over ten years lat­er (and, no, I do not count Mis­souri, espe­cial­ly St. Louis, in the South, Mark Twain except­ed).  We were talk­ing about foods of our child­hood, so I decid­ed to tell her about my favorite meal:  Treet™,[1] pork-n-beans, and mac­a­roni and cheese.  I don’t believe I men­tioned white bread and but­ter that we would have on the side, but that inclu­sion or omis­sion would not have affect­ed her response.  She looked at me and said, “No offense, but, what were you?  White trash?”

I would like to say that I had a response for this, as well, beyond sim­ply argu­ing that I was not white trash.  I had had a rather lengthy dis­cus­sion with one of my class­es about the dif­fer­ence in terms like “white trash,” “red­neck,” and “hick” ear­li­er in the year, so I should have been ready to have such a con­ver­sa­tion with her.  I was the per­fect per­son to edu­cate her about the con­no­ta­tions and deno­ta­tions of such terms and explain what life in the South was tru­ly like.  How­ev­er, I did not and, in fact, I could not do so.  The truth was that I did not know what I was.

Not sur­pris­ing­ly, since that time, I’ve done a good deal of think­ing about terms like these and where I fit in the South.  I’ve also talked to my fam­i­ly more and found out more about our back­ground.  Grow­ing up, both of my par­ents worked, and I nev­er heard sto­ries about their ear­ly mar­ried life, before I was born.  Since they’ve retired and since I’ve start­ed hear­ing more sto­ries from my old­er sis­ter, I have found out much more about what life was like in the eleven years my par­ents were mar­ried before I was born and when I was very young.  I can still say that we were not white trash, but I’m not sure exact­ly what we were.

Accord­ing to the Oxford Eng­lish Dic­tio­nary, there is no entry for “white trash.”  Instead, you have to find infor­ma­tion under the more gen­er­al head­ing of “trash.”  The fourth def­i­n­i­tion for that term is “A worth­less or dis­rep­utable per­son; now, usu­al­ly, such per­sons col­lec­tive­ly. white trash, the poor white pop­u­la­tion in the South­ern States of Amer­i­ca; now also used out­side the South­ern States of Amer­i­ca,” while a ref­er­ence to the fourth def­i­n­i­tion of “white” also tells the read­er that “poor white folk(s) or trash” is “a con­temp­tu­ous name giv­en in Amer­i­ca by Blacks to white peo­ple of no sub­stance (1836, etc. in Thorn­ton Amer. Gloss.).”  It is inter­est­ing to me that the OED ref­er­ences the racial con­flict between African-Amer­i­cans and the poor whites, as my only encoun­ters with any deroga­to­ry terms refer­ring to poor South­ern­ers has come from the white mid­dle- and upper-class, as in the case of my friend.

Look­ing back at my child­hood and just before I was born, part of this def­i­n­i­tion fits.  The fact is that we grew up poor, though I would nev­er have known it at the time.  My sis­ter tells me a sto­ry about the years just before I was born and a par­tic­u­lar­ly bad Christ­mas.  My broth­er, who is near­ly three years old­er than my sis­ter and ten years old­er than I am, once asked my moth­er if San­ta Claus didn’t like our fam­i­ly because we didn’t get very many presents.  Not sur­pris­ing­ly, his ques­tion so upset my moth­er that, from that year on, any extra mon­ey (and some that was cer­tain­ly not what any­one would define as “extra”) went to Christ­mas presents for the kids.  Thus, since I came along lat­er, I nev­er knew that we were ever in finan­cial trou­ble.

Of course, part of my igno­rance was sim­ply because I grew up around oth­er kids who were poor.  I accept­ed hand-me-downs from a good friend in my neigh­bor­hood who was two years old­er, and no one in my neigh­bor­hood made fun of me.  They wouldn’t, as they wore cloth­ing from their old­er broth­ers or cousins or friends.  In fact, I passed on some of those clothes to oth­er kids in the neigh­bor­hood when they were too small for me.

In our school sys­tem, not only was I not seen as poor, but my fam­i­ly was seen as well-off, despite all that I did not have.  Even though I was almost always the last in my neigh­bor­hood to get any­thing that was trendy, be it cloth­ing or elec­tron­ics, stu­dents at my coun­ty school envied me and where I lived.  Our neigh­bor­hood was named Mar­tin­dale Estates, and we had a neigh­bor­hood pool that fam­i­lies could buy into.  Many of my school­mates lived in trail­ers out in the coun­try, and they had few friends who lived with­in walk­ing or bik­ing dis­tance.

I nev­er had to go on the free lunch pro­gram, unlike many of my friends.  Again, there was no shame about being on the pro­gram, and the teach­ers would often announce infor­ma­tion about the pro­gram to the entire class.  When­ev­er stu­dents had to sign up or go to a meet­ing about it, it was announced over the school inter­com, and stu­dents would sim­ply get up and go.  There was nev­er an attempt made to hide the names of the stu­dents to pro­tect them, nor did they have any shame about accept­ing the help.  Even in mid­dle school, where any­thing seems to be free game to use for abuse, I nev­er heard a stu­dent attacked for being poor.  I can only imag­ine that any­one who would have done so would have had to defend him­self against the entire school.

The part about being called “white trash,” then, that both­ered me so much is the impli­ca­tion that one has no worth or dri­ve.  Both of my par­ents attend­ed col­lege, though only my father fin­ished, and he went on to earn a Master’s degree.  When I was two, he got a job teach­ing at the uni­ver­si­ty they had both attend­ed, and my moth­er worked there as a sec­re­tary.  Thus, when I was grow­ing up, we were clear­ly upward­ly mobile, and my par­ents strong­ly encour­aged me to fol­low that path.  My broth­er and sis­ter, both of whom grew up dur­ing much more dif­fi­cult times, strug­gled in school and did not seem inter­est­ed in that approach to life.

It is this clas­sist tint to the term, not the racial one cit­ed by the OED, that can grate on a per­son.  In her arti­cle, “ ‘Exca­vat­ed from the Inside’:  White Trash and Dorothy Allison’s Caved­weller,” Karen Gaffney writes, “The stereo­type blames poor whites for their pover­ty, con­struct­ing them as infe­ri­or, alle­vi­at­ing respon­si­bil­i­ty from whites in pow­er who main­tain the sta­tus quo.… The empha­sis on trash con­structs poor whites as garbage, unde­sir­able and dis­pos­able, in order to pre­serve the non-trash sta­tus of mid­dle- and upper-class whites.”  My par­ents both grew up very poor, as my father’s father worked in the coal mines until he devel­oped black lung, caus­ing my father’s fam­i­ly to move repeat­ed­ly and live sev­er­al times in the hous­ing projects.  My moth­er can hon­est­ly say that she did not own a win­ter coat until she was in mid­dle school, and she and her three sis­ters shared one bed for many years.  My friend’s com­ment blamed my par­ents for the meal that I had told her about when, in fact, they were work­ing to raise our fam­i­ly up out of the pover­ty they had known into a bet­ter life.

A few years ago, a new Brady Bunch movie was released, where the Bradys still lived like they were in the 1960s and 1970s, but every­one else was in the 1990s.  At one point, Car­ol Brady is shop­ping, and she buys an inor­di­nate amount of red meat.  A neigh­bor sees her doing so and crit­i­cizes her for feed­ing her fam­i­ly meat (one must recall that the Bradys lived in Cal­i­for­nia).  Her response is that her fam­i­ly is grow­ing, and they need to eat meat to do so.

Grow­ing up in the 1970s, my par­ents took the same approach, as did almost all fam­i­lies then.  They paid lit­tle con­cern to high sodi­um lev­els, and low-fat was a fad that had not hit yet.  Their main con­cern was that we had some sort of meat at every meal, no mat­ter what it was; thus, if all they could afford was Treet™, then that’s what we got.  We ate Ham­burg­er Helper™, salmon pat­ties (made from salmon in a can), Tuna Helper™, spaghet­ti, Chef Boyardee™ piz­za with pep­per­oni (we had to have a meat, and it was cheap), and cube steak, among oth­er meals.  In each case, the meals were cheap, but they gave us the meat our par­ents thought we need­ed.

They had to feed a fam­i­ly of five on a bud­get, so they did the best they could.  Even today, my favorite meal of a can of Treet™, a box of mac­a­roni and cheese, a can of pork-n-beans, and a piece of white bread with but­ter is still quite cheap.  I went to the store to check prices, and a can of Treet™ was on sale for 99 cents (nor­mal­ly $1.29), a large can of pork-n-beans (31 oz) by a name-brand com­pa­ny was $1.69, and a box of fam­i­ly size, name-brand mac­a­roni and cheese was $1.94.  If one went with store brands, two 16oz cans of pork-n-beans were 80 cents, and the mac­a­roni and cheese was on sale for $1.00 (nor­mal­ly $1.25).  Thus, this meal for five would range between $2.79 (for store brands and with every­thing on sale) to $4.92 (for all name brands and noth­ing on sale).  This type of meal would stretch a thin food bud­get in ways that most meals would not and still give us the pro­tein they thought we need­ed.  One serv­ing of Treet™ alone would pro­vide each of us with six grams of pro­tein.  The mac­a­roni and cheese adds anoth­er six­teen grams, and the pork-n-beans would pack in six more.  This cheap meal pro­vides each of us with twen­ty-eight grams of pro­tein for a much low­er price than almost any­thing else we could afford.

Oth­er meals are sim­i­lar in cost and nutri­tion.  Ham­burg­er Helper with a pound of ham­burg­er would cost $5.94 for store brands and 15% fat ham­burg­er, and Tuna Helper with a can of tuna would cost $3.34 for store brands.  In both cas­es, though, when I looked Ham­burg­er and Tuna Helper were both on sale for $1.00, bring­ing the cost down to $4.79 for the Ham­burg­er Helper and $2.19 for the Tuna Helper.  The Ham­burg­er Helper would give us 26 grams of pro­tein, while the Tuna Helper serves up 25 grams.  Our par­ents could pro­vide us with about 25 grams of pro­tein for one meal for less than five dol­lars per day, and that amount is in 2008 mon­ey, not 1970s and 1980s income.  My friend’s inter­pre­ta­tion of our eat­ing habits shows only a mid­dle- to upper-class upbring­ing that is igno­rant of the strug­gles of the poor, no mat­ter where they may live.

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, those out­side of the South (or even those who live in the urban South with no knowl­edge of either the urban or rur­al poor), are unable to dis­tin­guish sim­ple pover­ty from white trash or any of the oth­er terms used to den­i­grate those who are strug­gling to sur­vive.  Some­times, though, my defen­sive­ness about grow­ing up in the South led to prob­lems, not the speaker’s igno­rance.  In the same year in Indi­ana, I had a con­ver­sa­tion with anoth­er young woman about my per­ceived lack of accent, and she used anoth­er term that is often used deroga­to­ri­ly and which I took as such, only to find out that I was the one who was mis­tak­en in this case.  I told her that I did not have a South­ern accent, and she sim­ply laughed and respond­ed, “Kevin, you’re some­where between hick and South­ern.”

I should have known bet­ter than to take the term “hick” as an insult, and my only defense is that I was obvi­ous­ly hav­ing trou­ble deal­ing with peo­ple who did not under­stand the South.  Thus, my defens­es went up, and she had to explain what she meant to prove that she did not mean to den­i­grate me or my accent.  It is true that the def­i­n­i­tion of “hick,” accord­ing to the OED is “an igno­rant coun­try­man; a sil­ly fel­low, boo­by”; how­ev­er, the focus can be on the “coun­try” part, not the “igno­rant” part, which was my friend’s inten­tion.  It is true that my mother’s accent could eas­i­ly be described as a hick accent, as she sounds like she is from the coun­try, as opposed to the South­ern accents that movie stars usu­al­ly adopt, which sound like rich plan­ta­tion own­ers.

In talk­ing to oth­ers, I’m not even sure that “hick” is lim­it­ed to the South, and the OED cer­tain­ly doesn’t lim­it it geo­graph­i­cal­ly.  I had a friend in col­lege who was from rur­al Penn­syl­va­nia, and he often used the term “hick” sim­ply to refer to those who lived in the coun­try, as he did.  It was not an insult; mere­ly a descrip­tor of where one lived.  Unfor­tu­nate­ly, when used as an adjec­tive, it becomes a put-down, as in, “You went to that hick col­lege?” or “I used to live in a hick town, but then I moved to civ­i­liza­tion.”  Thus, accord­ing to my friend, even though I have an accent that is sim­i­lar to a hick, I am not a hick in the pejo­ra­tive sense.

How­ev­er, I did have at least two dis­tinct phas­es when I want­ed to be a red­neck, one of which was pre­cip­i­tat­ed by my friend from Penn­syl­va­nia.  When I was in col­lege, I often wore doo-rags to class, so I was always on the look­out for good ban­danas.  I had a Sovi­et flag and a Union Jack at one time, and, near the end of that phase, I found a large, pur­ple, pais­ley ban­dana (it was the late 1980s, ear­ly 1990s, OK?) that would hang halfway down my back.  I even tie-dyed some ban­danas.  How­ev­er, my favorite ban­dana was one that my friend bought when he was home in Penn­syl­va­nia over break; it was a Con­fed­er­ate flag.

We both not­ed the irony of a Yan­kee buy­ing me a Con­fed­er­ate flag ban­dana to wear on cam­pus in an area of East Ten­nessee that fought for the North, and that irony made wear­ing it that much more enjoy­able.  In fact, I have often tak­en great joy in pok­ing holes in Con­fed­er­ate mythol­o­gy by point­ing out that I’m from North­east Ten­nessee, so I know what it’s like to be both a South­ern­er and a win­ner.  Note that this type of com­ment does not make one pop­u­lar with oth­er South­ern­ers.  When I was not wear­ing said ban­dana, I often wrapped it like a head­band and hung it around my rearview mir­ror, as was the trend among red­necks when I was grow­ing up.  In fact, I once joked that all one need­ed to get free car repair ser­vice was such a ban­dana.  If you raised the hood on your car with that around the mir­ror, red­necks would come out of nowhere to help you fix what­ev­er was wrong with the car.  When I was younger (and dumb­er, I should add), I believed this was a clever insult; I know now that it says some­thing about the kind­ness of South­ern­ers that I took for grant­ed while grow­ing up here.

Accord­ing to the OED, a red­neck is “A mem­ber of the white rur­al labour­ing class of the south­ern States; one whose atti­tudes are con­sid­ered char­ac­ter­is­tic of this class; freq., a reac­tionary.”  It goes on to say that term was orig­i­nal­ly an insult, and it often still is, but it is “now also used with more sym­pa­thy for the aspi­ra­tions of the rur­al Amer­i­can.”  I’m not sure exact­ly where they see evi­dence of the term being used as a sym­pa­thet­ic one, though it’s cer­tain­ly been co-opt­ed by South­ern­ers much the same way that gays and les­bians have tried to take back “queer.”  In fact, when I was in high school, I worked at a Kroger gro­cery store with a fifty-some­thing-year-old woman named Mer­le.  Her son would often come and pick her up in his low-rid­er truck, which had the word “Red­neck” paint­ed on the top of the front wind­shield.  Of course, he wore this term with pride, much as Kid Rock and Toby Kei­th have done with “white trash.”

When I was a Senior in high school, I want­ed to be a red­neck, for some rea­son.  I am not sure why the desire hit me at that point, espe­cial­ly as I had spent much of my time try­ing to escape from the trap­pings of my South­ern upbring­ing.  I even mocked my best friend (and high school vale­dic­to­ri­an) out of some of his more extreme South­ern accent, includ­ing pro­nounc­ing “yel­low” as “yal­low.”  Thus, in addi­tion to the red ban­dana I had around my rearview mir­ror (this was before my friend from Penn­syl­va­nia had giv­en me the Con­fed­er­ate flag, of course), I took to try­ing to grow side­burns.  I am still not sure why I thought side­burns would help me be more of a red­neck, but it did not help.  For some rea­son, no one looked at me and thought I was any­thing oth­er than a gen­er­al South­ern­er, what­ev­er that is.

Of course, there are oth­er terms that igno­rant peo­ple use to describe those of us who are from the South, espe­cial­ly if we grew up poor.  We are called crack­ers, which the OED help­ful­ly defines as “a con­temp­tu­ous name giv­en in south­ern States of North Amer­i­ca to the ‘poor whites’; whence, famil­iar­ly, to the native whites of Geor­gia and Flori­da.”  Some peo­ple believe the term comes from “corn-crack­er,” which is defined as “a con­temp­tu­ous name for a ‘poor white’ in the South­ern States (from his sub­sist­ing on corn or maize); a ‘crack­er’. Also, a native of Ken­tucky.”  The OED does not believe “crack­er” has any­thing to do with “corn-crack­er”; instead, it gives anoth­er def­i­n­i­tion of “crack­er” which relates to peo­ple who boast.  The ear­li­est usages of “crack­er” cer­tain­ly have ele­ments of boast­ing in them, as this let­ter from 1766 shows:  “I should explain to your Lord­ship what is meant by crack­ers; a name they have got from being great boast­ers; they are a law­less set of ras­calls on the fron­tiers of Vir­ginia, Mary­land, the Car­oli­nas and Geor­gia, who often change their places of abode.”  Of course, since they were boast­ing in the South; the term that referred to boast­ing changed into a clas­sist epi­thet.

I did not hear “crack­er” when I was grow­ing up, only lat­er when I was in grad­u­ate school, and then only in books and arti­cles I read.  How­ev­er, I did grow up hear­ing about hill­bil­lies.  I grew up on the old coun­try music of the 1970s, a group that cer­tain­ly took pride in being hill­bil­lies.  Unlike “crack­er,” there is no inher­ent insult in the term, as the OED sim­ply defines a hill­bil­ly as “a per­son from a remote rur­al or moun­tain­ous area, esp. of the south­east­ern U.S.”  In fact, a news­pa­per quote from 1900 makes being a hill­bil­ly sound rather pos­i­tive:  “In short, a Hill-Bil­lie is a free and untram­melled white cit­i­zen of Alaba­ma, who lives in the hills, has no means to speak of, dress­es as he can, talks as he pleas­es, drinks whiskey when he gets it, and fires off his revolver as the fan­cy takes him.”  The lim­i­ta­tion to Alaba­ma is inter­est­ing, but most South­ern­ers these days would feel quite hap­py if they could live the life of this “Hill-Bil­lie.”

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, the term has tak­en on neg­a­tive con­no­ta­tions, as peo­ple have tak­en the term to refer to peo­ple who live so far out­side of civ­i­liza­tion that they are unable to sur­vive with­in it, as the tele­vi­sion show The Bev­er­ly Hill­bil­lies illus­trat­ed.  The stereo­type of a hill­bil­ly as some­one who did not wear shoes or who eats pos­sum on a reg­u­lar basis is eas­i­ly dis­cerned in the def­i­n­i­tion, but even the quote from the news­pa­per does not pass judg­ment on one who lives in this man­ner; it sim­ply states that one does.  In fact, most of that quo­ta­tion implies a pover­ty that has been and still is true for hill­bil­lies, in that they dress as they can because they have no means to speak of.  They live off of the land as best they can, as they are still so iso­lat­ed that they scrape to sur­vive.  Unlike white trash, though, they are not “worth­less” or “dis­rep­utable”; they are sim­ply poor.

The prob­lem comes when those who do not under­stand the dif­fer­ences between these groups (or the true usage of the terms) uses them inter­change­ably; thus, some­one who is sim­ply a hill­bil­ly becomes white trash, and a hick becomes a crack­er.  Ulti­mate­ly, these terms all alien­ate those to whom they are applied, keep­ing them from par­tic­i­pat­ing in soci­ety, keep­ing them from invad­ing the civ­i­liza­tion that those with mon­ey and pow­er have cre­at­ed.  In “Red­neck and Hill­bil­ly Dis­course in the Writ­ing Class­room:  Clas­si­fy­ing Crit­i­cal Ped­a­go­gies of White­ness,” Jen­nifer Beech writes, “Red­necks, white trash, and hill­bil­lies, then, are among the class­es of whites who lack the pow­er to define or shape cul­tur­al norms.”

When my friend asked me if I was white trash, she was com­ment­ing on much more than what I liked to eat when I was grow­ing up.  She was speak­ing of me as some­one who did not have the pow­er or abil­i­ty to con­tribute to the soci­ety of the greater Unit­ed States, some­one who could not make an impact beyond my poor coun­try school or neigh­bor­hood.  Most of my friends under­stood this idea and believed it them­selves.  One day, a group of us were sit­ting around a tree in the neigh­bor­hood talk­ing about what we might like to do one day.  Not sur­pris­ing­ly, as many of us played sports, we dreamed of becom­ing pro­fes­sion­als.  The old­est among us said sim­ply, “Nobody from Mar­tin­dale will ever amount to any­thing.”

If one is called “trash” long enough, he or she will begin to believe it.  Luck­i­ly, I knew enough to be offend­ed by my friend’s ques­tion and by the woman from New York’s ques­tion­ing of why I would be proud to be from the South.  What I still do not know is exact­ly what it means for me to be South­ern, though I know that I am.  I know that I pre­fer small­er cities that are more rur­al as opposed to any­thing urban, though I enjoy vis­it­ing cities, but I’m also not exact­ly sure what that means, if any­thing.

Over the past ten years, which include a move to the Pacif­ic North­west that only last­ed one year because I want­ed to get back to the South so bad­ly, I’ve at least come to admit that I love the South and being South­ern, but I sim­ply can­not define what that means, either in gen­er­al or for me specif­i­cal­ly.  I have tried to write about how I am and am not South­ern, but I end up falling back on clichés and stereo­types, using accents and love of sto­ries as some sort of arbiter of South­er­ness, mak­ing me no bet­ter than those who crit­i­cized where I’m from.  As I con­tin­ue to shape what being South­ern means to me, I know that I also must strug­gle against oth­ers’ por­tray­als of South­ern­ers as igno­rant and as the South as some place I should be ashamed of.  Per­haps in edu­cat­ing them, I can edu­cate myself, as well.

Kevin Brown is an Asso­ciate Pro­fes­sor at Lee Uni­ver­si­ty and an MFA stu­dent at Mur­ray State Uni­ver­si­ty.  He has one book of poet­ry, Exit Lines (Plain View Press, 2009), one pub­lished chap­book, Abecedar­i­um (Fin­ish­ing Line Press, 2011), and anoth­er forth­com­ing chap­book, Holy Days: Poems (win­ner of Split Oak Press Chap­book Con­test, 2011).  He also has a mem­oir, Anoth­er Way: Find­ing Faith, Then Find­ing It Again (Wipf and Stock, 2012), and a forth­com­ing book of schol­ar­ship, They Love to Tell the Sto­ries:  Five Con­tem­po­rary Nov­el­ists Take on the Gospels.  His poems have appeared or are forth­com­ing in The New York Quar­ter­ly, REAL: Regard­ing Arts and Let­ters, Folio, Con­necti­cut Review, South Car­oli­na Review, Stick­man Review, Atlanta Review, and Palimpsest, among oth­er jour­nals.  He has also pub­lished essays in The Chron­i­cle of High­er Edu­ca­tion, Acad­eme, Insid​e​High​erEd​.com, The Teach­ing Pro­fes­sor, and Eclec­ti­ca.



[1] Let me go ahead and dif­fer­en­ti­ate between Treet™ and Spam™ here.  Accord­ing to their ingre­di­ents, Treet’s™ main meats are “mechan­i­cal­ly sep­a­rat­ed chick­en” and “pork,” while Spam’s™ are “pork with ham.”  In both cas­es, of course, “pork” is noto­ri­ous­ly vague (which begs the ques­tion for Spam™ as to what the dif­fer­ence between pork and ham is, but I’m guess­ing that most of us would rather not know where the “pork” por­tion comes from), and the descrip­tions of “mechan­i­cal­ly sep­a­rat­ed chick­en” are not pleas­ant, so I’ll avoid going into that.  Suf­fice it to say that their parts of the chick­en one does not nor­mal­ly eat.  Treet™ also adds “baked Vir­ginia ham sea­son­ings,” as they adver­tise a “baked Vir­ginia ham taste.”  Spam™ also includes some­thing called “mod­i­fied pota­to starch,” which I’m guess­ing is used to thick­en it up.  Both also include preser­v­a­tives, though Treet™ seems to have a wider vari­ety of them.

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2 Responses to Treet™, Trash, and Pride: Finding Out What It Means for Me to Be Southern, essay by Kevin Brown

  1. Jeff Kerr says:

    PS My dad­dy called coun­try fried steak fried baloney! He nev­er saw steak until he was in the Army.

  2. Jeff Kerr says:

    Very nice essay, Kevin! Tru­ly enjoyed it, felt it and made me think about some hard things. The term "white trash" was always the same as "nig­ger" in our fam­i­ly and you nev­er call or refer to some­one as that. I large­ly grew up in CHica­go and was known as Jef­fro after Jethro from that stu­pid show Bev­er­ly Hill­bil­lies. I burned with shame and fought going to and com­ing back from school.

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