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  • OKIE IN EXILE: Copperhead Road

  • I am a believer in the brotherhood of man.  Each of us has been made in the image of God.

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  • I am a believer in the brotherhood of man.  Each of us has been made in the image of God.
    I’ve been on four continents in nine different countries. Everywhere I’ve been people are the same, and most of them are rednecks.  It’s true.  Given half a chance, the men will go to the woods to relieve themselves against a tree and the women will roll their eyes at the barbarity of it. I’ve seen it time and again.
    When I was in Russia, I went with a family to the lake.  The little boy dropped his pants and performed this action right there on the beach, and the mom, rolling her eyes, said in Russian, “That’s not pretty!”  
    My mom would’ve--and probably did--said the same thing.
    That having been said, when we start putting on airs, some interesting cultural differences emerge. Different peoples have developed different ways to deal with the world. There are reasons people have for doing the things they do, but those reasons are often buried in history.
    I’ve received some insight on this from a couple of sources.  One of these is Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers--which I find myself coming back to again and again--and another is the BBC television series Doc Martin, available over Netflix.  A third source I will mention is Thomas Sowell’s Black Rednecks and White Liberals.
    Malcolm Gladwell introduced me to the idea of the Southern Honor Culture.  There is a very good section of Outliers (and it’s all good) wherein he describes an experience in which it was shown how slights against a southern man’s honor actually induced physiological changes.  What he described was right on the money.  He contended this originated in settlers to the Appalachians mountains that had originated in the English borderlands.  They had raised sheep there and when you raise sheep you have to show folks that they can’t mess with you and that you mean business.  
    It all makes sense, but there are a lot of things that make sense but still aren’t true, so I filed it away and went about my business.  Then I saw the BBC program Doc Martin and that made it all real.  Doc Martin is set in Cornwall, which is a very rural part of England.  Martin’s aunt lives in the country and keeps chickens.  The way she dealt with her chickens was exactly how my Grampa and Grandma Winters dealt with theirs.  My family hasn’t been in England for almost three centuries, folks, so I conclude we keep doing things the way we are taught and don’t change it unless we have compelling reasons.
    This brings me to Thomas Sowell’s book Black Redneck’s and White Liberals.  Thomas Sowell is an black conservative.  If you are liberal and read Thomas Sowell, you are going to have your feelings hurt.  It’ll hurt more because you can’t just call him stupid.  We might not agree with him on everything--or anything--but  he will make you think.  
    Page 2 of 2 - In Black Rednecks and White Liberals he puts forth the thesis that African Americans get more of their culture from the Southern Honor Culture than the African cultures from whence they were historical taken.
    This is controversial, but it made me think.  It made me think about the times I’ve been reminded I have more in common culturally with blacks than I do midwesterners.  This happens often in my attitude toward fried chicken, black-eyed peas, cornbread, pork chops, and flour gravy. (I’ve lost 50 pounds since the first of the year, so I spend more time thinking about food than eating it.)
    Sowell makes the point, and it is valid, there is much in the Southern Honor Culture that holds people back; Malcolm Gladwell makes the same point. Reacting immediately to perceived slights is of dubious value, especially if one desires to be perceived as a professional.  Those of us who come from that culture and wish to be perceived as professionals must learn ways to deal with it.
    The first step in dealing with it is recognizing it and owning it.  Steve Earle in his song Copperhead Road has done this.  It is about a son and grandson of moonshiners who’s turned to growing marijuana. On the album version of the song, it begins with bagpipe music.
    Black, white; African, English; Scots, American; we are all brothers and we all need to realize it.
    Bobby Winters, a native of Harden City, Oklahoma, is Assistant Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and Professor of Mathematics at Pittsburg State University. He blogs at redneckmath.blogspot.com and okieinexile.blogspot.com. You may contact him at okieinexile@gmail.com.
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