A Look Back at Our Week of Bitterness
Tuesday morning, we woke up ready to start The Bitter Southerner’s Inaugural Membership Drive. We had been assembling this week’s festivities for a few months, and we were ready to send out that first Facebook post. We had no clue about exactly what would happen.
As Kyle Tibbs Jones, our director of social (and general master of all she surveys around here), got ready to post to Facebook and send out the first tweet, we checked the back end of our site, just to make sure it was ready to go. That was when we discovered y’all had beaten us to the punch. One of our readers from New Orleans had become the first official member of The Bitter Southerner Family at 12:10 a.m., about 12 minutes after our creative director, Dave Whitling, had made the site live and gone to bed.
Y’all were already waiting. Our New Orleanian cousin was not alone. Several people had made themselves card-carrying Bitter Southerners before we’d even told the world there was such a thing.
The Facebook post and the Tweet went out about 7:30 a.m., and your responses started rolling in. People who had joined began calling each other “cousin” on Twitter. One of you wrote, “Hey people — after a year of giving giving giving, The Bitter Southerner is asking.” Another called joining the Family “an investment worth its weight in sweet tea.” Still another wrote, “Thankful for this publication and its thoughtful examination of the strange grace of being Southern.”
The “strange grace of being Southern.” That about sums it up, don’t you think?
Then this other wild thing happened. About 8:45 a.m., National Public Radio’s Michelle Norris, one of the most respected journalists in America and the mastermind of the amazing, Peabody Award-winning Race Card Project, tweeted, “Happy 1 year anniversary to @BitterSouth. I applaud and support their work and their vision for community and storytelling.”
A collective wow rippled around the dining room table that has been our “war room” for the week. To win the respect of the ones you respect is about the highest honor you can get in this life. We were gratified. And pleased from a very practical standpoint, because almost 25,000 people follow Norris on Twitter.
Then, a minute later, she tweeted about us again. A minute later, again. And it went on for 11 tweets. We hope Ms. Norris will not mind if we take the liberty of stringing those together into a single paragraph:
“So here is why I applaud @BitterSouth. They are brave and curious and funny. They go places others avoid. They celebrate and support storytelling through writing and photography, memory and rhythm. @BitterSouth both recognizes and ignores color lines that so often define life in the South. They recognize sins without wallowing in guilt. @BitterSouth can make you cry and cringe and laugh out loud at the same time. Kind of like a Southern dinner table. Onions and molasses. And maybe that is what I like best about @BitterSouth. It feels like I am enjoying a cup of chicory at a Formica dining table. And then there is the sharp, clean design. So that is why I applaud @BitterSouth. Here is why it is important to support work like this. Creating and running an elegant website is HARD WORK. Late nights. Early mornings. Constant updates. Comments that feel like a rain of fists. On a good day. The thousand tweaks of code that get you close to your goal before realizing you have to undo it all and start again. The crazy state one must enter to push ahead. The vacuum cleaner that takes up residence over your budget with dollar signs lifting skyward. But also … and this is the good stuff ... the moment you realize that all that work carried people to a place called candor. The intersection of candor and comfort. Speaking hard truths to folks who shudder but stay at the table and ask for more. So if you enjoy @BitterSouth celebrate their anniversary but also heed their invitation to support the community and the effort.”
We all thought, “Well, maybe we were onto something after all. …”
Our goal at the beginning of this was clear though imprecise: “We are inviting you to do enough business with us in one week to give The Bitter Southerner a strong enough foundation for the future.”
What constitutes “strong enough”? The most important threshold for us was to generate enough income to begin paying our contributing writers, photographers, videographers and illustrators.
Thanks to your willingness to come into The Bitter Southerner General Store and do business with us this week, we now know that we will be able to pay our contributors.
We never expected to be able to raise enough money in one fell swoop to start running with all the big plans we have for The Bitter Southerner. How many of those plans we can execute remains to be determined. We will sit down, set our priorities and start evaluating the costs of our desired improvements.
So we do want to ask you please to take a few minutes this Saturday — this final day of our official Membership Drive — and think about which of your friends should be part of the family, too. Hit them up on Facebook, send them an email, call them on the phone, maybe walk down the street to a like-minded neighbor’s house. And if you’re one of those folks who always wait until the very end of the public-radio pledge drive to cave in, we’d be grateful if you’d go ahead and cave today.
Let people know that you’d appreciate it they’d become one of your Bitter Southern Family cousins. If you need a tool to help people understand exactly what we’re trying to accomplish, sharing the video below might help. I was invited to speak at the Atlanta Chapter of Creative Mornings, a monthly morning lecture series that happens in 87 cities around the world. This was really our first chance to stand in front of a large group of people and explain the intentions of The Bitter Southerner. I was nervous, sweating like a pig, and too damned long-winded, but the video gets the point across.
A NOTE: We know that many of our readers are like us — meaning they are not exactly people of means, and several of you have asked if they could still join us next week, when they get paid on the 15th. To that end, we have decided that the four different membership levels will remain available in The Bitter Southerner General Store until 11 p.m. a week from tomorrow: Sunday, Aug. 17.
All who join before that deadline will be declared official, first-generation Bitter Southerners. And as you know, we’ll make sure you can wear it proudly, either on your body, on the bumper of your car, or on the wall of your kitchen. And then all the “first-generation” materials will disappear forever.
We all like to say, “I was there at the beginning.” One more week, and your chance to say that is gone forever.
We cannot let this day pass without acknowledging the many businesses and accomplished artists and designers who stepped up to offer us items to use in drawings, as premiums or as auction items. The list is incredible:
We’d also like to thank the folks at Krispy Kreme, whose doughnuts have kept us sufficiently carbohydrated this week. I mean, we did have to pay for the doughnuts, but still, we thank them.
Over the course of this week, we’ve also gotten many e-mails from independent Southern businesses wanting to discuss all kinds of partnerships with us. If you own one of those businesses and you wrote to us, please understand that we had no time this week either to discuss the ideas you sent us or to act on them. Over the next couple of weeks, we will be in touch. We promise to respond, because we know that partnerships such as the two we announced this week — with A Cappella Books of Atlanta and Standard Deluxe in Waverly, Ala. — will be a critical part of our own business model and a potential new outlet for great Southern-made goods.
There was a tweet from a new member late in the week, and the hashtag on it hit us pretty hard: #IamNotTheOnlyOne.
We think that hashtag contains the essence of why this tribe has gathered. For too long now, those of us who can’t or won’t mold our lives to the stereotypes of the South that are reinforced day in and day out on television have felt like strangers in their own homeland. Folks like that — like us — have felt a little alone, a little isolated, for a long time. And if there is one benefit that accrues to every Bitter Southerner Family Member, it is the knowledge that you are no longer alone. You got your BS cousins, and they’ve got your back. You are not the only one anymore.
To show you precisely how un-alone you are, here is a map that shows you where all your cousins live (as of 6 p.m. last night). And this is just the U.S. and Canada: It leaves out your cousins in Europe.
We do have only one Family Member up in Montana, but we’re sure glad to have her. Howdy, Margaret. Say hey to your cousins.
Music helps me write. Writing this, I wound up listening again to Drive-By Truckers’ “Southern Rock Opera.” That record does, after all, contain the line that crystallized our thinking about what The Bitter Southerner should become: “the duality of the Southern thing.”
To live here is to live with dualities. It literally comes with the territory. At The Bitter Southerner, we’ve made it our business to stop shying away from the dualities, to “recognize sins without wallowing in guilt,” as Ms. Norris so kindly put it.
When the record rolled around to cut No. 7, “The Southern Thing,” I heard again the words that inspired us. But the last chorus really caught my ear in a new way today.
I heard the story
As it was passed down
About guts and glory
And rebel stands
A whole lot has changed
Robert E. Lee
Martin Luther King
We've come a long way
Rising from the flame
Stay out the way of the Southern thing
Late last year, when The Bitter Southerner staged two shows with Patterson Hood, who wrote those lines, at Eddie’s Attic in Decatur, Ga., Patterson told a story about how DBT had ceased playing the song live not too long after it was released back in 2001.
“I saw too many yayhoos waving rebel flags and hollering for it,” he said, “and I just thought, ‘You motherfuckers don’t get it,’ and I quit playing it.” Then he looked at the crowd of Bitter Southerners and said, “But y’all get it. So I’ll play it for you tonight.”
There remains so much work to do. As Charles McNair so touchingly put it in a piece for us last August, “So much … has failed, for so long, among us all.” Someone called us this week to tell us about a billboard he saw on a drive through Alabama. It says: “Anti-Racist Is A Code Word For Anti-White.” Lord help us. Ignorance and hatred persist. Bless their hearts.
But don’t get discouraged, cousins. All you have to do is look at that map to know there are many of you, inside the Y’all Line and beyond it — a vocal and widespread group of people who see a newer South emerging and are working like hell to make it happen.
Stay out the way of the Southern thing, indeed.
All of us at The Bitter Southerner thank you, from the bottom of our hearts. We said, “Y’all come,” and y’all came.
Please help us keep the good word rolling.