Last September, The Bitter Southerner was fortunate enough to be the primary subject of a story in The New York Times called “In Southern Magazines, Easy Pleasures and Hard Questions.”
In that piece, the Times’ Atlanta bureau chief, Richard Fausset, wrote, “In the last four years, The Bitter Southerner has emerged, on a shoestring budget, as a kind of kitchen-sink New Yorker for the region.”
The Bitter Southerner’s founding partners — Dave Whitling, Kyle Tibbs Jones, Butler Raines, and I — remember well what we whispered to each other in our early days: “A New Yorker for the South. That’s really the model, right?”
The Bitter Southerner team, 2018 (left to right): Tim Turner, Eric NeSmith, Kyle Tibbs Jones, Dave Whitling, Chuck Reece, and Butler Raines.
(Photo by Brinson + Banks)
We certainly considered Fausset’s characterization high praise — shockingly high, to tell the truth. But to us, one of the most interesting parts of the story came when Fausset wrote his assessment of the conditions that made The Bitter Southerner possible. One of them, he posited, was the power of the internet. Southern millennials, he wrote, were “born into a world where correctives to the Lost Cause myth are only a couple of clicks away.”
Then, he quoted me.
“We have ancestors, recent ancestors, who grew up a certain way, and never challenged that way of thinking,” he said. “Now we’ve got all of these kids who have all of the world’s information at their fingertips. And they have the courage” — Mr. Reece used a more earthy phrase here — “to challenge it.”
I did use a more earthy phrase; it’s true. But Fausset hid my vulgarity well, and reminded me to listen harder to my wife, who has worried over my tendency toward foulmouthery since this publication began.
Fausset picked the perfect word to camouflage my lowborn language. Courage is a word so powerful, its results so sacred, one should never paper it over with the profane. I was wrong to do that, and I’ll never do it again. Courage is what we hear in the voices of young people across the South — and those conversations happen every week. Southern kids are smart, skeptical, and have courage aplenty to challenge old notions.
They know they were taught a grossly incorrect version of our region’s history. They know there was nothing noble about our “lost cause.” White kids in the South today can borrow somebody’s Ancestry.com password and find a slaveholder in the family tree in no time flat, even if mama and daddy always swore the family never owned people. With Southern kids today, facts win out over mythology.
As for their courage, one need look only at the students who survived the bullets at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in February. They have courage aplenty, not to mention incredible communication skills. That’s how they spurred a movement that brought hundreds of thousands of people to the March for Our Lives in Washington last weekend and allied rallies in more than 80 cities and towns around the world.
For five years, we have tried to make The Bitter Southerner — in its own peculiar way — a place where the voices of courageous Southerners can be heard. Where conversations can begin about how to build a better South from our bitter past.
If you believe that work is valuable and necessary, please let us know by joining The Bitter Southerner Family today.