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  • Southern Manners are African in Origin

    Posted by Chicago Boyz Archive on May 18th, 2003 (All posts by )

    Miss Manners Weighs in with a little nugget of Anglospheric cultural history which should, upon reflection, come as no surprise.

    TAE: The popular perception is that the Southern tradition of manners and gentility comes from England.

    MARTIN: There’s a big English component, but it’s not the only one. The dominant culture in what is called Southern charm or hospitality is African. Southerners thought they were copying English country gentlemen, but do English country gentlemen say, “Y’all come see us”? Southerners practiced African manners–that’s how Southern graciousness developed. The South’s open, easygoing style, its familial use of honorifics, and its hospitality are largely African in origin. The higher the Southern family pretensions, the more likely the children were to be receiving daily etiquette instruction from someone whose strict sense of the fitting came from her own cultural background–the house slave who occupied the position known as Mammy. Charles Dickens was among those who noticed that Southern ladies spoke like their black nurses.

    Sounds plausible to me. I wonder if David Hackett Fischer’s book American Plantations — (the long awaited sequel to Albion’s Seed – nice summary here) — is ever going to come out, so we get the whole story on this?

    The rest of this item, from The American Enterprise Online, as usual with Miss Manners, is also good. (Found via Innocents Abroad.)

    Update. This article about Ralph Ellison from the Atlantic makes, in part, a similar point. Ellison always insisted on the absolutely inextricable and undeniable and all-pervasive permeation of so-called White American culture by Black America from the very beginning. Therefore there is really no meaningful sense in which America can call itself, or be accurately called, a “white” country or culture or society. America is a Euro-African hybrid. This is so despite the perpetual attempts to deny, bury, evade or ignore the “Afro” element by “whitey”. On the other side there have been attempts on the part of some who would be blacker-than-black to say that there is some non-white Black culture here in America buried under the vestiges of oppression. Nope, there aint. We’re all Americans, we’re all in the same boat. We can celebrate diversity or we can grumble about being stuck with each other, but we’ve had 350 years of water under the bridge and it is what it is and it ain’t something else. Ellison is quoted as saying: “There is a de’z and do’z of slave speech sounding beneath our most polished Harvard accents, and if there is such a thing as a Yale accent, there is a Negro wail in it doubtless introduced there by Old Yalie John C. Calhoun, who probably got it from his mammy.”

    Right on.