As the economics, politics, and demographics of the South change, what happens to the culture and identity of the region?
“The South has been a region that has known more wrenching social change, I would argue, than any other part of the country," Tracy Thompson said in an interview with The State of Things. "And yet it has this self image that has been very resistant to change."
Thompson is the author of “The New Mind of the South.” Her book explores the “mismatch of history and identity that so many Southerners up through my generation have had, this vague sense of cognitive dissonance that comes with growing up in a world where nothing around you quite fits with the picture of history made available to you.”
Thompson's research brought her to Asheboro, North Carolina. From 1990 to 2000, North Carolina received more immigrants than any other part of the country. How has the Hispanic population changed the Piedmont? Today, 20 percent of the population of Asheboro and 8 percent of the total population of North Carolina is Hispanic.
“I was talking to some high school seniors in Asheboro, and I asked them if they felt Southern," Thompson said. "And they looked at me like I had put my pants on my head. What are you talking about? This is the North to them.”
How are native North Carolinians receiving these new residents? According to Thompson, the immigrants in Asheboro been less than warmly welcomed. They have been blamed for draining county resources and driving up crime rates.
“There’s almost no truth to this. There’s limited truth to the social services argument. When new immigrants come in and they have kids, those kids have to go to school. And it’s in the community’s interest to educate them. And in the short term, yeah, they are costing the county money,” Thompson said.
In her research, Thompson consulted many writers and historians. She worked with Hodding Carter III, a professor of Leadership and Public Policy at University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.
While Thompson maintains that the South is ever changing, Carter feels that the South and the country at large dragged its feet.
“America was racist. America didn’t give a damn about black people. It didn’t give a damn before the Civil War. It didn’t give a damn during the Civil War..." he said. "I mean, America, in general, abandoned them whenever possible and abandoned them for 100 years. So the South won the Civil War in the extent that it maintained serfdom for 100 years after supposedly losing the war. And why? Because the rest of the country literally didn’t give a damn.”