White Southerners

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White Southerners
Regions with significant populations
Southern United States
Southern American English
Related ethnic groups
Black Southerners

White Southerners, from the Southern United States, are considered an ethnic group by some historians, sociologists and journalists, although this categorization has proven controversial and other academics have argued that Southern identity does not meet the criteria for definition as an ethnicity.

Academic John Shelton Reed argues that "Southerners' differences from the American mainstream have been similar in kind, if not degree, to those of the immigrant ethnic groups". Reed states that Southerners, as other ethnic groups, are marked by differences from the national norm, noting that they tend to be poorer, less well educated and more rural, as well as being "occupationally specialized". He argues that they differ in cultural and political terms, and that their accents serve as an ethnic marker. According to The New York Times, a survey of ethnic images conducted by the University of Chicago's National Opinion Research Center in 1990, found that Americans viewed Southerners almost like a separate ethnic group, and regarded them as a little less intelligent and little less hard-working than whites in general". Reed also stated, "A fellow named Jack Kirby at the Miami University of Ohio wrote about the Southern 'Catch 22', which is that if you're not picturesque or grotesque or conspicuously rustic, people stop thinking of you as Southern."

Southern writers in the lead up to the American Civil War built on the idea of a Southern nation by claiming that secession was not based on slavery but rather on "two separate nations". These writers postulated that Southerners were descended from Norman cavaliers, Huguenots, Jacobites and other supposed "Mediterranean races" linked to the Romans, while Northerners were claimed to be descended from Anglo-Saxon serfs and other Germanic immigrants who had supposed "hereditary hatred" against the Southerners.

Sociologist William L. Smith argues that "regional identity and ethnic identity are often intertwined in a variety of interesting ways such that some scholars have viewed white southerners as an ethnic group". In her book Southern Women, Caroline Matheny Dillman also documents a number of authors who posit that Southerners might constitute an ethnic group. She notes that the historian George Brown Tindall analyzed the persistence of the distinctiveness of Southern culture in The Ethnic Southerners (1976), "and referred to the South as a subculture, pointing out its ethnic and regional identity". The 1977 book The Ethnic Imperative, by Howard F. Stein and Robert F. Hill, "viewed Southerners as a special kind of white ethnicity". Dillman notes that these authors, and earlier work by John Shelton Reed, all refer to the earlier work of Lewis Killian, whose White Southerners, first published in 1970, introduced "the idea that Southerners can be viewed as an American ethnic group". Killian does, however, note that: "Whatever claims to ethnicity or minority status ardent 'Southernists' may have advanced, white southerners are not counted as such in official enumerations". Precursors to Killian include sociologist Erdman Beynon, who in 1938 made the observation that "there appears to be an emergent group consciousness among the southern white laborers", and economist Stuart Jamieson, who argued four years later that Oklahomans, Arkansans and Texans who were living in the valleys of California were starting to take on the "appearance of a distinct 'ethnic group'". Beynon saw this group consciousness as deriving partly from the tendency of northerners to consider them as a homogeneous group, and Jamieson saw it as a response to the label "Okie". More recently, historian Clyde N. Wilson has argued that "In the North and West white Southerners were treated as and understood themselves to be a distinct ethnic group, referred to negatively as 'hillbillies' and 'Okies'".

The Harvard Encyclopedia of American Ethnic Groups, published in 1980, includes a chapter on Southerners authored by Reed, alongside chapters by other contributors on Appalachians and Yankees. Writing in the journal Ethnic and Racial Studies, social anthropologist M. G. Smith argued that the entries do not satisfactorily indicate how these groups meet the criteria of ethnicity, and so justify inclusion in the encyclopedia. Historian David L. Carlton, who argues that Killian, Reed and Tindall's "ethnic approach does provide a way to understand the South as part of a vast, patchwork America, the components of which have been loath to allow their particularities to be eaten away by the corrosions of a liberal-capitalist order", nonetheless notes problems with the approach. He argues that the South is home to two ethnic communities (white and black) as well as smaller, growing ethnic groups, not just one. He argues that: "Most important, though, and most troubling, is the peculiar relationship of white southerners to the nation's history". The view of the average white Southerner, Carlton argues, is that they are quintessential Americans, and their nationalism equates "America" with the South.

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Further reading