This weekend, while kayaking and hiking with a small group along a beautiful river in the Upcountry of South Carolina I encountered the still-present strong undercurrent of Southern national identity. An undercurrent is “a subsurface current, a water current which flows beneath and usually independently of surface currents.” This is precisely where Southern identity is found in relation to the dominant Progressive and universalist American identity of the US cultural mainstream.
At one point while going down the river in the afternoon we landed, tied up our kayaks and made a picnic on top of the a huge rock which projected out over the water at a bend in the river. While eating we watched as a large group of young to middle aged people slowly float our way. They were on tubes which were tied together. And they were all laughing, joking and having some cold drinks in the hot sun. The group tied up alongside us and soon joined us on the rocks to enjoy a snack.
Their mannerisms, accent and appearance was recognizable even from afar. They were good Southern blue collar folks. Up close they proved as friendly and easy going as are most working class Southerners. And their identity was consciously Southern, which they wore on their sleeve – or swimming trunks and skin, as was actually the case. Two of the men had tattoos of South Carolina palmetto tree and crescent. Another two had Confederate symbols tattooed on them. And one young man’s shorts were completely covered in Dixie’s battle flag. We talked with some of those from the other group for a while. And what struck me was that we were actually from the same group on a larger scale. We were not just random White people out in nature. We were the same people, of the same ethnicity, raised in the same culture and proudly possessing the same identity. This is the essence of national identity. And I was pleased to encounter it on that river this weekend, to be not only with loved ones but also to be reminded of our broader Southern national family.