Friday, June 21, 2019

Is Texas in the South or West?

Yesterday I learned that it can be a big mistake to innocently call Texas a Southern state. Especially when talking to a Texan. In response to my innocent 'error' I received a long account of the history and culture of the Lone Star state. All of which apparently proves that Texas is a Western and not a Southern state. In my defense I hadn't realized that the location of Texas was such a culturally sensitive issue. However it was obviously time to educate myself on geography of the American South.

Wikipedia says that the American South is "located between the Atlantic Ocean and the Western United States, with the Midwestern United States and Northeastern United States to its north". This would be helpful if we had definitive borders for the Midwest, West and Northeast of the USA. Wikipedia also says that the South "is commonly defined as including the states that fought for the Confederate States of America in the American Civil War". This is much more concrete. The South therefore consists of South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee, North Carolina and Texas, .

If only it was that simple ...

A few years ago Vox asked its readers Which states count as the South and Which states make up the Midwest. They then mapped out the results to show which states their readers considered as part of the South and which states they considered to be in the Midwest. On the Vox maps each state is colored to show how many people said the state was in the South or in the Midwest. The five states which were identified as being in the south by the most people were Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, and Louisiana (in that order). Of the confederate states Virginia, Florida and Texas got the lowest number of votes for being Southern states. Even so - all three states were still identified as Southern by over 75% of people who replied to the Vox survey.

FiveThirtyEight has also carried out a survey to discover Which States Are in the South (FiveThirtyEight conducted a similar poll asking Which States Are in the Midwest). In the FiveThirtyEight poll Georgia and Alabama were the top two states identified as Southern. Mississippi and Louisiana came in third and fourth. South Carolina, Tennessee, Florida and North Carolina were all considered as Southern by over 60 percent.

In the Vox surveys Oklahoma was considered neither in the Midwest nor in the South. FiveThrityEight readers felt similarly about Missouri, which didn't get many votes for being either in the South or the Midwest. Geographically New Mexico is one of the most southerly U.S. states. However in both the Vox and FiveThirtyEight polls New Mexico was thought to be a southern state by less than 10% of respondents. It is true then that the South seems to be more of a cultural than geographical definition when applied to American states.

From the responses to the Vox and FiveThirtyEight surveys the South is still clearly defined by the American Civil War and the states who belonged to the Confederacy. However of those Confederate states there might just be some indications that both Texas and Florida are beginning to be seen as less Southern than other states in the geographical south (culturally speaking of course). If you search 'Is Texas a Southern state?" (or "Is Florida a Southern State?") you will soon discover that this is a highly contentious question. Most of that contention seems to center around perceived cultural differences between Texans (and Floridians) and the rest of the South.

I'm not sure many Texans would be happy to let the government decide on their status but that's who I'm going to allow the final word. Business Insider has mapped out the four regions and seven subregions which the U.S. Census Bureau uses. The Bureau includes more states than Wikipedia in its definition of the South. It says that Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas, and Oklahoma are all in the South. It also includes Washington D.C. in the South.

The Census Bureau divides the South into three subdivisions; the South Atlantic division, East South Central and West South Central. Florida is included in the South Atlantic division. Texas is included in the West South Central division. The Census Bureau definitely doesn't believe that Texas is in the West. However I am prepared to believe that Texas is closer to New Mexico, both culturally and geographically, than it is to Maryland.


Unknown said...

It's complicated, isn't it?
I've lived in the Texas Panhandle for nearly 70 years. Through a large portion of that time, I thought I lived in the SouthWEST. In the last couple of years, though, I've been witness to a creeping assault on that notion; your treatise has pretty much put a lid on it.

In the early 20th century, Texas set out to improve its image -- first by disassociating itself as much as possible from certain unfortunate Southern associations (slavery, Jim Crow) and simultaneously embracing its Wild West heritage. The Western stuff is a legitimate claim that enterprising Texans campaigned to romanticize and popularize throughout the nation and 'round the world. And it worked! In the Panhandle, tourists still come from everywhere to enjoy a Cowboy Breakfast on the rim of Palo Duro Canyon, see the outdoor musical "Texas" (I still haven't seen it), and eat steaks at The Big Texan (that's a restaurant with a gigantic neon cowboy out front).

There still are real cowboys in this area because there are a lot of cows. You can tell a real cowboy from an urban poser because the real ones' clothes are filthy, especially their hats.

SO, okay, I guess I'm a Southerner (cringe); I just don't feel like one. Texas was part of the Confederacy, but it never seems to get mentioned much in any of the gazillion docs and such about the Civil War. So, I'm not sure what we did back then. Regrettably, when I was a little girl, I saw white and colored drinking fountains with my own eyes at the big Fedway store downtown.

Geographically, I guess Texas is southern central, a division of THE South. But culturally, Texas -- at least the Panhandle -- is just different.

Thanks for taking the time to study up on the subject, though. I'd say you looked into this right smart!

Unknown said...

Through most of the 67 years I have lived in the Texas Panhandle, I thought I lived in the Southwest. During the last couple of years, I have looked on with alarm at the creeping disavowal of this belief, and it appears you've pretty well capped it off with your research and commentary. You looked into this right smart, didn't ya?

Texas was part of the Confederacy and is a Southern state. When I was a little girl, I recall seeing white and colored drinking fountains in a department store. But most Texans, including me, just don't feel like Southerners, and I think I know why.

Especially here in the Panhandle, there is a lot of Old West history -- cattle drives, cowboys, Comanches. At some point in the early 20th century, Texan tourism movers and shakers decided to distance Texas from those icky Southern tropes and emphasize, romanticize and advertise the Old West -- and it worked. Every summer, people still come here from around the world to see the outdoor musical "Texas" (I still haven't seen it). They might camp out on the rim of the Palo Duro Canyon and eat a Cowboy Breakfast. Go have a big steak at The Big Texan, the restaurant with the BIG neon-lit cowboy out front.

Most of the natives here are city folk, but this is still cattle country and there are real cowboys (you can tell them from the posers because their clothes, particularly their hats, are filthy-dirty.) The Cattlemen's Association once sued Oprah Winfrey, requiring her to broadcast her show from the Amarillo Little Theatre. Giddy excitement and profound embarrassment comprise an unsettling emotional mix.

SO, okay. Texas is technically part of the South. But Texans are culturally distinct from "Southerners" in my mind. I don't see it as a source of pride, just an actuality. Perhaps I'll live long enough to see this notion debunked as well.