Before I get too far into this, let me just say I believe the eventual abolition of slavery in the United States was the greatest of all the outcomes spiraling out of the Civil War. As someone born and raised in the South, I will be the first to admit my part of the country held onto something that was clearly wrong for far too long (Although there were slave owners in the North, too. I think people forget that sometimes…). The efforts of the Union are to be commended for what they accomplished.
All that being said, the older I get, the more I tend to think that was only one factor that splintered the nation for a time. Without attempting to go into a full historical breakdown (which I’d probably get wrong anyway), I believe the Civil War had as much to do with the southern states feeling disrespected by those in the north as it did with slavery and abolition. The issue of states’ rights was a huge deal in the South leading up to the war, and still today many of the battles between what the federal government wants and what the states feel they should control are centered in the southern portion of the U.S.
I guess maybe I feel this way because I notice my feathers getting ruffled whenever I perceive someone not from the South (and I’m including the western part of the country in that statement, too) portraying the people where I live as somehow beneath the people where they live. Consider this gem I discovered from a discussion posted in Yahoo Answers back in 2008 about why the South is so conservative: “So many southerners are extremely conservative, which doesn’t have much do with Christianity as much as deep-rooted racism and a wish for things to return how to how it was in the ‘good old days’ (who they were good for, I have yet to learn).”
Far too often, the South is portrayed as racist, uneducated, bigoted, unwilling to change, stuck in “the good old days” that actually weren’t very good for anyone. In my opinion, that line of thinking is extremely evident whenever I see a list of the supposedly “most depressed states” in the U.S. Almost without fail, a majority of the states on the list will be located in the South. I live in Kentucky, and my state is always in the top ten on every list. One I saw recently had us at number 2, to which I jokingly commented, “Crap, can’t we finish first in anything? Life sucks.”
Inevitably, the reasons for states winding up on these lists come down to the same things. High unemployment, lack of quality jobs, poor education systems, inadequate health insurance, etc., etc. One list mentioned Oklahoma because it was (and I am not making this up) “highly prone to severe weather.” Not saying the threat of a tornado wouldn’t dampen my spirits, but really?
Of course, the other conspicuous thing about these lists is the virtual absence of any northern states. New York? Vermont? Massachusetts? Apparently, these are the places to be, since I don’t ever see them mentioned. Could it be because the jobs are so much better or because the education is superior or because healthcare is not as much of a problem? Maybe. But is it really because there are fewer depressed people in the North than in the South?
Unfortunately, I am almost certain there are no numbers out there that will give me an answer to that question. I’m just going to hazard a guess, though, and say no. As anyone who has ever dealt with any kind of depression can attest, there are any number of factors which can set it off. It’s not just finances or station in life. There’s divorce. There’s loss of purpose. There’s alcohol and/or drug addiction. There’s seemingly reaching your goals and then finding they don’t fulfill you as much as you thought they would. Are these factors exclusive to the South?
All these years later, and the North and the South still don’t seem to understand each other. Depression isn’t about your quality of life or how much money you make or how bright the lights in your city are. It’s about your inability to find hope or happiness in the everyday things in life, and how that inability gradually sucks you into the abyss. Can an Appalachian coal miner in a one-room shack be happy scratching out a living for his family? Maybe if his children bring him joy. If he loves his wife. If he feels blessed to have a roof over his head and food on his table. Maybe…
Don’t worry, southerners. This is not something we need to go to war over. The real enemy here isn’t the North. Hopefully, though, they can wake up and realize the same.