A long overdue post, and one I’ve been thinking about for some time.

I’ve looked at appropriation from the other side in this space, showing how the removal and recontextualization of marginalized cultures is part and parcel of imperialism. But I haven’t talked about my people. And as Max Julian puts it, white folk are used to treating other cultures like a damn shopping mall. Where does this stop? Where do we recognize our own Whitenesses (how the hellass do you pluralize Whiteness, but it’s gotta be plural because the whole idea that we’re all the same contributes to the notion of Whiteness as gap or lack that must be filled in with the interesting “other”?) as a source of idenity?

I can’t recall when I first blogged this idea, but a while back, I suggested that White Americans probably have more of a chance of meaningfully connecting with a regional culture than they do with an ancestoral one. We’re likely to be mutts, and depending on when we came over…often long removed from “authentic” immigrant experience. In my case, I’m actually not that far removed on one side (German immigrants to Southern Minnesota), but on the other side…let’s say my sister was eligable for the DAR.

There is some difficulty in remembering such history, although it is certainly worth the effort. One obstacle is the tendancy to family hagiography, and the self-serving family trees that have been created. To be honest, I have very little clue about my heritage going back more than a few generations before it devolves into “we must all be related to someone famous.” Possible entries include Jefferson Davis (Yuck!) and Sam Adams (Hooray Beer!).

But my people…the ones whom I am most ethnically linked? Minnesotans. A strange amalgam of immigrant cultures and historical influences, Minnesota has a distinct culture not only when compared to other regions, but even within the Midwest. This brief series is intended as my love for my cultural heritage, a love both critical and kind. There is much to know about the history of White idenity here, and I’m only going to scratch the surface.

The first thing that I will have you know is that we do not all talk like Fargo. Seriously. Discussing accent is a tricky subject here, and so I’m going to be direct about my position here. I have a light accent, one that is not easily read as Minnesotan. With long “a” sounds and a few regionalisms, I am pointed as Midwestern, but I have never felt that my dialect has been an obstacle, but rather a source of priviledge. So it is somewhat impolitic for me to discuss this with you all, so I will be careful. Raised in the metro area (as opposed to the rural “outstate” or “Greater Minnesota,” I’m an outsider to much of this.

To wit, I hear a prof at Yale (from Texas, but with roots in Wisconsin) make a joke about Minnesota. I realize a few things. I “let” her make the joke because I realize that from the perspective of Yale, she’s a practical insider. I wouldn’t be okay with the same joke if we were here. And I couldn’t tell the same joke (much less be the arbiter of if it was okay or not) if I were in outstate Minnesota. With grain of salt thus in place…

What many people do not initially realize is that we don’t even all talk the same. The “from the city” and “from outstate” difference is first to be noted. The northern outstate/southern outstate difference takes a little more time. Even one of the better done Minnesota movies (North Country) flubbed this a couple times. The North is historically Scandanavian, the South is primarily German. The accents are accordingly distributed. Rural southern accents are a little more gutteral with some loan words from German (although much of this was intentionally suppressed during the Wars.) With strong history of Bund activity, there is fairly visable connections to German culture. The beer is damn good.

Up North, you’re much more likely to hear loan words and adapted Finnish, Swedish, or Norwegian. Again, this all depends on location, as these immigrations happened in waves. Initially quite distinct and avoidant, these nationalities have now largely been combined into a Pan-Scandanavian idenity, though families tend to know and have pride in their specific national ancestory. The rivalry is now quite friendly and through intermarriage less salient, where as previously it had a lot to do with competition for land and resources. If you’ve heard lutefisk jokes, this is where they come from. Don’t be mistaken, as the food is actually quite good. I might pass on the lutefisk, but never miss an opportunity to have krumkake.

Happily, Minnesota does seem to be somewhat aware of these cultural resources as legitimate sources of idenity. Through our anthropologist in cheif, Garrison Keillor, who does half-send up and half-tribute to our state, we seem to have at least a baseline level consciousness that other people recognize us as distinct, as in “You’re from that place, Lake Wobegon, right?”

Yet, the number of people here who speak their ancestoral language is falling, and it is often difficult to connect the kitchy and vaguely empty reproductions to the real thing. Where does that leave an aspiring anti-racist examining and rediscovering his culture?

Part 2 will survey the history of the state, with special attention to white forgetting of conflicts with the First Peoples of the region. If I can get some resources together, I’ll make a separate entry about the destruction of Rondo.

Part 3 will be a look at urban Minnesota, and the development of the Twin Cities. With a whole lot of material (this is my home turf), I’ll try to talk about the historical differences as well as that which makes them “not just another town.”

Part 4 will examine contemporary productions of Minnesotan culture, and look at the resources available for idenity construction. Is regionalism a healthy option?

I’ll intersperse these with my regular blogging, so expect these entries to come over the next few weeks. I’ll try to finish them before I get back to Yale and homesickness completely clouds my judgement.

-sly

Advertisements