We need a better way to talk about the South. Case in point: Delaware

Quick: List the states of the South.

That simple question has fueled a long-running debate in Fixworld. (A post on what states constitute the midwest on "538" got us to re-thinking about it.) While this debate happens about every region of the country, it's in defining the boundaries of the South where people get most passionate.  Why? Because the South -- more so than any other region of the country -- has a defining cultural sensibility, that being southern makes you stand out in some way. There's a regional pride there that other areas don't have.  It means something to people from the South to be people from the South -- and to make sure that those falsely claiming "southernness" are dealt with swiftly.

And so, defining the South is both important and difficult.

There are  few obvious way to do it.

1. The Census Bureau defines the South as 17 states and the District of Columbia -- splitting the region into the South Atlantic, the East South Central and the West South Central. Here's that map.


Image courtesy of the Census Bureau

The problem with the Census Bureau map is that no one who considers themselves "of" the South thinks Maryland, Delaware or D.C. belongs.

2. The Confederate States of America is the other common way that people use to define the boundaries of the South. Here's that map.

Image courtesy of the World Book
Image courtesy of the World Book

The problem with using the CSA as your boundary lines of the South is that it misses Kentucky and West Virginia -- two states that culturally have far more in common with the South than any other region of the country.

Seeking an answer to our "what is the South" question, we put it to a number of political operatives who are either from the region or have worked extensively in it.  A sampling of their responses are below.

* Burns Strider, Mississippian: "It begins 15 miles east of Dallas. Line runs through north central Kentucky. Virginia is in. Southern Florida does, though, seem southern challenged."

* Adrienne Elrod, Arkansasan: "Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Louisiana, Tennessee, Kentucky (for the most part), Arkansas (though there are some who believe the line between South and Midwest is drawn at Little Rock), Florida (Northern only), South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia (excluding Northern). Texas is NOT the South."

* Henry Barbour, Mississippian:  "If you are talking historically, I would simply say the states that seceded.  However, politically, the South  is Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, Kentucky, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia and arguably West Virginia and Oklahoma."

Barbour may well have the right of it -- splitting the "historic" South from the "political South".  There's little doubt that, culturally and politically, Delaware and Maryland don't belong in the south.  And, despite Elrod's assertion, Texas seems culturally closer to the South than any other region of the country.

Of course, as we have written about extensively of late, demographics are reshaping the face of America -- and nowhere more than in the South. States considered solidly Republican and/or culturally and socially conservative are in the process of being transformed by growing Hispanic populations. The South then is not what it once was -- whatever that was.

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.
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