Paul Greenberg

Dear Ex-Delawarean,

It was wholly a pleasure to receive your lesson in the Southernness of the great (if small) State of Delaware. And I confess to having had a little fun - okay, a lot of fun - at Joe Biden's expense when he described his state as Southern.

Senator Biden's geography may have been be a bit off, but I've got to admit his timing was impeccable. The first Southern presidential primaries will soon be upon us.

I am indebted to you, as a former resident of Delaware, for letting me in on Delaware's Southern character. I know you're not just whistling Dixie, but the whole idea doesn't sound quite right: Way down South in Delaware?

Of course, geography can be misleading. Florida, for example, may be just about the southernmost of the states, but that scarcely makes it the most Southern.

Senator Biden points out that Delaware was a slave state in antebellum times, but being a slave state doesn't equate with being a Southern state. Else, other border states - like Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland, and even West Virginia - would have been unequivocally rather than only peripherally Southern during The War.

"Today's Delawareans," you claim, "are still quite bigoted and racist and quite supportive of the Ku Klux Klan." As if this made them Southern rather than just hateful. But I can see why, holding such an impression of the state, you chose to leave.

Even if your unflattering description of Delaware were accurate, a compendium of all-too-Southern sins scarcely makes a state Southern, any more than having a caste system makes India an extension of Dixie.

We live in a time when being Southern has become the fashion. Every family now seems to boast a Southerner in the woodpile - much like half of Arkansas claiming to be Cherokee. It's quite the thing. And now Delaware turns out to be a Southern state. To quote a line from "Southland in the Springtime" by the Indigo Girls, "When God made me born a Yankee he was teasin'Š."

I have no doubt that many Delawareans think of themselves as Southern, and probably make a lot bigger deal of it than folks in the heart of Dixie. That kind of self-consciousness is a common phenomenon on the periphery of any ethnic culture. Or in its diaspora. Is anyone more aware of being Southern than the Southerner transplanted to, say, New York?

See the late Willie Morris' "North Toward Home," which I've always thought his best book, maybe because I first read it in my little editorial writer's cubicle when I was at the Chicago Daily News. I disturbed everybody else in the office by laughing out loud at his stories of a displaced Southern boy in Manhattan. And I certainly shared his homesickness.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.