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Loving the South Is Revolutionary: Tanner Crunelle ’20

Posted by: Julia Eichelberger | September 1, 2020 | No Comment |

Tanner Crunelle ’20

On Aug 14, 2020, we caught up with Tanner Crunelle ‘20, a few weeks before he sets off for Madrid where he will be teaching English. During his time at C of C Tanner was a powerful campus leader as well as the recipient of several awards. This College Today article discusses some of these honors and activities.  Last month we talked about what he learned from minoring in Southern Studies and why he’s determined to come back before too long. 

What drew you to Southern Studies? Why did you want to learn more about the South?

I consider myself a Southerner so it feels like a duty to learn about the place that I live . . . A lot of it has been wanting to make the South more livable and fairer. I guess I’d initially thought . . . the South is always made better by some outside force, but I came to realize that . . . change is also within the South, that it emerges from the South. . . What drew me to the minor was really a curiosity about what the South is . . coupled with this hope of wanting to make it better, and knowing that to make the South better would require a really complex view of who’s here, what’s happening, why, from a lot of different angles. A sort of — simple political answer hasn’t succeeded thus far.

True that. Any reflections on courses or projects you did while completing the minor?

I really loved learning about James Baldwin, who’s my favorite author and thinker. Reading his thoughts about the South, . . .  there’s a lot of hope in what he says, that the South is the first place that the country will be reborn. That’s one of the things that comes out of his writing, which is just beautiful and gives me so much hope. Similarly, Toni Morrison . . .is revisiting the South often in Beloved, in Home, many of her books . . . . I guess the literary-imaginative components of the South were what excited me most about the coursework. And I’ve gotten really interested in the local workings of politics. How movements happen, how change happens in a local setting.

I remember how you talked about that article our class read from Southern Cultures, “Theodore Peed’s Turtle Party,” about the guy who throws this party every year. It seems like that was kind of an emblem, for you, of what the South can be.

We never abandoned this idea of a community, of a beloved community. We couldn’t. That would be impossible in the South, to have a small town and not have a sense of community.  Now, with that community can come really nefarious things–sexism, racism, homophobia, lots of horrible things can come with that–but I guess the basic value is community. You don’t always get that with classical liberalism, which is emphasizing the individual, the individual’s conquest, and discounting the resilience, mutual interdependence, the love, the actual love that comes from community. That’s a much more available form [here] than in, say, Manhattan where you have so many people in their individual apartments and skyscrapers, everyone so separate, so sad oftentimes and lonely.

That article, thinking about just the ritual of sharing food outside. Sharing food that’s inexpensive, and everyone brings something. That is so beautiful to think about, a potluck in an outdoor space, celebrating being together.

Oh, I want to have a potluck!

Yeah! In the time of COVID, especially.

It sounds like you’re also saying that people think of the South as retrograde, something we should get away from or abolish, but maybe loving the South is a revolutionary act. Can be.

I think so, because what we’re seeing right now is that the South continues to be colonized. Industry moves in and destroys entire tracts of land, and that is not for the benefit of the people who live here. Whereas, if we understand that the South . .   is valuable, if we see it as producing something worthwhile, then it slows the process of environmental degradation, the encroachment of a late-capitalist sense of alienation, you know. Having an identity which doesn’t reject southernness can be empowering.

So with all that said, why are you going so far away? You’re about to go to Spain.

Well, this summer I’m working on the census, going around and doing interviews with people, and that gives people who make political decisions a sense of our region and how it’s changing, and that it’s probably under-counted, chronically under-counted.

              Tanner shows off the South     Carolina lighthouses adorning his shirt.

So that may give our region more of what it deserves.

Then I’ll be in Madrid, teaching English. And I’ll be able to teach some cultural lessons about the South . .   to hopefully complicate the “backwards” view of what Southerners are.

Well, we need you. I’m glad you haven’t given up on us.

I just need to get out for a bit.  A queer pilgrimage to a city, living an urban life, surrounded by a high volume of people who are in the gender and sexuality minority– I think that will produce some good things. . . . My home is Charleston and I have these really deep emotional ties to Charleston’s fate. If we don’t act soon it surely will be underwater. Having experience outside the South will give me a better sense of what the South is, so that I can point to the ways that we have to do better, and the things that we have to maintain, too.

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