10 Things Everybody Gets Wrong About The South
I don't believe it's a stretch to say that the South is the most misunderstood region in the United States. Everywhere I go (even sometimes here in the South!) I run into misconceptions about this area. I'm proud of the region I call home, and I wish everybody could know the South that I've experienced my whole life. So I'm glad to get the chance to clear up some of the stereotypes and generalizations. Here are the ten things that everybody gets wrong about the South.
10. White Southerners Still Haven't Gotten Over The Civil War.
There’s a notion that we Southerners still carry a grudge over having lost the Civil War. It’s a fascinating historical era and a huge part of our heritage (like it or not), but we’re not all sitting on our porch swings with sour grapes lamenting that it didn't go our way.
We do tend to lionize our Robert E. Lees and Stonewall Jacksons – let’s face it, there’s a certain romanticism about that gallant and gentrified culture, the ugliness of slavery notwithstanding. And yes, you’ll see folks flying the Stars & Bars from time to time down here, along with the “heritage not hate” arguments that go along with that emblem, but those people are increasingly in the minority.
Even though we’ll never forget the Civil War -- and Reconstruction -- we Southerners have moved on. The South truly has risen again, and modern Southerners are vastly more interested in improving the present and creating a better future for our beloved region.
9. The South Is Still Largely Agrarian (And Hasn't Caught Up With Technology).
Some people outside the South seem to have the impression that after the Civil War, we freed the slaves and haven't grown technologically since. I don’t know why people view the South as a technological backwater, but somehow that perception sticks.
It’s true that we have our areas that lack modern conveniences, but most of the South has moved past the agrarian era. Massive amounts of commerce and innovation flow through large cities like Miami and Atlanta. North Carolina and Texas host large technological sectors, and the aerospace industry has a huge foothold in Dixie as well. The entertainment industry has also made the South a home. We’re clearly more than just backwards little farm towns down here.
8. Southerners' Hobbies Are Nothing But Redneck Pastimes.
Another common misconception about the South is that our people engage solely in redneck pastimes -- things like hunting, NASCAR, and strange events celebrating possums and kudzu. While these ideas are pretty much true, they’re not the only ways we like to spend our time.
Lots of men, women, and children throughout the South hunt and fish every chance they get, but today’s hunters and fishers tend to do so responsibly, rather than wantonly killing animals for the thrill of it. Besides, hunting and fishing are just a couple of the many great ways to get outside and enjoy God’s creation – Southerners also love rafting, hiking, and camping!
And sure, we have plenty of oddly named festivals dedicated to various forms of wildlife, but for every Deer Festival or Rattlesnake Roundup, there’s an AthFest (a music and arts festival that takes over downtown Athens, GA, every summer) and a Twilight Criterium (a bicycle race through the downtown streets of Athens in the spring). All over the South you’ll find arts events, historic homes tours, music festivals, and tons of other cultural celebrations that aren’t redneck in the least. And we’re more than just NASCAR fans – don’t forget that the South is where college football reigns supreme.
Southerners love to get outside, and we love any excuse to hang out together in our communities –- there’s nothing redneck about either of those.
7. Southerners Only Eat Fatty, Greasy Foods.
Southern cuisine has had a bad reputation for a long time. The prevailing stereotype is that of a bunch of overfed yokels slobbering over fatty, greasy fried chicken. Though Southern food hasn't always been the most nutritious and our obesity rates are high, those rates aren't that much different from those of our northern neighbors. And our food has undergone some changes over the years.
Chefs like Nathalie Dupree and Alton Brown have developed elegant Southern recipes for many years. Cities like Atlanta, New Orleans, and Birmingham play host to cutting edge restaurants. Even the Butter Queen herself, Paula Deen, has spent time developing healthier, modern twists on Southern classic cuisine, as have her sons Jamie and Bobby Deen. Though we haven’t always eaten the healthiest of foods, our cuisine is far from monolithic and is more sophisticated than outsiders would credit us.
6. Florida Isn't Really Part Of The South.
This is one that we Southerners get wrong most of the time too. We all tend to think of Florida as one big Yankee enclave, largely because of the snowbirds all over the beach towns, as well as the population growth due to the tourism and aerospace industries. While it’s tough to find a Southern accent in the bigger cities like Orlando and Miami, the smaller towns and rural areas have more of a Southern feel.
Rural Florida has its share of charming small towns and quaint family farms. Some of the smaller tourist attractions (with apologies to my friend Lisa De Pasquale, who suggested this myth to debunk) play into the biggest Southern stereotypes – just look for your local alligator wrestler next time you’re down there.
I’m proud to claim Florida for the South – well, except for Gainesville. I’ll never claim the Gators.
5. Southerners Have No Redeemable Culture.
For many people outside the South, Southern culture begins with Green Acres and ends with Honey Boo-Boo. Viewing Southern culture through the lens of lowest-common-denominator sitcoms and variety shows fits the narrative that Southerners are uncultured hicks. My aunt, who moved to Seattle from Atlanta in her mid-twenties, tells the story of a neighbor in the early '80s who was surprised to hear that we have museums in Georgia!
Such ignorant views of Southern culture (whether intentional or not) overlook the South’s immense contributions to high culture and pop culture alike. The Southern literary tradition spans from Flannery O'Connor to William Faulkner to Alice Walker to Pat Conroy to Lee Smith and includes playwrights like Tennessee Williams. Southern music ranges from Elvis Presley to Al Green to Hank Williams (Sr., Jr., and III) to R.E.M. to the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra -- not to mention a thriving film and television industry based in the South.
Southern culture is so much more than the lowest common denominator, and thankfully plenty of us down here are working hard to prove it.
4. Southerners Don't Want Anything To Do With Outsiders.
For some reason, there’s a prevailing belief that Southerners are hostile toward outsiders. I imagine that this particular misconception probably originated during Reconstruction, when “carpetbaggers” and other Northern busybodies saw fit to punish the defeated South for the sins of slavery.
The well-worn phrase “Southern hospitality” doesn't merely apply to our neighbors. Throughout the South we've grown accustomed to making the most of the tourism business, from high profile destinations in and around bigger cities to smaller niche tours specializing in show business, historical homes, or the haunted South. Many areas around the South also actively court bigger businesses from all over the world.
Come visit us down here in the South. We’d love to see y’all!
3. Southerners Are Nothing But Ignorant Hicks.
Remember the idiotic Euro-techno hit song (and video) “Cotton Eye Joe” by Rednex? I was in college when that piece of trash came out, and I was appalled by the portrayal of hillbillies in overalls and straw hats spitting tobacco juice all over the place. I remember thinking, “Is this what they really think of us?”
Sadly, there’s a certain misperception of Southerners, especially those in rural areas, that’s not too far from that these days. Bill Maher referred to the 2012 presidential primaries in Alabama and Mississippi as “Toothless Tuesday.”
So it’s true that we have our hillbillies down here – and they all seem to have reality shows – but the South is a vibrant region full of professionals, artists, entrepreneurs, and hipsters – boy, do we have a lot of hipsters. Those who look down on us as a bunch of hicks don’t know what they’re talking about.
2. Our Accents -- That's Right, I Used The Plural -- Are All The Same.
I could write so much on this subject -- in fact, I already have. We can place the blame for Hollywood Southern accents at the feet of lazy casting directors and clueless dialect coaches. The fact of the matter is that there are more than one or two Southern accents, and they're as varied as the people who speak them.
Interestingly enough, many linguists argue that the accents in the South most closely resemble the accents of their ancestral homelands -- English, Celtic, and even Canadian French, in the case of the Cajun accents -- than any other American dialects. Check out the video above featuring professor and former dialect coach David Stern (Hollywood must have fired him because his accents were too good), and listen to the audio clip at this link to get an idea of the origins of our beautiful Southern accents.
Oh, and brace yourself, because -- to paraphrase the late, great Southern treasure Lewis Grizzard: "God talks like we do."
1. Southerners Are All Racists.
We Southerners have traveled a long, difficult road when it comes to race relations, and we've had to atone for a multitude of sins when it comes to the specter of racism. But the truth is, the acts of racism that occur in the South these days are isolated and rare.
In many ways, much of the South has grown to fit the melting pot ideal the Founding Fathers set. As Glen Browder wrote in 2012, "...the southern people generally live their lives without constant, dominating thoughts about white supremacy." It says a lot about how far the South has come since the days of segregation that the Supreme Court struck down the sections of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that stood to punish the South the most.
Don't get me wrong - race is still a touchy subject all over the country, but I'm proud to say that we're not a region of backward, racist hicks.