One Saturday morning not long ago I was doing what I typically do on Saturday mornings. My kids woke me up early so I could fix (yes, fix, not prepare) their breakfast while they watched cartoons. Iím as selective on what cartoons I let my kids watch as I am about other kinds of television, but there was one show that came on that bothered me, while going right over my kidís heads.
This particular cartoon made fun of two groups of people: the French and Southerners. I wonít go into details except to say that the cartoon attempted to be funny by making "American" tourists look stupid and obnoxious by giving them Southern accents and having them ask questions showing obvious ignorance of the French. Iím not going to go into details on what they did to the French simply because it was dealing with French citizens and not French-descended Americans. I understand using stereotypes for satire or to explain something, but would it be considered funny if the cartoon showed a black person dancing and eating watermelon while talking with an "Amos & Andy" accent? Why does this not work both ways? Why is it acceptable to make fun of one group, but it is taboo to do so to another group?
Let me state clearly at this point that I do not think that it is in the interest of people as a whole to have "group protection" like we do with minorities. Besides, the current definition of minorities will be obsolete in 30 years if we are to believe the demographic projections given by "the experts." People should be treated as individuals. But when I see time and again where Southerners are used to show ignorance, stupidity, slothfulness and pretty much any other negative character, this makes my blood boil. The South has been the stronghold of good character and morals since the founding fathers first decided to embark on their quest for independence from Great Britain. These attacks today are the continuation of the denigration of the South started by Northerners over 100 years ago when they first started trying to force their opinions and way of life on us.
I say Northerners, but this includes not just the political and media forces of the North, but also their Yankee oriented descendants of the West Coast in Hollywood. For those of you who think Iím not looking at this objectively, ask yourself this question: Why is it that when news shows address racial tension, they go South to get pictures and ask questions of some unemployed guy who is wearing ragged jeans and a T-shirt? But when getting the "correct view" they get someone in a business suit from New York or L.A. (and I donít mean Lower Alabama). The biggest problems with racial unrest are in New York and Los Angeles, not in Dixie. There is obvious hypocrisy in how things are presented in the media. In the beginning, over 100 years ago, bashing Southerners was a propaganda tool to undermine the South. Today it is partly a tool used against Southerners and partly a negative false stereotype that is perpetuated by the media.
I have known people over the years who have moved outside of Dixie and have admitted they worked to get rid of their Southern accent. They felt it held them back and gave a negative impression. This is discrimination plain and simple. If we can have people out there promoting ebonics, what is wrong with "speaking Southern?" What makes Ted Kennedyís Massachusetts accent so wonderful and a Southern accent so terrible? Please donít tell me Teddyís accent sounds more intelligent or dignified. Where is the liberalís cry for tolerance and diversity when it comes to Southerners? The whole package of making our way of talking, dressing, ideas of manners and character a negative stereotype is just another way of trying to knock Southerners down and keep us down, with the eventual goal of having us disappear off the face of the earth. If you donít believe that, then I challenge you to go anywhere outside of Dixie, go up to a group of people and with your best "Southern Charm" give them all a, "Hi, how yaíll doiní?" and see what happens. Take their ridicule and facial expressions as a badge of honor in who you are, and as a gauntlet thrown down that you pick up, and prove their stereotype wrong.
January 7, 1999