Myths Uncovered about Southern Stereotypes

by AbbyFitz

Hollywood, politics, the media, and others choose to paint Southerners as dumb rednecks. It's an old cliché, and it's time to let this outdated stereotype die.

Duck Dynasty's Phil Robertson unleashed a firestorm in December 2013 with his controversial comments. As a result, he was called everything from a homophobe to a bigot.

And while you may or may not have a few choice names that you would choose to call him, the media has stereotypically painted Phil Robertson as just another dumb redneck.

But does that particular name fit? After all, how dumb can the man be? He earned a master's degree in education from Louisiana Tech and built a multi-million dollar business that all began in his shed.

The perception the media puts forth, and prevailing public opinion in general, is that anyone from the South or having a southern accent is ignorant and just plain dumb.

As a native southerner, I'd like to set the record straight. In a country with only 450 years of history, the South has put out its fair share of successful and influential people. In fact, some of them have been brilliant.

You Ain't Got a Brain if You've Got that Twang

The South tends to be treated like the redheaded stepchild of the United States.

This has become a pet peeve of mine. In movies and television shows, who are the dumb characters and the butt of most jokes? Invariably it's someone with a southern accent. If it's a man, he's a stupid bubba. If the character is a woman, she's portrayed as a weak, simpering southern belle.

It's a stereotype that's not only held by Hollywood, it's trickled down into the general psyche of the rest of Americans.

Just to see what I'd come with, I Googled, "why southern people." Not surprisingly, I came up with a whole list of forums, articles, and blog posts about how and why the southern United States is a breeding ground of stupidity.

Topics ranging from general behavior, accents, to inbreeding are popular subjects used to bash the southern half of the country.

Why do so many people look down on the South? Why do people associate Southern accents with ignorance? It's a misconception that's been 150 years in the making.

Why is the Southern Archetype that of Ignorance and Stupidity?

History, media, and politics are the driving force for perpetuating misconceptions.

Civil War Re-enactors Firing a CanonWhy do Southerners get such a bad rap? Personally, I think the South's negative stereotype has a threefold driving force behind it.

First, we have to go back over 150 years to the Civil War, a deep wound that impacted both the North and the South dramatically. In the years leading up to the war, those in the North vilified the South and its inhabitants because of slavery.

That disdain for the South and everything and everyone associated with it never really went away after the war ended. Through the last 150-plus years, the general sentiment in the rest of the country towards the South has gone from hatred to dislike to mockery.

Shoot forward in time 100 years to the 1960's. The South again came under fire because of the Civil Rights movement. Although the entire country, including the North, denied black Americans rights and was segregated up to that time in history, the fact that protests and riots were held in the Southern states only perpetuated the ill feelings against the South and its inhabitants. 

I also feel that Southerners are assumed to be intellectually challenged because of Hollywood typecasting. Movies such as Joe Dirt, Deliverance, The Beverly Hillbillies, The Dukes of Hazard, and Forrest Gump depicts Southerners as dumb, inbred, and trashy. Television has been no better. TV shows such as My Name is Earl, Justified, and even The Walking Dead portrays Southerners in a bad light.

The monster that has become reality television only seems to cement anti-Southern stereotypes. Here Comes Honey Boo-Boo, Moonshiners, Swamp People, and, yes, Duck Dynasty are all playing into the world's preconceived notions about the South.

Finally, Washington, especially Democrats, are quick to throw the South under the bus when it comes to political issues. Even though the majority of Southern states are Democrat, the Democratic Party still paints the American South as an anti-abortion, gun-toting, Bible-thumping backwater.

Books About Southern Culture:

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A Southern Accent has Nothing to do with Intelligence

Yes, I'm from the South. Surprise! I have a brain!

As a southern native, I've experienced these negative stereotypes firsthand. Some people from other parts of the country think my accent is cute, others assume I'm ignorant. I've even been asked where I was from originally. I'm from Florida, but the man mistakenly believed I was from Australia. Yeah, I haven't quite figured that one out either.

 

A few years ago, I visited a friend of mine who had moved to Maine. Her friends were tickled by my accent and just wanted me to talk so they could hear my drawl. But during my visit, I met a man that had moved there from the South.

In my presence, everyone began talking about how dumb and ignorant he was. I was surprised because he seemed intelligent to me. When I asked why they felt that way, they said because he sounded like a hick. When I pointed out that his accent was not much different than mine, they told me it sounded better coming from a woman.

As a court reporter, I deal with attorneys from all over the country. Invariably the topic of where I'm from and how thick my accent is comes up. I've even been told by some that they'll be sure to talk slower so I can understand what they're saying.

I have a college degree. I'm not dumb. I do a job that only a fraction of the population is able to do. But because of my accent, outsiders automatically assume that I only function with half my brain cells.

Do You Believe Southerners are Unfairly Stereotyped?

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Yes.
LoriSchafer on 06/16/2014

Absolutely! Those reality shows you refer to are the worst - positively embarrassing to the vast majority of the Southern population which, apart from the accent, is not much different from the rest of the country. I'm not a Southerner myself, but I cringe when I see the way the South is portrayed on television. I mean, if these shows followed African-Americans and they were all stereotypical gangsta rappers, wouldn't viewers be offended? So why is it okay to portray all Southerners as hicks and morons?

TraciB on 06/16/2014

Having lived in New England for five years, I can verify that some people outside the South find a southern accent (from a woman, at least) to be charming and even sexy, while others assume my brain is waterlogged by humidity or sucked dry of blood cells by giant mosquitoes. I even had one young lady assume I was black until we met in person. She was African American and northern, and as far as she knew based on our phone conversations, so was I.

JoHarrington on 01/12/2014

If Southerners are supposed to be stupid, then that doesn't account for any Southerner that I've ever met!

AbbyFitz on 12/31/2013

It's unfair to categorize an entire region. I could just as easily say everyone in the Northeast is rude and obnoxious. And while I've met a few of those, I've met many more nice folks who were average people just like me.

The South: A Hotbed of Talent

There are many people on loan from the South that the world has embraced and enjoyed.

Even though we here in the South deal with unfair labeling, we've still managed to birth some of the best and brightest that the rest of the country, and even the world, has been privy to.

The South has produced its fair share of politicians.  (Which you may or may not consider as being the best and brightest) We have produced no less than 16 presidents and 11 vice presidents. In fact, from 1976 to 2004, all but one elected president was from the South.

Some of the more famous Southern politicians were Louisiana Governor Huey Long; Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice; and President Bill Clinton.

The number of literary giants that hail from the South are just as impressive. One man that stands above the rest is Nobel Prize recipient William Faulkner, who authored classics such as The Sound and the Fury, A Fable, and As I Lay Dying just to name a few.

Eudora Welty, a Mississippi native, penned the iconic short story that nearly everyone reads in high school: The Death of a Traveling Salesman. Her most famous novel was The Optimist's Daughter.

Mark Twain, Harper Lee, Margaret Mitchell, Fannie Flagg, Tennessee Williams, John Grisham, and Charles Frazier are just a fraction of famous authors that have called the South home.

Books by Southern Authors:

Some of the most successful entrepreneurs in business were from the South as well. Sam Walton, who hailed from Arkansas, founded what is now the biggest retailer in the world: Wal-Mart.

Before Ted Turner, the idea of an around the clock news station seemed preposterous. Now we couldn't imagine not being able to watch world events unfold in real time on CNN.

These individuals, all Southerners, have given the world so much. Still, the stupid Southerner myth prevails in collective thinking.

How Can the South Overcome its Unfair and Unwarranted Reputation?

Sadly, unless mainstream media and Washington change their tune, Southerners will continue to be the butt of jokes.
Map of the Southern States, c.1839
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Frankly, the South is up against a wall. Hollywood continues to portray southern people as unlearned and backwards.

Films and TV shows set in the modern South often still show courtrooms with no air conditioning, hunters eager to grab their guns for hunting season, and genteel people sitting on their front porch swings watching the world go by.

Meanwhile, the rest of America gladly accepts this version of Southern reality that is being spoonfed to them by the entertainment industry.

The United States is becoming a divided country politically. To liberals, the South represents everything they despise:  Pro-religion, gun freedom, anti-abortion, anti-LBGT, racism, and much more. Because of this, we Southerners will continue to be vilified to promote their political agenda.

Even though the majority of Southerners have a "live, and let live" mentality, they are lumped in with what politicians see as gun-clinging, homophobic bigots trying to push Jesus on everyone.

Unfortunately, it's a vicious cycle. If repeated enough times, an idea, even if untrue, soon becomes reality. The illusion of bubba and the southern belle will last as long as people see from Hollywood and hear from Washington about the ignorance of the South.

Southern Food That's Gone Mainstream:

Foods Southerners have gladly shared with the rest of the world.
  • Pecan Pie
  • Chicken and Dumplings
  • Peanut Butter
  • Buttermilk Fried Chicken
  • BBQ
  • Bourbon
  • Dr. Pepper, Pepsi, and Coca-Cola
  • Strawberry Shortcake
  • Moon Pies
  • Key Lime Pie
  • Banana Pudding
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Okra
  • Vienna Sausages
  • Vidalia Onions
  • Mississippi Mud Cake

Famous Southerners Who've Impacted the World

From singers, activists, and public figures, the South has given an awesome legacy to everyone.
  • Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • Billy Graham
  • George Washington Carver
  • Ava Gardner
  • Chuck Yeager
  • George S. Patton
  • Morgan Freeman
  • Al Gore
  • Jim Henson
  • Oprah Winfrey
  • Elvis Presley
  • Maya Angelou
  • Truman Capote

Funny Books About the South:

Luckily with all the abuse we take, we've developed a particular sense of humor.
Suck Your Stomach In and Put Some Color On!: What Southern Mamas Tell Their Daughters that the Re...

The host of All Things Southern shares the sass and strength of Southern mamas in this spunky guide to life. In this humorous handbook, Shellie Rushing Tomlinson, host of All Th...

Mama Makes Up Her Mind: And Other Dangers of Southern Living

Welcome to the unique world of Bailey White. Her aunt Belle may take you to see her bellowing pet alligator. Her uncle Jimbuddy may appall you with his knack for losing pieces o...

The Complete How to Speak Southern

The laugh sensation that swept the nation, How to Speak Southern and More How to Speak Southern, is now collected in one complete–and completely hilarious–volume. Embraced by So...

South Mouth - Hillbilly Wisdom, Redneck Observations & Good Ol' Boy Logic

This Book Makes a Great Gift! Cooter Brown offers up an unparalleled collection of over 500 examples of Hillbilly Wisdom, Redneck Observations and Good Ol' Boy logic in "South M...

Somebody Is Going to Die If Lilly Beth Doesn't Catch That Bouquet: The Official Southern Ladies' ...

Even if you've never attended a wedding in the South, you'll find laughter in the pages of this deliciously entertaining slice of Southern life and love, complete with recipes, ...

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Updated: 01/11/2014, AbbyFitz
 
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AbbyFitz on 02/09/2014

Thank you!

cmoneyspinner on 02/09/2014

Amen indeed Abby! I shared this to my Pinterest board labeled "Diversity Topics".

AbbyFitz on 02/09/2014

Thank you very much frank!

frankbeswick on 02/08/2014

Further to my response : I find no difference between you and any other human person, American or not.

frankbeswick on 02/08/2014

Abby, from where I am standing, anti-southern prejudice simply looks stupid. When we first started communicating on Wizzley, I did not find any difference between you and any other American

AbbyFitz on 02/08/2014

Amen! And moronic ignoramuses are evenly distributed throughout the world, not congregated in on region.

cmoneyspinner on 02/08/2014

Excellent article Ms. Abby. All I can say is everything you say is true true true!

Here's the bottom line. If you're interacting with an intelligent human being you'll likely have intelligent interactions. But if you done crossed paths with a moronic ignoramus, nine times out of of ten, God can't even talk sense into em! So don't waste your breath.

AbbyFitz on 01/16/2014

Thank you!

ologsinquito on 01/16/2014

This is a great article that deserved an Editor's Choice award.. Congratulations! I'm pinning this to my Wizzley Writing Board.

AbbyFitz on 01/12/2014

Well I'm glad you liked pumpkin pie, I guess pecan pie should be next on the list. I wrote the pecan pie piece just for you lol


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