Stereotypes. They’re all around us. They make our lives easier. They’re categories to put people in so we don’t actually have to get to know them as individuals.
And one of the strongest, most-enduring stereotype is that of the typical Southerner. I mean, we all know what a typical Southerner looks and sounds like, right? Having grown up in NC and lived in several states throughout the South, I feel well-equipped to address a few of those pesky stereotypes. Ready? Let’s jump right in.
1. Southerners have a funny accent.
Some do, some don’t. Did you hear that? Let me say it again: some don’t. Are you shocked? When I was 14, I spent a few weeks of the summer with my dad’s family in Minnesota. And the comment I heard most often from people I met was “You’re from NC? Why don’t you have an accent?” *head, hand*
The accent division tends to be more rural versus urban. The more rural the area the individual lived in, the more likely he/she is to have an accent. But that’s just a generality, not a certainty. And accents vary from one state to another, or even from one end of the state to the other. When I went to school in the west end of NC, I had the hardest time understanding some of my classmates. Their NC mountain accents were worlds apart from NC beach accents. So yes. Some people in the South have strong accents. Others have accents that are more general American (I’m in that group). But one thing’s for sure. Those “Southern” people you see in the movies and on tv? Almost no one talks like that.
2. Southerners are dumb.
Ahh, this is one stubborn stereotype. And I get it. That typical redneck idiot stereotype is tough to shake, partially because it’s been perpetuated through the entertainment media. People in poorer areas are often less educated than those in more affluent areas, and since there tend to be more poor areas in the South, the average individual may be slightly less educated than the rest of the public. In addition, a university education is seen as a privilege, not a right. But that doesn’t mean they’re dumb. Let’s be honest: there are dumb people everywhere. And education doesn’t necessarily change that.
3. Each Southern state really only has one big city.
I was shocked when I heard a classmate make this statement. Although she was Canadian and had never been to the South. Isn’t it funny how people know so much about a place they’ve never visited? Funny, that. There are plenty of urban areas in the South. True, the Southern states aren’t as densely populated as, say, the New England states. But we have our share of large cities, as well as large, respected universities. We didn’t all grow up on farms, okay?
4. Southerners are fat and lazy.
Don’t judge us by our sweet tea and fried chicken – well, a lot of fried things. You can find unhealthy habits everywhere, but yes, the South does seem to enjoy its decadent fare more than most other parts of the United States. But Southerners aren’t necessarily lazy. Poverty runs deep in the South, where manual labor and farm work are still common. Many individuals find they have no choice but to take low-paying manual labor jobs. To someone looking through a lens of privilege, this may look like laziness, but it’s usually called poverty.
5. Southerners are stuck in the past.
We can easily picture rituals and traditions of long gone eras being perpetuated in those Southern towns. Some of that is true. The South is full of rich and meaningful traditions, and some of those are celebrated and remembered. To be honest, the city I grew up in didn’t have a lot of that. There were no Civil War reenactments, no Southern belle balls, no turkey hunting competitions. In fact, I’ve never been hunting in my life. I didn’t know a lot of other people who hunted either. They tend to frown on that in cities.
So there you have it. An honest opinion on Southern stereotypes from a girl who spent 24 years in the South. I don’t know how to play the banjo. I’ve never chewed on a piece of hay or worn a straw hat. I don’t have a drawl. I’ve never swooned and I don’t own a deep fryer.
That’s right. I don’t fit that Southern stereotype. Neither do a lot of other people. I suppose the bottom line is, people are individuals. There may be some patterns across groups, but every person is different. Guess you’re going to have to actually get to know people before you know who they are. What a thought.