The Deep South. Admit it, as soon as you hear those words you think of that bright orange Charger jumping over a police cruiser while someone’s yelling yeee hawww in the background. Backwoods yokels like the Duke boys of the Dukes of Hazard have become the monolith of southern culture, or at least that’s what most popular culture would have you believe. In reality however, the culture of South is a lot more complex than the northern perception of cut up overalls, moonshine, and NASCAR.
First, let me start by defining what I mean by “the south”. This stereotype mostly only applies to what is known as the Deep South or Southeast United States, which stretches from Texas up to the Carolinas and all the states in between. This region, also known as “Dixie” is clumped together as a single group, largely because of the American Civil War. This is the region of the US that made up he confederacy in the civil war, and is the area that will be discussed in this essay. The Southwestern United States also hold several unfair stereotypes, but for the purposes of this essay, we can save that for another time.
Now, these stereotypes that are often cast on Southerners, for the most part, are not self-inflicted. In fact, many of the people that have this kind of “red-neck” perception of the south, have never even been there, or have met few to no real southerners. So how do these widespread “regionisms” exist? Through the media and several popular culture outlets. Dating all the way back to the civil war, the popular media of the United States (largely produced by non-southern media companies) have used three main stereotypes to paint a picture of the American south: Rural or poor, Racist, and Un-educated or stupid. While these three stereotypes may have been true at the time of their inception in the mid 1800’s, they hold little relevance to real life in the southern states today.
The First of these main stereotypes, is the depiction of a rural, poor south, one in which the economy is based heavily on large plantation style farms and the agricultural industry. This stereotype is perpetuated by many popular movies and television shows ranging from classic older shows and movies like “Beverly Hillbillies”, “Smokey and The Bandit”, and “The Dukes of Hazard”, to shows and movies that are more recent such as the MTV show “Buckwild”, the A&E program “Duck Dynasty” and countless others. These shows are never based in one of the several large cities in the South (9 of the top 20 largest cities in the US are located in the South (2010 US Census)), they are always in the backwoods farm towns of the south far in the Appalachian Mountains, or Everglade Swamps. The 2010 Us census reported that roughly 75% (3 out of 4) of all southerners live in metropolitan areas as opposed to rural areas. That estimate includes urbanized suburban areas around big cities as well. This then becomes less of an issue of South vs. North as it is Rural vs. Urban. Based on population density, Not a single southern state places in the top 10 most “rural” states, and only 4 dixie states are accounted for in the top 20.(2010 US census) I have found these statistics to be true also in my own personal experience. I have lived in three southern states growing up, Texas, Georgia, and Arkansas. While I lived in the south my family lived in the mostly suburban communities of Plano, Cumming, and Rodgers respectively. It wasn’t until we moved to the northwest to the small town of Washougal, Washington that I truly experienced “rural culture”. Based on all of this evidence presented, it would be logical to argue the rural stereotype of the south is misplaced.
The second main stereotype that often accompanies southerners as a whole is racism, particularly towards African Americans. This stereotype is not shown as much in popular culture as the others, but it is prevalent in a lot of news media outlets. News outlets such as the The Atlantic often run stories on racism in the south, but often leave out, or completely disregard some glaring facts. (Florida)Often times these stories base their levels of racism on how many hate-related groups are present in the community in question. While the south does have the largest concentration of hate groups comparatively to the rest of the country, this doesn’t mean the people as a whole are more rascist. Upon closer inspection of these hate groups, many have been around since before de-segregation in the south and have dwindling numbers of members. Many of these groups today are beginning to die off as their memberships dwindle. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), an organization that monitors these hate groups, also reports that as membership of these hate groups are falling, membership of anti-hate groups like anti-racism, and LGBT support groups are increasing. In many cases the membership of these anti hate groups far outweighs the membership of the hate groups. Because of this evidence it is safe to say that judging a region’s amount of racism only looking at number of hate groups alone is not an accurate estimate of said region’s tolerance of minorities. The second reason why this particular stereotype is unfair, is that African Americans are often times not the minority. The 2010 census found that 105 southern counties had an African American population of 50% or higher, and also that 55% of all African Americans living in the United States live in southern states. Finally, the 2010 census also reported that the number of people who claimed both Black And Caucasian (mixed race families) more than doubled from 2000 to 2010 suggesting a significant increase in mixed-race families this census data alone turn the racist stereotype of southerners on its head, because in many cases the white population is the minority, which means that your “average southerner” is an African American, not a racist white man.
The third and final stereotype that is misrepresented in popular culture is that of southern stupidity. Much like the first stereotype I discussed, this is another one that is shown throughout a wide range of popular culture outlets. The primary source I chose to showcase this stereotype is the appalling show “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo”. This show airs on what is questionably named “The Learning Channel” (TLC) and displays a seemingly endless cast of idiots from a small rural town in Georgia. This cast is known for such eloquent catch phrases like “I wish I had an extra finger, then I could grab more cheeseballs” and “I don’t even think I’m a real person I think I’m a fish”. (IMDB) This level of mindless “comedy” is to be expected from modern reality TV shows, but all kidding aside, this stupidity is very degrading to the south. It’s an implicit bias that seems to be built into out popular culture and media system today; if the person has a southern accent, then they must be dumb. This stereotype however, like the other two already discussed, is inaccurate when it comes to looking at the facts. The National Education Association keeps records of public schools across the United States. The records from the 2012-2013 show a majority of southern states in the top 20 states in regards to public school attendance, graduation rates, and daily attendance, with two southern states in particular, Florida and Texas, consistently scoring in the top 5. (Rankings) The access to quality education does not end with high school graduation either. The US News National College Rankings, rank colleges by academic achievement. Several southern schools such Vanderbilt in Tennessee, Rice University in Texas, and Emory University in Georgia receive high marks in the top percentile of over 200 schools ranked. This is in stark contrast to what the popular television shows show of the south. They do not depict an educated south, but rather one where people like “Honey Boo Boo” run the show.
In conclusion, when we turn away from believing everything on television, to actually putting in some time to research things before jumping to conclusions, we are quite often surprised at what we find, this is certainly the case with the stigmas of being a southerner. There are many unfair stereotypes that popular culture and the media tag to what being a southerner entails. These stereotypes are almost always misguiding and hurtful to those that are from the south. What we see on TV and the silver screen of Racist, uneducated, an underdeveloped southerners has no resemblance to the Educated, tolerant and industrialized south that we see when we look at the facts.
Florida, Richard. “The Geography of Hate.” The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, 11 May 2011. Web. 01 Dec. 2014.
“Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.” IMDb. IMDb.com, n.d. Web. 17 Nov. 2014.
“National Universities Rankings.” National University. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Nov. 2014.
“Rankings of the States 2013 and Estimates of School Statistics 2014.” Rss. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Nov. 2014
Rawles, Kristen. “5 Big Media Stereotypes About the South (And the Real Story Behind Them).” Alternet. N.p., 2 Apr. 2012. Web. 17 Nov. 2014.
“Southern Poverty Law Center.” Southern Poverty Law Center. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Dec. 2014.
“United States Census Bureau.” 2010 Census Shows Black Population Has Highest Concentration in the South. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Nov. 2014.