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gemiwing's avatar

Why don't people acknowledge that 'The South' has changed?

Asked by gemiwing (14684 points ) November 30th, 2009

Whenever someone wants to talk about a group of people who are uneducated, behind the times or racist- why do they use the South?

Why are people ignoring the changes that have happened in the South during the past thirty years?

We now have tech, medical and financial industries. We have a huge migration to the region because of our cost of living- so we have a lot of different cultures and races that manage to get along just fine. A student in Kentucky was just awarded a Rhodes Scholorship and her parents didn’t complete high school- so shouldn’t that be a beacon of showing change?

Why do people ignore racism in the North, red states in the West and illiterate people in California?

Why are people still clinging to this antiquated idea that the South has nothing but farmers, Bubba’s and black people that say ‘massa’? Why is it so acceptable to make a blanket statement about the South (that usually isn’t true) and have not a single person stand up and correct them?

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33 Answers

Snarp's avatar

I appreciate your point of view on this, it can be a pet peeve for me too. There is certainly plenty of racism in the North. We also live in a nation with enough internal migration that many cultural barriers between regions are breaking down. On the other hand the South, statistically speaking, is less educated, more rural, and less well off financially than the north. While that generalization should not automatically be applied to any individual southerner, it does apply to the region as a whole.

gemiwing's avatar

@Snarp I do agree that the South has progress yet to be made- why is the progress we have made ignored and swept aside?

Why do the Beverly Hillbillies still reign supreme when talking about Southern culture?

MrItty's avatar

I’m guessing the perception is that the South started off so bass-ackwards (being on the “wrong” side of the Civil War and slavery and such), that whatever progress is seen as being made only brings it up in people’s minds to where it should have been originally. And that an equal amount of progress has been made elsewhere, which means the South is still “behind”.

gemiwing's avatar

I’ve been to places thought of in our collective memory as ‘liberal’ and found the same amount of idiocy, racism and simple laziness as in the South (sometimes more). So I’m really curious as to what it is, culturally speaking, about the South and how our brains work with collective memory that refuses to adapt and update our view on a quarter of the nation.

It facinates me. There have been horrible schools in DC for over twenty years so why is that not in our collective identification of that area and is instead rooted solidly upon only ‘the South’? Could mass-media be so powerful?

No one is alive from the Civil War and blood lines have diluted and spread. So perhaps for a few that war is specifically to blame of their views of either the North or the South. Yet for most people who don’t know who their great-great-grandfather was, why would they have such a forceful opinion that doesn’t shift despite evidence to the contrary?

too bad I’m not in school, I’d love to do a thesis on this
Thanks for the great comments and discussion, I really appreciate it. It’s why I love Fluther so.

MrItty's avatar

@gemiwing Re: “No one is alive from the Civil War and blood lines have diluted and spread”

That may be true, but there are still MANY Southerners alive who still fly the confederate flag with pride. To many of the rest of us, that strikes as a longing for those days and those policies, even if that’s not the intent.

lunabean's avatar

the north is racist and stereotypical, i was surprised when i encountered it. it seems now that more racism is in the north than in the south. the south has come a long way, but racism and old ways will exist no matter what because things like that are taught in the home. just recently an interracial couple in lousiana was denied a marriage license. it’s so irritating when things like this happen, but we should move on, it’s 2009 after all.

gemiwing's avatar

I have seen a few people fly that flag- yet when I’ve asked them about it they said it was more about ‘standing up for themselves’ because they feel attacked. Fascinating, huh? Now, whether they are truly attacked is a whole different can of worms. It’s interesting that they feel threatened though. Espescially if they are so white and powerful down here (insert sarcasm)

I’ve seen rebel flags everywhere in America though so I’m not sure if that’s the root of it. So perhaps the flag is what people associate with racism and danger? Yet, there are movements in the South (that are quite large) that stress heritage and not hate. I wonder if that will ever play a part in how the South is viewed? Fascinating.

Perhaps the issue is that there is still such a strong Us vs Them idea in America. It would propagate the idea that the They are not Us and should be shamed/mocked etc until they become more like Us. Yet They will never be like Us because we were Us first.

@lunabean I agree that there are a lot of things left to work on in the South- hands down. Most of it makes me unbearably sad because people have this capacity for caring and they turn it into a space to hold onto old hates. I would love to discuss how to erase the long heritage of hate of POC in our country (all parts of it) and I think it’s so important that it deserves its own question.

avvooooooo's avatar

The reason why the blanket statement is made is because that statement about the South does apply to many areas. Sure, you’ve got your centers of business and education and what have you… but there are large parts of the South that haven’t changed all that much in the last 100 years.

I’m from Georgia.

Snarp's avatar

I think the “heritage” issue is part of the perception problem. Many southerners want to hold on to certain images of the Old South (hospitality, politeness, in some cases connection to a rural past or present, outdoor skills, etc) while expecting Northerners to ignore the baggage that comes with that. The truth is that this image of the South is really mixing images (Politeness and hospitality from the plantation owning white class, rural connection with all whites, outdoor skills with the pre-war poor white class) but nevertheless, these images are all about the pre-war south, so they are inextricably linked with racism and slavery. The confederate flag is a good example of this. It was designed to stand for rebellion against the United States by a slave-owning, rural culture. To many then, it stands for treason, racism, and slavery. But we are asked to believe it stands for “heritage” and that makes it OK? How does that work when the heritage it stands for is one of treason, racism, and slavery that cost hundreds of thousands of lives to boot?

gemiwing's avatar

@avvooooooo Yes but there are places all across America that haven’t changed much. So why does the South get the label but tiny fishing villages in the NE don’t? It’s the labelling I guess that’s so facinating to me.

BluRhino's avatar

I have lived all around the States, and I believe people are really the same everywhere, apart from local dialects and customs, etc..and nowhere that doesn’t have some stereotype about it.. The Collective Conscious has a long memory for ‘stupid’ or contrary stuff that happens. People generally do resist change, and will cling to old patterns even though they do not serve any longer. I recently moved to Texas from CA, and the first thing I heard was about Texas wanting to secede and elect Chuck Norris for President! .....What a world…

gemiwing's avatar

It is interesting that we’re discussing things in a North vs South way – what about people in the West? I think that’s what really gets me into this- the Civil War is long over and we have since added states so why do we (me included!) continue to use North vs South when talking about things that envolve racism or being behind the times?

Just another example of how we, as a culture, can’t seem to let go of the past and move on? I know I have trouble with it because it seems weird to talk about racism and slavery in the West, even though it was there. Yet the West doesn’t get the label of being uneducated, backwards and racist. They get to all be cowboys.

Snarp's avatar

@gemiwing Well, the west certainly tends to get a free pass, especially since, historically speaking, I think a lot of the West was initially settled by Southerners who didn’t like reconstruction. On the other hand, large parts of the West were also settled by recent immigrants from Europe who had no experience whatever with African Americans.

But ultimately what you’ve gotten into here is the issue of how we define regions. California is very different from New Mexico. Both are very different from Utah or Wyoming or Arizona. Nevada is obviously different, but Las Vegas if different from the rest of Nevada. Oregon and Washington are different from California, and Northern California is different from Southern California. And where does the West end and the Midwest begin? Is Nebraska West, Midwest, or Great Plains? Is Ohio Midwest, East, or Great Lakes?

Regions can be defined in many different ways, but the South gives us an official border, which makes it easier to define. Even so, there are differences in the south, and urban/suburban/rural often makes more sense in describing differences than any contiguous regions. But then Atlanta is very different from New York from Chicago from L.A. from San Francisco.

And then there’s the example you proposed earlier, Washington D.C. D.C is only “Northern” because it was the Capital and was heavily defended. Culturally it is closely tied to Virginia, and therefore to the South.

gemiwing's avatar

@Snarp Exactly. My question is why our definitions of that boundary area aren’t seen as fluid. It’s been a hot minute since the war so why are we still equating what’s inside the old boundary with what’s now inside?

Part of me thinks it’s easier for media/common thought to keep things the same as they always were. I imagine people in Detroit feel the same way, or Gary IN. plus I get a little tired of being the only person to stand up and say things like ‘hold on a minute’ whenever someone enjoys mocking part of the country for something that happened a hundred years ago

gemiwing's avatar

@Snarp I do agree that perhaps using rural/suburban/urban would be much more helpful in creating ‘generics’ to draw from for comparison. I think class has a lot more to do with things in the South than many people recognize on a general level.

evil2's avatar

as a non american i could probably say that most non americans think that some people from the south are still like that but the masses are not, but in general people believe what they see on television and what they see is the banjo playing deliverance extras from the south….its kinda like whenever i talk to an american they ask about igloos….stereotypes are easy for some and hard to get away from

jrpowell's avatar

This doesn’t help. Stuff like this makes the south looks stupid too.

Harp's avatar

One thing that has contributed to the on-going negative perception of the South is its association with religious fundamentalism. Much of the rest of the country sees this as backwardness, a rejection of rationalism, a failure of critical thinking.

Snarp's avatar

@johnpowell If we’re talking maps, I think this is more useful. Click on Percent of Population who have Completed High School: 2008. Also try Percent of People below Poverty Level: 2008

The South looks pretty bad, but there’s no doubt that parts of the West and even the Midwest are in the same boat. But the South as a whole looks worse than any other region as a whole.

CMaz's avatar

“Why is it so acceptable to make a blanket statement about the South ”

Because the south is what it is.

marinelife's avatar

Actually, the South has not changed that much. Your initial assumption that the South was an ignorant backwater that has improved was faulty. The South has always been filled with leaders, military, astronauts, presidents, corporate, artists and writers.

Also, ignorance lives everywhere among us. The South still has its share (I just moved after five years in Florida).

Source
“four of the first five Presidents— Washington, Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe — were from Virginia”

“The two oldest public universities are also in the South: the University of North Carolina (1795) and the University of Georgia (1785).”

The list is too long to show here, but here are a few of the great leaders from the South:
Daniel Boone
Jim Bowie
Patrick Henry
Sam Houston
Cordell Hull
Andrew Jackson
Jimmy Carter
George Washington Carver
William Faulkner
Dizzy Gillespie
Woodrow Wilson
Harry S Truman
Zachary Taylor
George S Patton
W. C. Handy
Woody Guthrie
William Henry Harrison
Howard Hughes
Barbara Jordan
Michael Jordan
Helen Keller
John Marshall
Chester Nimitz

Omar Bradley

gemiwing's avatar

@Marina If you’re referring to me let me assure you I’m as Southern as it gets. So no, I don’t think it’s a backwater at all. I think a lot of people think of it as a backwater.

I’m not trying to argue the merits of whether the South is horrible or not- I’m really trying to talk about how slowly people’s perceptions change abou the South. When people talk about the North they rarely call it ‘a bastian of steel industry’ because that’s outdated. Yet with the South it’s ok to refer to is as it was- not as it’s becoming.

I really think I’m not making enough sense here. Perhaps I need some after-lunch coffee.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

I look at the distribution of certain political decisions, I look at which states are screwing over gays and women with their stances…sure bigots are everywhere but facts speak for themselves…here is just one of hundreds of examples
http://blogs.usatoday.com/oped/2008/09/gay-marriage-no.html

airowDee's avatar

The south voted for Sarah Palin as VP.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@airowDee nuff said…I mean really

janbb's avatar

@gemiwing No answers for you right now, but since I’m from New Jersey, I can sympathize. It’s kind of like walking around with a big “Kick Me” sign on your back.

YARNLADY's avatar

Why would anyone expect stereotypes to have any correlation to the facts?

Parrappa's avatar

@lunabean, if anything, the south is more racist than the north. If in terms of prejudice, the north might dislike the south more than the south dislikes the north, but it’s hard to complain considering the south’s history.

TitsMcGhee's avatar

The same reason people still think that New Yorkers are rude to everyone or any other regional stereotype is propagated: because people don’t take the time to look beneath the surface.

That being said, there are still places that are backwards enough that they fit some of the stereotypes. Those kinds of places just reinforced the misconceptions that people have about the region on the whole. It’s a little inevitable.

I’m from St. Louis, Missouri. When I came to New York City, everyone thought I lived on a farm for some reason. Sigh.

avvooooooo's avatar

@airowDee Many of us voted the other way. The right way.

75movies's avatar

Your question is a bit of a blanket statement about those not from the south. Very interesting indeed.

gemiwing's avatar

@75movies touche Yet, aren’t all people who are Un-Southern anti-family, God hatin’ and gay? I could’ve sworn… (insert sarcasm here)

75movies's avatar

sarcasm inserted.

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