Southerners Are the Last Group It’s Okay to Ridicule

I am a Southern Redneck. I am a River Rat who learned to swim in the Catawba River and I am descended from Revolutionary soldiers who turned the tide of the American Revolution. I am descended from Rednecks, River Rats, and Revolutionaries. It is my birthright, my heritage and my upbringing. I am North Carolina bred; a child born in what was once known as the Great Back Country. How lucky can you be?

It is enough to make you rush to the kitchen, grab grandma’s fruitcake and wash it down with a quart of buttermilk.

I arrived at this prideful stand while performing my duties as the unofficial Shuffletown ambassador to the People’s Republic of California. In the past four years, I have come face-to-face with prejudice. This prejudice has become a sport enjoyed by those born outside the South; those who have accepted as truth that all Southern rednecks are dumb as cabbage, rowdy, beer guzzling, white bigots who speak with a speech impediment and marry their cousins. I take particular offense to the last assumption. It is a sport practiced with smugness and arrogance. And I am tired of it.

At dinner parties I have been treated like a quaint human specimen who has a hoop skirt hanging in my closet. A native of Brooklyn once looked at me and said, “I just don’t understand “youse” guys who say, “y’all.”

Because Southerners are good-natured and appreciate a good joke or tale, we have been too long in denial. These are bad tidings, but it is time we spoke of it openly. It is time for us to stand together. It is time for us to set aside our tolerance — time, to educate the less fortunate.

We, the fortunate, have assumed that the days of prejudice are behind us. We have been lulled into this condition by the mass Northern migrations overtaking the South. Due to our natural hospitality, we have tolerated the jokes and assumptions because they are now our neighbors and friends. And, it is very likely, they will never return to their former lives.

As they settle among us, great amounts of understanding will be required. Especially with those seeking refuge from the crazed, over-stressed, smog laden cities of Boston, Los Angeles, and the Mecca of induced insanity, New York City.

The South is America’s pacifier. In American family rooms throughout our nation, media propaganda about the South is fed to us like candy. Many come to think that no matter how bad things are, “well, at least, we were not born in the South.”

It is time to right the world before it is too late; before we are absorbed into the mainstream like copper pennies, good sense, and grandma’s bloomers — we become extinct.

Take them to lunch, listen to their tales of woe; pour them sweet tea, feed them cornbread, deviled eggs, potato salad and buttered grits. Our first rule of etiquette is to overlook how they speak and how they think.

Recently, I watched Kim Basinger, the ex-wife of Alec Baldwin, in the starring role of the movie, “Runway.” For two hours she spoke in an imitation of a Southern accent. It sounded as if, she had either a plug of tobacco, a half eaten peach pit, or a wet cotton ball caught in her throat. Her portrayal of a dumb Southern Belle out of her element was a national joke and, today, an acceptable prejudice. Imagine, nails dragging across a blackboard. It was downright embarrassing.

There she was, in a movie shown around the world, trying to act like she didn’t have the IQ of asparagus. She was the beautiful, vacant-headed, Southern Belle of untold fantasies. They must have made her talk like that; because I think she was born in the South and should know better.

The movie took place in Paris, France, during fashion week, where the sophisticated members of the French Fashion Industry unveil clothing no self-respecting person would wear in public — except at costume balls. Of course, pious American clothing designers were among the elite, worldly international, members of the “illusion-driven” fashion world.

Their designs are unveiled on sacred runways worn by models whose bodies resemble coat racks. Bless their hearts, these women have bodies like andirons and their eyeballs stare back at the world from sunken sockets heavily lined in black mascara. I guess they are women; they say they are; but, Lord have mercy, they are so pitiful and emaciated, who would know?

Oh, yeah, we Southerners want to look like that. It is enough to make you rush to the kitchen, grab grandma’s fruitcake and wash it down with a quart of buttermilk.

And poor Kim Basinger and Alec Baldwin, they cannot help it that they seem to be lacking in good breeding; but who among us Southerners would air our dirty laundry in the public media? God bless them both.

I tell you, we have got to pitch in and help out. The world is off its rocker. But I digress.

Let’s talk about the current television series, “The Closer”. It is well-written, but each time I watch the star’s big red lips smacking up and down as she speaks in a “Southern” accent that can only be attributed to one who was born with hair on her tongue — well, it makes me want to cry. I guess the objective of the show is to prove that anyone can rise above a speech impediment and it proves that blondes can memorize.

Due to my good breeding and because I do not want to embarrass my mother, I have tolerated these folks. However, it was at dinner in Washington, DC, with Southern friends when I realized the depth of this problem. We were sitting on the second floor patio beneath a linden tree at a restaurant in Georgetown. The sun was slipping beneath the horizon, when I heard the retired surgeon say, “My son is graduating from high school this year and I need to change his mind about the South. He thinks Southerners are all prejudiced rednecks and I want to change his mind.”

It turned out that our friend had been married to a girl from up north; after their divorce, she had raised their son among the disillusioned citizens of Maine. We advised him to take his son south for a long stay, as quickly as possible. I just hope the boy is smart enough to gain entrance into a Southern university.

Then at a dinner, just last week, to welcome my favorite Los Angeles girlfriend, Sandy, the problem became crystal clear. Sandy was born in rural Florida, one mile from the Alabama line; she is a successful corporate executive, a former cheerleader, beauty queen, and raconteur. Sandy is perfectly Southern.

As we scraped the last remnants of red-velvet cakes from our plates and sipped coffee, Sandy said, “It sure is good to be here with folks who don’t think my intelligence is stunted because I am Southern.”

Jeannie dropped her fork, “I lived in Long Beach, just outside of L.A., for more than a decade; I got so tired of people assuming that I was prejudiced. “Some of those folks were well-educated and they were the worst of the lot.”

“When I first arrived in California, they acted like my grandfathers had all worn sheets after dark,” Sandy continued. “And the fact that I am a natural blonde didn’t help things at all. At first, I was astounded at the constant barrage of prejudicial comments; but, the truth is, it’s been going on for decades. One man asked me, “Did you trade your little pick-up truck for a Mercedes.” I told him, I still had my pick-up truck.”

“They treated me like I was the red-headed step-child of the family,” Jeannie said.

“Well, you know, I just consider the source,” Sandy continued, “I just overlook them. If these comments had been made about anyone else — then you could imagine the outcry? However, it seems that slandering Southerners is the country’s only politically correct, perfectly acceptable, prejudice.”

It is enough to make you want to throw grits.

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