Today, we found out that a coworker of ours is basically illiterate. She functions with a third grade reading comprehension level, and --to her credit-- has been promoted up to a lower level manager position after 12 years of service. When we found out, I remarked that she must be very intelligent to be able to compensate for such a deficit.
"I don't agree with that. I don't agree with that at all, actually," came the retort from my Canadian friend, "and I'm sorry to say this but only in the South could something like this happen. It's ridiculous."
I don't think that is ridiculous. Making sweeping generalizations about one portion of the country based upon a few facts, a dozen stories, and an infinite amount of fiction ..... THAT is ridiculous.
If I were to base my opinion of all Canadians on this one person, it would be very negative and totally inaccurate. But that does not seem to stop some people from doing the same about the people who live in the South.
Oh, I have heard it all. We are slow. We are not smart. We are behind the times. We are rednecks, hicks, and trailer trash. We marry our cousins, sleep with our fathers and keep fleas as pets. The climate is horrible, the politicians are crooked and the majority of the citizens are white males who drive trucks, own at least 12 guns, hate African Americans and don't bathe regularly. We are all Southern Baptists and we do a lot of "Bible thumping" at revivals. Let's see, what else? Oh yes, most of us only got through the third grade before we dropped out to go work with our step-father at the paper mill.
Did I leave anything out? Oh yes, how could I forget: we have no idea how bad off we are and how much better things are up North. Don't you think I feel silly? I've been living in a quagmire of anti-culture and backward evolution, and I didn't even realize it.
You know, the fact that people assume these things are all true is not what bothers me the most. More troublesome to me is the fact that they feel like it is perfectly okay to say it: and to say it to my face with a great deal of condescension that is lightly veiled with a smile and a laugh.
You know, for people who are living in a self-described advanced state of humanity compared to us low lives down here in Hick Ville, I think they are downright uncivilized. Because you know what? I'd be willing to bet you that the man who works two jobs to make his trailer payment and fixes cars on the side to make ends meet would not laugh at the Northerner who didn't know what was wrong with her car. In fact, I'm sure he'd call her "Ma'am", and that he would take extra time to make sure the job was done well so that she could get back home safely. I'd also be willing to bet that he would fix her some lemonade so she could cool off while she waited...even as she loudly commented to her friend about how run down the shop was compared with her mechanic's garage back home.
If a middle-aged woman from Florida went up to New York for the first time and noticed that: no one looked her in the eye; people cut in front of her in line; her hosts talked fast and interrupted her when was pausing for a breath; and people she didn't know assumed she was not intelligent because of her accent, she would not point out how much nicer people were to her in the South. Why? Because she knows that her hosts like it there, and she would not be so rude as to insult their taste...even if she doesn't understand it.
By the way, I'm willing to bet because those stories really happened.
In my book, being civilized means looking around you and realizing that if you are feeling higher than most people, you'd better get down quickly: you are probably sitting on a pile of your own BS.
I could spend a lot of time pointing out the good things about living in the South from my own experiences. I could tell you about the some of the kindest people you would ever want to meet. The kind of people who would give you the shirt right off their backs. The kind that stop to help you when your car breaks down in the rain...and who refuse to accept any payment for helping. I could tell you about the women who usher you into their homes and sit you down to a table full of some of the most amazing foods you will ever eat. I could tell you about one family I know who always invites traveling Northerners into their homes for holidays so they won't be alone.
Oh, I could tell you about the history of the Southern accent, and about the five different flags that have flown over the city in which I live. I could tell you that if you really listened to my accent and heard the French, English, Spanish, and Native American influences it contains, you probably wouldn't think I sounded unintelligent.
I could tell you that the South contains some of the most intelligent and some of the least intelligent people in the world, and that it contains some of the most tolerant and some of the most bigoted and racist people in the world, and that it contains them in the same proportions as the North, the East and the West.
I could tell you that most of the people that live in the South do not hate African Americans, women, or any other minority, and that they are not eagerly anticipating the return of slavery. I could also tell you that the South is no prouder to have kept slaves than the North.
And if I wanted to, I could also tell you that the South was and is much different geographically than other parts of this country, and that geography had and has a lot to do with communication. Dispersing information intra- and inter-city is much quicker than doing so between cities and small towns, and between small towns and outlying farms.
I could tell you a lot of things, but I think they are already known. We are months away from the turn of the century and the turn of the millennium. Surely we have evolved beyond this point, and have learned the fruitlessness of childish finger pointing, comparison and name-calling.
So if you will excuse me, I think I am going to go call my co-worker and congratulate her on her promotion. I'm going to tell her how proud I am of all her accomplishments, and I'm also going to tell her this: I am so proud that such a bright young woman was able to do this, and that it happened right here in the South.
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