Monday, September 25, 2006

Southern Hospitality vs. Slight Mental Retardation

I have spent the vast majority of the previous seven years careening all over the country. I have lived on the East coast and the West coast. I have enjoyed the wide open spaces of rural Montana, the frantic hustle and bustle of New York City, and about every kind of town in between. Every place unique. Every place an adventure. Every place dead wrong about what life is like in the South.

I was born in North Carolina, but have lived in Mississippi as long as I can remember. There are definite benefits to growing up in the deep South, but it does come with some downsides. Everyone seems to have pre-conceived notions of what goes on down here. Some based on historical events. Some based on stereotypes. Some just based on Jerry Springer.

I would like to take this moment to dispel some wrongs and propel the rights.

1. Everyone in the South is a racist. Possible source: Slavery, Civil War, "Mississippi Burning"
Yikes! Don't start with that one. This one probably burns my ass the most. It is not like the rest of America is just one big happy world of inter racial neighborhoods and life being lived like a Coke commercial. I am not even going to try to convince you that there are not a large amount of racist peoples living below the Mason Dixon line. I am just going to point out that there are a lot of racists ALL over the place. The difference down here is there is no vast choice of different colors and cultures to project your troubles on. Down here they can't make broad generalizations about Asians being bad drivers. They would just say, "Asians drive cars? I thought they all rode around in rickshaws."
I have a very memorable exchange with a young Indian girl (dots not feathers) while working in California. She said she would not want to come to the South, because everyone would look at her funny because she was Indian. I told her no one would look at her funny for being Indian. They would look at her funny for being Mexican. In the South, they don't know about Indians.

2. Everyone in the South is poor. Possible source: CNN coverage of Hurricane Katrina, Dukes of Hazard reruns.
Everyone is such a big word. Just because Census reports and other government studies show the Southern states with an exponentially higher number of families below the poverty line, that does not mean everyone is below the poverty line. Some people live very fulfilling lives just above that line. Seriously, the breakdown of economic classes in the South is pretty much the same as every place else. It is a LOT cheaper to live down here. I lived in San Francisco for several years. I have a one bedroom apartment in downtown Memphis, TN, in a nice building with 24 hour security and everything for $700 a month. My apartment in San Francisco was $5400 a month. So, in the South, a career making $40,000 a year is quite capable maintaining a solid middle class lifestyle for a whole family. A single guy making at least $40,000 can live like a friggin Southern Fried Pimp.

3. Everyone in the South is stupid. Possible source: Biased standardized testing, President George W. Bush (twice)
Sure it's a matter of state pride if you can make fun of your neighboring state for being ranked 50th in literacy, but not if your state is ranked 49th, and worse yet, it is really bad if you can't email that bit of humorous information to your friends since over half of them can't read.
It is a slow arduous process to change generations of thinking. If your parents, grandparents, or great grandparents never went past highschool it is unlikely they are going to offer a lot of
resistance if you decide to forgo college and take that lucrative assistant manger job at the Tasty Shake. But, it is improving. It would improve quicker, but the more people that learn to read, the more that discover road maps and drive out of the South. At least that is what happened with me.

4. People in the South have sex with their cousins. Possible source: Jerry Lee Lewis, Jerry Springer Show.
There is an important wisdom passed down from father to son in the South. "Never marry a virgin." The rationale is simple: If she is not good enough for her own family, she is not good enough for ours.
I jest, but a few of you were probably wondering if that was real. There are two ways of looking at this issue.
One is to accept it as true and argue that since no one in the South moves more than two miles from the spot they were born it is not unlikely to have ten generations of one family all living in the same small town. Add in the previously mentioned: racism (they can not marry a black person), low income (they can not afford a mail order bride from Russia), and finally stupidity (they probably can not keep track of who is related to who), and it does not seem far fetched to say Southerners are sleeping with their cousins.
The second view is that maybe Jerry Lee Lewis just had a really hot 13 year old cousin, and was an isolated incident, and all those people on Springer, with their strong southern accents, apparent lack of proper dental care, and frequent reference to living in trailer parks, may just be pulling your leg about sleeping with their cousin, who is married to their dad, while their sister took pictures. If you can think of a crazy enough story you get a free trip to Chicago to be on T.V. But, they probably do actually live in a trailer park and those bad teeth are real. Some things you think about the South are real.


Liz said...

Killer Foxworthy?

Nice observations, cuz.

Bam said...

I was contemplating on where I would fit into some scenario of the before mentioned blog... This is what i came up with.
1) I figure that you simultaneously raised th I.Q. of where ever the hell you might be living at the moment and the south by leaving. (oh that's you not my fitting into the scenario)
2) I like big butts ( i don't know where that fits in but it sounds good)
3) I am a racist. (according to most oppressed people all white people are)
4) My cousin loves me (that whole chromosome thing is voodoo science)
5) Trailers are now called modular homes to add a sense of affluency(sp) and they only attract tornadoes if parked in groups.
6) Springer tells it like it is ( imagine watching that show and feeling sympathy for the participants iiieee)

Kim said...

We goin' to Sizzler!! We goin' to Sizzler!! We goin' to Sizzler!! Duhhh