5 Big Media Stereotypes About the South (And the Real Story Behind Them)
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4. We have progressive activists and large liberal contingencies in our states.
The common perception that Southerners are stupid obscures the generations of progressive activists who have fought, sacrificed and sometimes died to make this a more hospitable and inclusive place. But progressive media outlets too often imply that we are an undifferentiated mass of ignorant bigots. In a 2004 Slate article, for example, novelist Jane Smiley wrote that “ignorance and bloodlust have a long tradition in the United States, especially in the red states.” Her conclusion? Progressives should just write them all off as potential political allies and marginalize these states as much as possible. But this is extremely ineffective political strategy – and almost certainly would have prevented Obama’s 2008 wins in swing states North Carolina, Florida and Virginia.
Jessica Luther has noticed the deleterious consequences of such dismissive attitudes in Texas progressive politics. Working with RH Reality Check, she watched the “transvaginal ultrasound” media coverage with some skepticism. She notes the vast national coverage of Virginia – a swing state and an urban one – is out of step with the coverage of this issue in throughout the rest of the South. She says the ultrasound law, like the ones passed in North Carolina and Oklahoma – is being held up in the courts. Texas, she points out, is the only state currently enforcing the transvaginal ultrasound law. But where has the national media been on this story?
Luther says at the time of the interview that we are on the 50th day of forced ultrasounds in Texas. And she is angry that there has been so little national coverage that acknowledges it at all. It becomes national news when Virginians protest the law, but the growing weekly protests in Texas – which are drawing hundreds of people – aren’t acknowledged. There is no place, it seems, in the national narrative for progressive Texan activists. Encouragement to “secede from the Union” shows no regard for the history of resistance to regressive legislation and politics in the South. And one need not plumb the entire history of Texas to find them: Molly Ivins found a national audience as a Southern populist feminist icon. Before the election of George W. Bush, feminist Democrat Ann Richards served as governor of the state. Her daughter, Cecile Richards, is the president of Planned Parenthood.
Ultimately for Luther, this is about more than annoying stereotypes; it’s about the fact that no one really notices when marginalized groups in the South are further marginalized by legislation like the ultrasound law. “These people count too,” Luther says, and of course she is right: “It’s something that I just have to keep saying to people. Yes, we live in Texas, but we count too. We are not the ones that are shutting down women’s health programs, and trying to defund Planned Parenthood and forcing women to do ultrasounds. People are angry about that here. There is widespread dissatisfaction with the state government in general.”
Liberal journalists and pundits too often operate as if no one in the South really matters. Luther remembers a 19-minute segment on the "Rachel Maddow Show" devoted entirely to the ultrasound bill in Virginia in which neither Maddow nor other commentators mentioned Texas. Not once. She is glad to see the issue addressed in national media – and on programs like "Saturday Night Live" and "The Daily Show." But she tells me that “everything Stewart says about Virginia also applies to Texas.” And yet few people are telling that story. As Guillory points out, “politically and culturally speaking, the nation has a ways to go in terms of updating its vision of what the South is.”