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5 Big Media Stereotypes About the South (And the Real Story Behind Them)

Every election season, Southerners are reminded of the devastating misconceptions many Americans have about us.

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He continues, insisting that “those who say…that Democrats ought to write the South off because they can’t make any gains in the South are mistaken. Obama showed that they were mistaken at least in” North Carolina, Virginia and Florida, which voted to elect him by narrow margins. But this wouldn’t have been possible a quarter of a century ago. And it was difficult, growing up in the Jesse Helms era, to believe that anything could ever change. Indeed, “We still matter when it comes to national politics. And we are increasingly diverse” in political opinion.

Guillory thinks the slight political shift – from moderately conservative to moderate – in these newer “swing states” is largely explained by increasing racial and ethnic diversity, as well as urbanization. He says, “The easiest way to say this is [that] people move to jobs, and political power follows the people. So, we in North Carolina and others on the East Coast – we’ve been partly lucky, but partly, we’ve been aggressive” in catching up with the rest of the country. “We’ve built highways. We’ve built good imports. We desegregated the schools… Wake County consolidated the old county and city schools to enforce desegregation. Our cities built good airports. We have good universities nearby. We have the Research Triangle Park.”

But convergence with the nation has happened for better or worse, and the changes are not universally progressive: “We have the banking industry… We have automobile manufacturing...We’ve got the pharmaceutical industry. We’ve got biosciences… We’ve built a modern diversified economy, and that has attracted people from all over.” The legacies of Old South plus all of these new changes have to be included in any characterization of the South. We are not a monolith. There are liberals and conservatives among us.

Simplistic stereotypes about the South do violence to the rather complex histories of struggle, resistance and industrialization in the South, as well as to the diversity of Southern experiences. Progressives and pundits who dismiss the South as a place that is “beyond redemption,” so to speak, miss out on the liberalizing effects of urbanization and increased diversity. They alienate – and ignore – political allies when they do this.

We in the South are not a monolithic population, not by any stretch of the imagination. We disagree among each other on social issues, as well as matters of faith. Our populations are facing some of the most severe reproductive rights restrictions and social services cuts in the nation. If our marginalized groups “count” to progressive Americans outside the region, it shouldn’t be controversial to point out that we could use solidarity, not derision, when we fight regressive Republican legislation. There is a political shift underway in the South. It is incomplete, and it is a moderate shift. But Democrats and liberals do the country a grave disservice by continuing to ignore it.    


Kristin Rawls is a freelance writer whose work has also appeared in the Christian Science Monitor, GOOD Magazine, Religion Dispatches, Killing the Buddha, Global Comment and elsewhere online.

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