E Carolyn Brown Tucker, Ph.D.

Author    Speaker    Consultant

Mimosa Hill Blog

Mimosa Hill Blog

The Rural South. Stereotypes, Geography, Color, and Change

Posted on May 31, 2016 at 1:15 AM

Andy, Opie, and Barney; Jed, Granny, and Ellie Mae; Junior, Lulu, Nurse Goodbody, and Buck; The Dukes, Boss Hogg, Cooter, and Daisy; Jeff Foxworthy and Larry the Cable Guy; Duck Dynasty . . . . It isn’t difficult for most to recall portrayals of Southern Rurals on television shows or movies. All of them seem to poke fun at the characters as dim wits in hokey clothes (like flannel and bib overalls) who tell corny jokes in a slow, “unedjicated” twangy drawl, live in run-down shacks or trailers without indoor plumbing, chew tobacco or dip snuff, drink gallons of beer or moonshine, follow NASCAR racers, abhor education, own assorted guns and coon hounds, and practice incest.

      The Rural South stretches from the Atlantic coastline to the Mississippi River, and from the Ohio River to the Florida panhandle. It is unique in values; rebellious in nature; flavorful in fashion, performing arts, cooking, and tradition; competitive in sports; and radical in religious faith. Primarily small communities joined by rich farmland, coal mines, and poverty-ridden school systems, it is a region of country folk, controversy, contradictions, and culture developed around color.

      Few places can claim to be the birthplace of two distinct, radically different and, until recent history, almost totally separate cultures. Even though they have occupied the same geographical region for the last two centuries, the cultures differ in attitudes, architecture, and achievement; they also differ in color. That particular characteristic is what allowed them to remain separate as much as they did. By merely looking at someone’s skin color, we grew up thinking it was completely possible to tell “us” from “them.” The fact that skin color was also an indicator, in the early years of the South, as to wealth vs. poverty, land-owner vs. land-laborer, and master vs. slave is the element that promoted separation of the cultures into “black” and “white.”

      This unfair sorting of people based on color led to ridicule and resentment, understandably so. But the South is nothing if not rebellious, in heritage and nature; the controlling group of European Americans seceded from the union in order to prove their rights to set the standards as the “upper class” chose. Land-owners did not feel that anyone else should make them give up their claim to what they “owned.” So, for more than 250 years the races “co-existed,” though not equally, even after the Civil War. Until the Civil Rights movement began in the 1950’s, African Americans lived unequal and almost completely separate lives from their lighter skinned neighbors; and two cultures evolved within the same geographic area but outside social, educational, and economic proximity.

      Distinctly different styles of music, dance, fashion, linguistic subtleties, food, worship, and value systems can be evidenced still. And some people still like it that way. Culture will not change on command. Nor will it change quickly. Neither will value systems. Changes need to be made, but they will come only after trust and valuation are sensed in the change agents. (A relatively recent example is the KERA mandate of 1990 when Kentucky passed a law that required schools to change curricula and testing. Most of those changes have been overturned in less than 15 years.) If change is to be real, effective, and lasting, it will come at the price of patience, knowledge, and respect—and it will come from the inside out.

     Because educators by definition must be change agents, it is imperative that those of us who teach know as much about this region, its history, its people, and its values in order to accomplish the tasks with which we are charged. To that end, this blog is posted to encourage the recognition and valuing of the Southern Rural (black and white)—because Southern Rural Matters.



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