Friday, June 6, 2014

In Response to Arkansas Stereotypes

He should have kept his mouth shut.

Several years ago, I dated a guy from the west coast who had no real experience with living in the south. He was a transplant and frequently tried to imitate my Southern accent while ribbing me over some Southern colloquialism or cultural practice. Yeah, you can see this is not going to end well.

Most Southerners, myself included, have a sense of humor about our idiosyncrasies and a good-natured tolerance for the ineffectual attempts at mimicking our accent. Even a few of the oft-repeated stereotypes can bring a chuckle, but in measured doses. A few lighthearted comments are alright, but most folks from outside our region should stop there. Beyond that, it really gets annoying, and, speaking only for myself, my tolerance level on this is rather low.  I promise not to make incessant fun of your region or accent, and I expect the same in return. Deal? Deal. 

This brings me back to the West Coaster. I know he was not exemplary of all West Coasters -- believe me, I know -- but unless you are a performer adept at linguistic skills, those not from the South should just leave the accent to the pros, the born-and-bred, and the multi-decade residents. And go easy on talking smack about our customs (remember our deal?) because that equates to the adage, "I can make fun of my sister, but if you make fun of her, I'll kick your --- ." Call us territorial on the cultural thing.

So here West Coaster and I were, saying goodnight on the phone when he (for the hundredth nerve-wracking time) started ribbing me about my accent with the elongated 'a' and the dropped 'g's. I held my tongue and wrapped up the phone call.

But I wasn't finished.

It gnawed at me. For months I had put up with this while giving a gracious smile and changing the subject. At one point, I spoke (calmly) with him about how it was not as funny as he thought and asked if he would refrain. He responded with an exaggerated Southern accent so horrifically bad, it would make Paula Deen curse. After I hung up the phone, I sent him a little e-mail.

. . . And by the way, young man, we do wear shoes, we can read maps, we do use belts to hold up our pants and not just rope, most of us don’t have a still in the backyard, we can count higher than 10 without removing our socks, we do manage to graduate high school and college and graduate school, we can operate telephones and computers, we know the word “stereotype” does not refer to something we bought at Radio Shack, we don’t all carry shotguns, most of us don’t own hunting dogs, we brush our teeth regularly, many of us have our own teeth, we bathe regularly, we have indoor plumbing, we don’t date our siblings, we don’t date our pets, we do own cars newer than a 1952 Ford Pickup, we don’t sleep four to a bed, we don’t all chew tobacco, don’t all live in mobile homes, we do have paved roads, we haven’t all appeared on Jerry Springer, we don’t all watch Jerry Springer, most of us don’t watch wrestling or auto-racing, we aren't all Baptist, we aren't all members of the KKK, we didn't all vote for Clinton or Carter or Kennedy, we don’t all listen to country music, we don’t all like grits and okra, some of us have eaten Beef Wellington, some us can even prepare Beef Wellington, we do know where the state borders are and occasionally travel across them, we have produced some notable Americans, and although we do come in nearly last in every poll or survey in this nation, we do manage to beat out Mississippi and West Virginia occasionally and that’s just fine with us.

Click, send. Boom.

Let me say, I love Mississippi and West Virginia. Both are lovely states with fine people, and that last line was for effect. In all honesty, we three states often do fall to the bottom of any poll that ranks the U.S. States on a myriad of subjects, but that does not mean these states are uninhabitable. Some of the finest people I have known are Mississippian, and let me tell ya, that state has some of the best food and the biggest azaleas I have ever seen in my life. West Virginians are equally fine folks, and if you have not seen the vistas in this state's mountain ranges, you have missed a masterpiece. So what if we don't have an Ivy League college, we have barbecue, blues, and good winters. Remember, we're the place you spend your Spring Break vacations, in this Southern land of ours.

And we're happy to have you. Pull up a chair, we'll get you a glass of sweet tea. As long as you remember our deal, we're going to be alright.

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