Kristin Rawls: The Media’s Southern Stereotypes
Kristin Rawls earned her first Masters degree in Ethics/International Relations in 2006 (American University) and a second in Philosophy (Pennsylvania State University) in 2010. Her published academic work focuses on human rights and U.S. foreign policy. She is a frequent contributor at Global Comment and other publications.
“Doubts on Romney’s Conservatism Help Santorum in the South,” reads the ABC News headline from March 13. The headline would have you believe that Rick Santorum trounced Mitt Romney in the Alabama and Mississippi GOP primaries. It obscures the fact that Santorum beat Romney by just 44-39 percent in Alabama and 42-39 percent in Mississippi. In other words, nearly half of GOP primary voters in these states voted for Romney.
The headline not only obscures the kinds of political divisions that divide the rural and more liberal urban parts of the South; it also feeds into the idea that Southern conservatives vote primarily on “family values” issues, and takes it on good faith that Romney – who has moved awfully far to the Right during primary season – is somehow the more civilized, sane, humane and/or liberal of the two.
In January, CNN contributor John Avlon wrote about the ugly stereotypes about South Carolina that he saw as that state’s primaries kicked off: “You know, the characterization of South Carolina as a swamp of sleazy politics and brutal attack ads, a Bible belt bastion of rednecks and racism, a state defined by Bob Jones University. Sometimes these stereotypes are floated in political conversations as evidence of how ‘real’ the state is in determining the true feelings of the conservative base.”
These stereotypes are nothing new. In fact, they often date back to the Civil War. They tend to denigrate the Southern poor, under-educated and rural in ways that bear striking resemblance to Republican rhetoric that demonizes the poor in general. But every election season, those of us who have spent most of our lives in the South are reminded of the devastating misconceptions that many other Americans have about us. The Right romanticizes us as the “real America” while the Left treats us a punchline. Polling organizations like Public Policy Polling design studies that target Southern states and reinforce the national sense that we are backward and dim-witted. Here are just a few of the ways in which popular political narratives distort the contemporary realities of Southern life in historical context....
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