Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Stereotypes

The uproar over a church youth group skit about Chinese take-out has had me thinking about stereotypes today. (for the low-down on that, check out Camy's blog, just scroll down, you can't miss it)

What exactly are they? Webster's defines it thus:
4.Sociology. a simplified and standardized conception or image invested with special meaning and held in common by members of a group
And: 7. to give a fixed form to.


That first definition I find particularly interesting. Special meaning by members of a group? Sure! Stereotypes always have some grain of truth in them. It may be buried and forgotten in the anals of history, but it's still there. I'm a white Southern girl who lives in Louisiana. I encounter stereotypes everywhere I go. Many Southerners are quite proud of our stereotypes, particularly the ones involving food.

First off, when people find out I'm from Louisiana, they're surprised I don't have a Cajunn accent. Easy explanation, I'm not Cajun. Sometimes wish I was though, they have so much fun.

A lot of people will also automatically assume I'm a racist pig. I'm not. Every person on this planet is racist in one way or another, but I do think I'm not a racist pig. Most people I know aren't. But that's still the stereotype. Again though, it does have a grain of truth to it. It's a very old grain of truth that goes back to Reconstruction, but it's there.

The only stereotype about Louisianians that bothers me is the one that we all live in New Orleans. After Katrina, I had dozens of people wondering if I was ok, if my house was still standing, did my family lose everything we owned, etc. I don't live in New Orleans, I live 250 miles NORTHWEST of New Orleans. August 29th and 30th was actually a beautiful couple days here in Central Louisiana, slight breeze, a few clouds. It was one of the nicest days we'd had since March. 30 days later was another story though. The forgotten hurricane, Rita, decimated the rest of Louisiana.

(do not EVER refer to the storms as "Katrita" in my presence. I will rip you to shreds, as one unfortunate Red Cross worker found out)

I do have another heritage though, that of the redneck from Mississippi, and the hillbilly from Arkansas. Those two stereotypes are steeped heavily in things that would be offensive to most people. Me fitting into those 2 categories finds it absolutely hilarious. Especially when people in town think my youngest brother and my sister are actually husband and wife. But he wasn't born in Arkansas, so they couldn't get married. That's our own private little family joke and we laugh constantly about it. I also laugh till my sides hurt every time I watch "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" I could care less that it's supposedly based on a Shakespeare play. It's like watching my ancestors, because a lot of them were exactly like that.

To others who aren't familiar with hillbilly or redneck culture, they would probably find the movie and the family joke offensive. Yet it has special meaning for this particular member of both cultures. One set of my great-grandparents upholds the most stereotypical of all stereotypes about rednecks and hillbillies. Her father was a moonshiner during Prohibition, hid in Texas from the revenuers for a few years, then when they came home, my great-grandparents met, fell in love and got married. Her parents didn't get running water in their house until my mom graduated high school in the mid-70's. Mama's sister was the first person in our branch of the Stewarts and Webbs to go to college, and my father was the first person in his entire family (all 4 sides) to obatin a post-graduate degree, an MD.

Sounds like a stereotype? You bet! It's totally true, on my word of honor. So is the story about a distant Stewart relation losing his plantation in a poker game. Stereotypically Southern? You bet! Totally true.

Far too many people these days are entirely too sensitive for their own good in my not so humble opinion. I have very little tolerance for political correctness, particularly when it lays the blame for all the world's ills at the feet of those of us who are white. It gets really old not being able to safely say anything simply because I'm white.

Why yes, I am descended from moonshiners. And horse-thieves and rednecks and hillbillies, and poor Southerners who couldn't spell to save their lives, who only had an 8th grade education, who never went to college, who speak slowly and love country music. And no one has the right to tell me how I should think in regards to the stereotypes of my own culture and sub-cultures. I will continue to very proudly say my grandmother could get run over by a reindeer if such things could happen, and to claim my cousins who think the Redneck 12 Days of Christmas is the best parody ever. I happen to agree with them on that point. I shall continue to follow college football and make fun of Tiger fans. I shall continue to root for the Saints. I shall continue to eat mudbugs and feast on shrimp. I shall continue to use Southern euphamisms and be proud of my chicken and dumplings. I shall continue to prefer my meat fried, or freshly shot, or freshly caught. Preferably all at the same time. I shall continue to think William T. Sherman was a madman, and that plantations are the best thing ever. I shall continue to go to church partly for the good food, I shall continue to eat peach cobbler and run around barefoot 9 months out of the year.

But wait, those are all stereotypes about Louisiana residents and Southerners! GASP!!! And they're all true. (except for the making fun of Tigers fans, that's an Arkansas thing... Sooie pig pig pig!)

3 comments :

  1. "I shall continue to follow college football and make fun of Tiger fans."

    I don't think we can be friends any more. (Geaux Tigers!) Only 152 days until LSU vs. Miss. State--not that I'm counting or anything.

    :-)

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  2. Geaux Tigers indeed! But I don't take it personally =)

    Its really hard for me - north Louisiana is a COMPLETELY different story than south Louisiana!! It's a whole other world down south! I'm safely nestled here in my city-fied Shreveport. Though, with my last name now "St. Amant", I get the cajun confusion 24/7. You should hear the way its actually pronounced. Its like "san uh maw". Sigh. Good thing my hubby's a great catch and worth all the drama...hehehe

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  3. LOL, funny post with lots of truth. I come from a background littered with stereotypes, some of them totally accurate, some of them, not so much. But you're right about the PC. I think it's hurting our country.

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