Political And Historical Considerations Of The American Southern Stereotype


In today’s popular media driven society, intolerance of ethnicity-based stereotypes has significantly increased; however, stereotypes regarding the white ethnicity are often overlooked. Popular media, especially Hollywood, create a disillusioned idea of the South and misrepresent the population living there and their ideals (Leopold, 2012). For the purposes of this report, “the South” will be defined using the parameters set by individual research as the Southeastern portion of the continental United States of America.

The misrepresentation of Southerners is a critical issue that affects a tremendous amount of Americans. One-third of all people in the United States come from a background of Southern culture (Applebome, 1996). This issue of misrepresentation transcends the simplicity of Hollywood. This is an issue that has warped the political ideals and history of the United States. Because of popular media perpetuation of the Southern stereotype, numerous changes to modern American political society have occured. In order to maintain clarity throughout this report, “the Southern stereotype” will be defined as the “dumb, poor, rural, white” stereotype of Americans in the Southeast. Popular media perpetuation of the poor, white Southern stereotype significantly affects the recording of events in history, the political development of the Southeastern United States, and the political ideology of American voters.

Recording History

Perpetuation of the Southern stereotype has significantly affected the way historians and authors of primary sources have recorded history. According to Jamie Winders, Professor of Geography at Syracuse University, following the American Civil War, large numbers of Northern men and women migrated to the South and played a crucial role in the South’s social and physical construction, as well as forming the perpetuation of a Southern stereotype (Winders, 2003). One primary cause for the effect in recorded history is how Northeasterners viewed Southerners during the postbellum period in the United States. Jolene Hubbs, Professor of American Studies at the University of Alabama, described the urban Northerner’s view of the South, and Southerners, as “obsolete and alien” (p. 465) and describes the treatment as “dismissive urban categorization of rural poor whites as a singular and inferior whole (2008). This information is especially pertinent due to the fact that Northern travellers warped the presentation of the South to fit into their literary desires. According to Dr. Richard Gray, Professor of Literature at the University of Essex, the writings of Northerners not only impacted the way the South physically developed, but also the psychological way Southerners view themselves (Gray, 1997). As Northern travellers interacted with Southern individuals, stereotypes began to form, due to the fact that Northern writings created the Southern stereotype of “culturally inferior” (Hubbs, 2008, p. 465).

Political Development of the South

The perpetuation of the Southern stereotype by popular media has significantly affected the political culture and development of the South. According to the research of Alastair Bonnett, Professor of Social Geography at Newcastle University, the repercussions of the Southern stereotype have critical cultural and economic means, which heavily impact the political needs of the region (1997). Carissa Massey, Doctor of Art History with specialty in Appalachian Identity, explained that “The power of images is acute; they condition our understanding of not only the world around us but also notions of ‘self’. . . ” (2007, p. 127). This idea clearly affected Southerners, in which the Southerners began to feel as if they were inferior to the North, therefore in order to maintain order, Southerns had to find other groups to feel superior to (Massey, 2007).

One readily available group, which had already seen a considerable amount of prejudice and intolerance, was the minorities, especially African-Americans (Massey, 2007). This is where Angie Maxwell, Director of the University of Arkansas’ Center for Southern Politics and Society, has extrapolated that the Southern prejudice against African-Americans and other minorities has caused a great increase in race-related politics in the South (2014). This has caused politicians in the South to focus on race issues in politics, especially prevalent during the civil rights movement of the 1950’s and 1960’s with political figures such as George C. Wallace, former Governor of Alabama and hard-lined segregationist (Maxwell, 2014). Wallace used the issue of race in order to be elected into public office, promoting fanatical ideas about segregation and the superiority of the Southern ethnicity to the African-Americans (Maxwell, 2014). Despite his fanaticism, the changing political and social culture surrounding minorities in the 1960’s and 1970’s caused Wallace to warp his political ideology in order to fit the need of his constituency (Maxwell, 2014). This example serves as proof that the Southern stereotype has critically affected the development of the political culture in the South.

11 February 2020
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