Southern Charm

  • Wednesday, April 16, 2014

  • Updated Wednesday, April 16, 2014 8:33 am

Being a fourth generation Southerner (and beyond, according to my aunt’s geneology study), I was interested in syndicated columnist Kathleen Parker’s column today, titled “Southern charm.” South Carolina’s own, she started out at The Charleston Evening Post as a journalist, and is married to a native son. She’s also now writing for the prestigious Washington Post and currently lives in S.C.

That said, she was recently caught up in a firestorm where a message was taken out of context : she appeared on “Meet the Press” and made a comment about “Southerners and an ad attacking the Affordable Care Act.” These are her words. What transpired after that was “one person with a laptop who was offended and social media took it from there. Think Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘The Birds’.” Again, her words. She said, “I was condemning Southern stereotypes, not reinforcing them.” And that my friends, was the title used of her piece in The Washington Post.

I see two problems here: Why are people so quick to judge and so slow to understand? When one person’s cruel agenda seemingly trumps the truth, we all hurt. And with social media, something misunderstood can go viral in a matter of hours.

Secondly, why do some people think we Southerners are just plain stupid? Even the accent intrigues some, often to the point of mocking us.

For instance, it never fails that someone asks me where I’m from if I’m traveling far from home. The year I went with Katie, our daughter, to the University of British Columbia in Vancouver for her interview for grad school, this question came up a lot. Riding the trolley car, one couple was convinced we were from Texas. For the record, Katie went on to get her master’s in music from Louisiana State University. (Pssst! A Southern state and we were happy about that!)

But back to the Southern charm. I find it ironic that on the front page of the same newspaper today a huge compliment to the South was given. There was an article about the 67th Azalea Festival, featuring the Azalea queen, a Michigan native, who was entranced by our region’s friendliness. She said, “There is just something special about the hospitality in the south!” Amen and thank you, Kirsten Haglund, who was Miss America 2008.

There was a time I might have tried to mask my accent just a little when doing talks and signing books across the country. Not anymore—now I embrace it and I’m proud of it. It’s true that we Southerners generally just love people. We love to feed them. We love to welcome them. We love to make them feel comfortable. We wave to people when we’re driving. We say “Hey!” to everyone else we know — in the grocery store, the bank, the post office. Heck, we say “Hey!” sometimes to people we don’t even know. And we love babies — me, so much so, that I often embarrass Russell. But we choose to live, no we embrace — living in the South for these very reasons. That doesn’t make us dumb-dumbs.

Ms. Parker is so right. We are not those hillbilly, trash-talking, uneducated Simpletons. These are my words. How sad that we’ve somehow gotten that reputation over the years.

Through movies, songs, advertisements and social media, we’ve been portrayed incorrectly. I’m happy to be able to set the record straight. I’m elated that Ms. Parker chose to do the same.

Why, just look at the colleges and universities in the Carolinas, alone. UNC, NC State, East Carolina, Wake Forest, USC, Clemson, Furman, Wofford and the list goes on and on. That’s impressive. I don’t want to go overboard here, but given the choice, I can simply understand a Southerner’s talking so much more easily than the people “who aren’t from around here.”

So before anyone else condemns us Southerners, I hope they remember that we are (for the most part) educated, employed, enlightened people and we vote. Oh yes, we vote. We may even have a celebration meal when our candidate wins, consisting of the following: fried chicken, collards, mashed potatoes, pickled okra, candied yams, biscuits and pound cake — oh, and don’t let me forget, sweet tea. And that, my friend, is real Southern charm.

Ann Ipock “Life is Short, I Wish I Was Taller” amipock@ec.rr.com www.annipock.com

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