Northern Prejudice against Southerners

I grew up in the South and have lived some 40 years now in the NY/NJ area. My experience is most Northerners are prejudiced against Southerners.

Typically, the prejudice is just mild.  It’s mild enough that the prejudice is often a source of good natured humor (as with the comedian Jeff Foxworthy and his “You might be a redneck if  …” routine). Further, this anti-Southern prejudice is much less now given society’s ever increasing homogenization.

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But trust me, this prejudice is quite real. And sometimes it’s not so mild. Having experienced a little bit of prejudice myself makes me empathetic to others who are discriminated against. Although I’m thinking of Blacks, my empathy is not just limited to that group.

I’m not naïve. People pre judge others. We all do it to some extent. It’s a needed survival tool. Pre judging (prejudice) lets you anticipate how to deal with someone (and especially if someone poses a potential threat). For example, if I’m walking down a street at night I most certainly will be a lot more wary of a group of loud meandering teenagers than I will be if a grownup is walking along who is dressed in business attire.

At any rate, what follows are the ways I’ve experienced prejudice.

Naked open prejudice

Being openly prejudiced against Southerners is socially allowed. In a way, it’s a socially allowed white on white thing. It doesn’t have the same social stigma that can hold back blatant white on black prejudice. Two examples I’ve experienced:

  •  “I just don’t think anyone from the South is smart enough to be President.” … That’s how my Northern friend explained it to me back when Carter was running for President. We had debated all of Carter’s qualifications. He agreed that Carter looked good (on paper at least). But my friend was still dead set against Carter. I wore him down to explain why. He finally came out with it. His honest belief was that Southerners – any Southerner – just weren’t smart enough to be President.
  • If I had known you were from the South I never would have gone out with you.” … That’s what my date told me after we had a “get to know you better” talk over dinner. Perversely, her statement was meant as a compliment. I didn’t fit her stereotype of a Southerner. She thought of Southerners as dumb and stupid people who for entertainment did things like have spitting contests. But for her, to the good, I could “pass” as someone from up North given my barely detectable accent. … Note: I suppose I passed enough in other ways also. We ended up getting married. Big mistake. We divorced after a few years.

Semi-naked prejudice

This type of prejudice against Southerners is clear enough but it’s a little more subtle. Two examples:

  •  “Go talk South mouth.” … That’s what my boss told me at the bank’s company Christmas party as he pointed to another guy from the South. His off handed comment was perhaps benign. But I think his comment showed a certain level of disdain for Southerners (“South mouth” … really?) as a general group.
  • The body flinch when I tell a Northerner I was born in Birmingham, Alabama. … I can’t help it. I sometimes do this as a subtle way to say “screw you” to a particular type of “blue blood” Northerner (the snob type who thinks Northerners are superior to Southerners). The typical scenario is the other guy makes a derogatory comment about people from the South. When I comment about being born in Birmingham their response is almost humorous.  They physically flinch. I think the flinch is from a mix of embarrassment and their wondering why I don’t look and sound like a Southern hick. … Note: Although I grew up in N.C., it seems “born in Birmingham” (as I was due my dad doing his medical internship there) has more shock effect.

Hidden prejudice

This is probably the most damaging form of prejudice. You don’t really know if the “problem” was something that was validly your fault or if prejudice played a role.

For example, I remember being squeezed out of my job once by a New York City guy I worked for. I don’t think the “squeeze out” was due to one-off prejudice. But Northern vs. Southern ways of carrying oneself (you could even say cultural differences) played a role. I was (and am) a Southern “polite guy” type. My boss was more of a Northern “get up in your face” type. We clashed.

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3 thoughts on “Northern Prejudice against Southerners

  1. Lyndon Johnson made a point in 1964 of running as a Westerner to avoid the Southern image. Some of these feelings stem from the Civil War and after war candidates “waved the bloody flag” to draw northern votes. Some come from the hard line on segregation from people like Wallace. You are correct that “regionalism” is not at the same level as it was in the 1960s as we had more migration across regions and more national type businesses.

  2. I have lived in Pittsburgh for 30+ years and I was born in Memphis. I actually grew up in Mississippi, you can’t get much more Southern! I have flinched myself at all the offhand comments I have had to endure.

  3. Hi there! This article could not be written much better!
    Looking through this post reminds me of my previous roommate!
    He constantly kept preaching about this. I am going to forward this post to
    him. Fairly certain he will have a very good read. Many thanks for
    sharing!

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