Saturday, March 22, 2008

Our National Psychology and Stereotype

In the current issue of Oxford American, author David Payne presents a fantastic essay that tries to account for the standing of Southern literature in the whole of American letters. Payne begins with this quote from George B. Tindall:

Even today the Northern visitor hankers to see eroded hills and rednecks…to sniff the effluvium of backwoods-and-sandhill subhumanity and to see at least one barn burn at midnight. So he looks at me with crafty misgivings, as if to say, “Well, you do talk rather glibly about Kierkegaard and Sartre…but after all, you’re only fooling, aren’t you? Don’t you, sometimes, go out secretly by owl-light to drink swampwater and feed on sowbelly and collard greens?”
To account for the diminished standing of Southern lit in the context of American writing, Payne goes on to examine Northern notions of the South and Southerners, and a few passages speak directly to HS's recent ruminations on stereotyping. Payne speaks not to Appalachia per se, but to the South as a whole. Still, it is relevant:
The Southern Redneck Stereotype arises from the condescension of an urban and industrial/mercantile people toward a rural, agricultural one; of an uprooted, migratory people toward a static, place-bound one; of a modernizing, tradition-breaking people toward a fiercely tradition-keeping one. And it’s no coincidence that many of the qualities attributed to the Southern Redneck—primitivism, violence, excess emotionalism, even musicality—are similar if not identical to those projected onto African Americans.
The whole thing is well worth reading.

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