My Turn: Time to lose Southern stereotype

Published: Thursday, February 7, 2008
By Mark Osborne

Dear Ms. Parker:

I am a Southerner living in Hinesburg. I hail originally from Sumter, S.C. I am retired U.S. Navy and the author of a book released in July called "Rebel Speedway." I wanted to tell you how offended I was by your article in its entirety ("Bubba, sissy, the reporters are here," Jan. 24).

Your jabs at Southern I.Q., coupled with your name calling, such as "redneck yahoos, Gomers’ and Gussies," are no doubt harsh, hurtful and completely stereotypical. Comments like yours are why we are so far behind in the times. I am of the Caucasian race, if you hadn’t figured that out yet. I am not, however, a racist as you seem to think many of us Southerners are.

I grew up in a time when schools integrated in 1970, and because of this integration our bands of friends broadened and we became not only friends, but classmates, teammates and even brothers. While in the Navy aboard my first ship, my best friend was an African-American from Monticello, Miss. He slept in the rack right next to mine on board our fast frigate, and when we went our separate ways in 1980 after serving together for four years, we didn’t see each other again until 1998.

We now, to this day, call each other monthly at least, with him living in Oklahoma and me living here in Vermont. He has always been my best friend and I’d truly give him the shirt off my back, and I’m sure he’d do the same for me. I love my friend just like a brother and consider him closer than many of my own actual related family members.

What I’m getting at is your foolish idea that we’re all stupid, interbred, toothless, racist hillbillies is completely offensive and inaccurate, and I really think that you should spend some quality time down South. Go to the nicer, upper-middle-class areas to visit instead of all the tar-paper shacks and rundown mobile home parks. If you go looking for poverty-stricken locals, you’ll certainly find them, but that still doesn’t mean they’re illiterate or racist.

Most of the poor people I’ve ever met are, in fact, the people who would give the shirts off their backs. Here in Vermont, you can visit the same type of places and you can even see the same toothless, dumber-than-a-bag-of hammers rednecks, only they’re Vermonters and upstate New Yorkers that don’t have that fine Southern accent, which I can’t seem to shake.

Everyone I know from the South teaches their children to say, yes sir, no sir, or yes ma’am and no ma’am. We are taught to respect our el- ders, and a lot of us got our hind ends paddled for disrespect in school where corporal punishment was practiced, and I personally am thankful I was on the receiving end of Principal Noonan’s chunk of "tail-wood." If he were standing in front of me now, I’d shake his hand and thank him for the education and the needed discipline.

The last thing I need to defend is the Confederate flag. You see the flag as a sign of racism where we, the Southerners, see the flag as a symbol of pride — pride in our fathers, pride in our forefathers and the land they defended in battle. They fought because they were following orders, just as our youths are fighting and dying today. As far as slavery goes, I feel that no man should be anyone’s slave and, for something that happened way before any of us were here, it’s certainly not our fault nor our responsibility to apologize for it. We had no control over the history being made back in those days, and hopefully one day we can all live in peace and harmony worldwide. But it’s comments like yours that actually fuel the fires and make progress take a few steps backward.

I have the Confederate flag and a checkered flag crossed on my book cover, and that signifies Southern racing. There is no other meaning. I am proud of my heritage, just as all the good Southern people are, so please don’t jump the gun on assuming we all have teeth missing and love Moon Pies.

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