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Adrienne Langlois '10: The unbearable stigma of being 'Dixie'

Here at Brown, we frequently spend more time thinking about our future destinations and careers than where we've come from. Therefore, I'd like to take a few moments to reflect on the positive aspects of my city of origin.

My hometown is host to an art museum run by two former curators of the Guggenheim, a thriving theatre scene, a supportive gay and lesbian community and the largest privately owned home open to the public in the United States. When Barack Obama visited the city early last month, 28,000 people turned out to see the Democratic nominee in a high school football stadium. In light of these features and others, it's no wonder this town has been hailed by many as a new San Francisco.

Wondering where this idyllic city is located? Believe it or not, my hometown of Asheville lies south of the Mason-Dixon line, in the mountains of western North Carolina. Yet I rarely get to share some of its more praiseworthy aspects in conversation.

Inevitably, any positive mentions of my hometown are drowned out by the inevitable barrage of redneck jokes, questions about Civil War reenactments and the occasional comment regarding whether or not my family practices slavery. I only wish I were exaggerating.

I'm willing to concede that some Northern conceptions of the South are based in fact, as are all stereotypes. It's true that there were only four Jewish people in my high school, and I went to class along with students clad in Confederate flag T-shirts.

Instead of taking a field trip to the MoMA or the Library of Congress, my elementary school class visited the Cherokee Indian reservation (sadly, we were not allowed to visit the nearby casino). There are currently three Super Walmarts in the Asheville suburbs, each turning a tidy profit. But none of this means that I should be subjected to an askance glance and a smarmy "Well, where's your accent?" whenever I'm introduced to new people.

In terms of community at Brown, we few students from the South really get stiffed. Foreign students bond over adapting to American culture and receive admiring comments from domestic students. Students from well represented states such as California and New York can share their collective affinities for regional fast-food chains, but go looking for someone to compare notes on Hardee's iced tea and you might as well be searching for a needle in the proverbial haystack.

Most Brown students' main experience with the South is through the eyes of the dysfunctional families of William Faulkner or Margaret Mitchell's plucky plantation heroine Scarlett O'Hara. While Southern literature deserves its due, too much fiction will lead to the unfortunate recurring perception that the only cultural innovation to come out of the South since Reconstruction is Jack Daniels.

Off College Hill and around the country, the media have done little to discourage this perception of the South. The New York Times ran an article that sought to explore the "receptive audience" that "the McCain campaign's depiction of Barack Obama as a mysterious 'other' with an impenetrable background" had found in Southern states.

Featuring quotes from residents found outside of such stereotypical locations as Walmart and Baptist churches, the article effectively painted the region as a bastion of Bible-thumping racists who believed that "God told the children of Israel not to intermarry" and that a black president would "tear up the rose bushes and plant a watermelon patch" - sentiments practically guaranteed to strike fear into the hearts of any East Coast liberal who tears up at the sight of the splash of deep red that crosses the South on every map of the electoral college.

This is not to decry studies of the lingering effects of racism, the trend in homemade drug use or the unending poverty that plagues some parts of the South. However, there are more constructive ways to explore the societal problems of a region than a culturally insensitive joke, which trivializes those long-standing issues that the wisecracker regards as anathema, and that ultimately does more harm than good.

There's no reason why any student at Brown should be ashamed of their hometown or region of origin, whether they live below the Mason-Dixon line or anywhere else. Brown students should live up to their reputation as open-minded adults and give the South and its residents the respect they deserve.

So next time you see your token Southern friend, consider asking him or her a thoughtful question instead of making a snide remark. You bring an open mind, and we'll provide the barbecue - something that is, admittedly, a Southern stereotype, but also a source of pride that I'm sure you'll be happy you tried.

Adrienne Langlois '10 hums "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" while studying liberal pinko communist feminist theory in the Rock.



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