Southern progressives could learn a lesson from Julia Sugarbaker

Designing Women’s Julia Sugarbaker, played by Dixie Carter.

Sometimes I feel like a lone voice in the wilderness when I write essays in an effort to counter some of negative images of the South that permeate popular culture or to contest the drivel that national journalists churn up in order to take swipes at a region they’ve never visited, much less know.

With the government shutdown, writers from The Nation to Salon to the Washington Post have all pointed their fingers at the South, especially conservative Republicans from the region, the most intransigent of which are members of the Tea Party caucus. Here, they say, the Civil War has not ended.  Here, they say, are nothing but a bunch of “Neo-Confederates.” I’m not suggesting that these journalists don’t have a point to make, but in making it, they are using a fairly broad brush that hits me and other southern progressives like a slap in the face.

This is when I wish I could muster up a rant that would make Julia Sugarbaker proud.  In the 1980s television series Designing Women, Julia Sugarbaker, played so well by the late actress Dixie Carter, knew how to rip someone a new one. In one particular episode, she lashed out at a writer from the New York Times for printing an article about dirt eating in the South.

Today, the articles about dirt eating may have subsided, but the stereotypes of the region remain.  The use of banjo music for television programs, illustrations of the Confederate battle flag for articles about the South, and so on. In one week John T. Edge might write a nice food article for the New York Times that gets all sorts of compliments (southerners do okay when it comes to food), but the next week a comedy-news show (The Daily Show or perhaps Real Time with Bill Maher) will interview a hillbilly type to make a point.

It’s tiresome and I wish Julia Sugarbaker were here to let them all know.


6 thoughts on “Southern progressives could learn a lesson from Julia Sugarbaker

  1. I am with you all the way Karen. But I will have to admit – I have felt oddly not at home on many visits to my home state (Alabama). Many people there, including members my own family, lump me in Californians. And as we all know, that’s a whole different set of stereotypes. When I lived in Virginia, things got down right nasty. But in the end – I’m cool with being identified as a Hollywood type.

  2. It’s pretty much impossible to know without more specific references to which particular articles in “The Nation” and “Salon” you are objecting. Or why. The star pundits on TV may not chat about it regularly, but “neo-Confederate” ideology is a significant force in Republican Party politics today. Prominent Republicans politicians like Rick Perry have been talking up ideas about nullification of federal laws. The Southern states are the most secure strongholds for the Republican Party today, just as they were during the Solid South period for the Democrats. It would be remarkable if observers of politics were *not* talking about those facts of American politics today.

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