Commentary

Saunders: Media should stop picking on Southerners

bsaunders@newsobserver.comNovember 4, 2013 

File this one under “We’re more alike than you thought.”

A reader responding to my recent column on the decline of proper spoken English wrote to tell me that she gets knots in her stomach watching TV news, because reporters seem to intentionally find the least articulate person of her race, thrust a microphone in his or her face, and ask “What happened?”

They’ll often find some fat woman in a muumuu with rollers in her head standing in front of her trailer and for whom subject and verb have never met, she said.

That letter writer was white, which stunned me and caused me to write her back and ask, “Y’all feel that way, too?”

A TV news plot?

Man, black people have had that lament forever. Ask the average dude or dudette on the street and he or she’ll swear there’s a pernicious plot by reporters to find the most verbally challenged person wearing a ’do rag and saying “I seen” – TV news seems to love that one – and “What it is?” in every other sentence.

The same goes for Southerners. Too often for it to be coincidental, journalists from up North will pick out the one with the biggest chaw bulging from his cheek and hold him up as representative of all Southerners.

That’s what happened on the MSNBC network recently. MSNBC contributor and Washington Post editorial writer Jonathan Capehart wandered into a Belmont store with his producer and cameraman and found one David Jackson, who enthusiastically affirmed every stereotype of a slow-witted, racially closed-minded, Obama-hating Southerner.

Among other bon mots tossed off by the typecast good ol’ boy, Jackson told Capehart that “so many people” in Obama’s administration are part of the Muslim Brotherhood, they had “1,000 of their people come to the East Lawn for a prayer session.”

Do tell? Claimed he heard it “on the news.”

My sympathy for Jackson – or, no doubt, his for me – could fit inside a homeless gnat’s suitcase. Same for former Buncombe County GOP precinct chairman Don Yelton, who went on Jon Stewart’s “The Daily Show” and figuratively hanged himself in an interview that must’ve had every Southerner with more than two brain cells cringing.

As backward and objectionable as I found Yelton’s sentiments, part of me – the son of the South part – felt that he was being picked on, ridiculed.

‘He’s our fool’

Strange, right? As Randy Newman said of race-baiter supreme Lester Maddox in his song “Rednecks,” “He may be a fool, but he’s our fool.”

My problem with Capehart is not that he plucked from central casting a stereotypical Southerner to mouth the particular brand of foolishness that Jackson did. My problem is that he took the easy route, finding a poor white guy who lays blame for all his problems on the black guy in the White House.

Gee, how difficult was that? Sure, Obama lost North Carolina in the last election, but he won it in the previous one – and he certainly didn’t get elected solely on black or brown votes. America and the South have changed, but some people seem more comfortable pretending they haven’t.

With just a little work, Capehart could have found an articulate, college-educated, well-off person to express different views or the same odious sentiments. Someone like say, Dr. Ben Carson or, oh, Orson Scott Card.

Card, the author of the book “Ender’s Game,” upon which the No. 1 movie in the country is based, lives in Greensboro and has expressed views every bit as noxious as those Jackson believes. In reality, Card – raised in California, Arizona and Utah – is about as Southern as Mitt Romney.

Card has called gays deviant and in interviews and writings has called for the overthrow of the government. He calls Obama a dictator who will fix things so the equally “phenomenally lazy and uneducated” Michelle Obama will succeed him as president. Even now, Card claims, Obama is preparing to have gangs of urban youths – recruited from “young out-of-work urban men” – serve as his “national police force.”

So, Jonathan: Love your work on TV, babe, love those expertly tailored suits and perfectly knotted ties. But you don’t have to go to the Belmont Piggly Wiggly or wherever you found Jackson to spot a rube spouting ridiculous and dangerous ideas. Finding someone to say something stupid, someone who conforms to your preconceived notion, is easy.

And they don’t have to be fat and uneducated, with a chaw of Red Man in their cheek.

bsaunders@newsobserver.com or 919-836-2811

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