A Lesson on Stereotypes
Michael Ramsburg

How does the average American portray someone who is simple-minded, dumb, ignorant, etc? By immediately adopting one of the numerous Southern or Appalachian drawls. What does this say about America’s attitude towards those people? Much. A good amount of my family comes from somewhere south of the Mason-Dixon. Virginia, Georgia, Florida. I grew up with these accents and consider them just one of many ways to speak American. Sometimes, in said company, my own vocalizations loosen. To this day I still say “y’all” and “fix’n’ta” without even thinking about it. However, I spent most of my time in Michigan, *southern* Florida and Massachusetts: places where most people who consider themselves “literati” do not have those accents.

When I moved to Tallahassee FL, one of my roommates had a slight accent, but then one day I heard him talk to a visiting friend and he had a thick north Florida / southern Georgia / Alabama accent. I realized that he changed his accent depending on who he talked to. He knew I didn’t have the accent the minute I said “hello” and he adapted. As we got to know each other, he intimated something that was eye-opening. He said that when he interacts with his potential customers at the used car lot, he goes straight thick Southern. He asked me, “do you know why?” I had no idea. He said it was because if you go thick with a Southern accent, people immediately assume that they are smarter than you, and this makes it way easier to sell cars. They assume that you won’t be able to trick them or fool them as they’re already in a position where they think they are superior and more aware of what’s going on.

That simple conversation made me more aware than ever of the “hillbilly” and “southern” stereotypes, and how human social behavior can be, in essence, a form of acting, and in some ways reinforcing one’s false opinions of a specific stereotype. Pretty fascinating stuff. And to this day, I never take someone’s accent as a trigger for assumption like most Americans do.

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