Opinion: Media Mangle

It’s always open season on Southern culture

Cultural sensitivity strangely inoperative where South is concerned

The liberal news media is quick to condemn Americans, and Southerners especially, for their xenophobia. We benighted sons and daughters of the Southland are just so unappreciative and even ignorant of what the world has to offer, in their view, anyway.

That’s why newspapers run all those features in their style and food sections on some of the most obscure fashions and food types known to man. They’re just trying to teach us to be tolerant and appreciative of cultures that are different from our own.

I’m trying today to reconcile the media’s self-professed tolerance for alien cultures with columns such as the one in The News & Observer today titled “Kiss mah grits; is this food?”

The column, by Chapel Hill reporter Katelyn Ferral, represents a time-honored tradition in Southern newspapers: The young, Yankee reporter import who is allowed by his or her editor to ridicule the culture, food, and even accents of the South.

Ferral makes fun of two of the South’s culinary icons, biscuits and grits. This young lady can’t seem to get her head around their regional popularity. Grits are a “flavorless Cream of Wheat-like mash,” and biscuits are “an anomaly that, as a Wisconsin emigrant, I have yet to understand.”

We all know what an “ugly American” is. That’s the bermuda-short and t-shirt-wearing American tourist who berates a waiter in France for not speaking English and for bringing him a Coke with no ice. How is Ferral’s gratuitous slap at biscuits and grits any different?

Are multicultural sensitivities inoperative where the South is concerned? It’s yet another mystery why editors here in the South allow such columns when they would never print similar put-downs of, say, aspects of Muslim or Hispanic culture.

I don’t mean to pick on Ferral. Hers is just the latest in a long line of similar columns I’ve seen over the years in everything from small weeklies to metro dailies, in which interns and young reporters from outside the South feel compelled to declare the superiority of where they came from.

I’m trying to imagine a young Southerner going to work at Northern newspaper and writing a “humorous” column about how bagels just don’t compare to the hallowed biscuit, or declaring the Philly cheese steak to be a mushy conglomeration that is vastly inferior to the barbecue sandwich, but I can’t.

You see, we teach manners down here.

Jon Ham is vice president of the John Locke Foundation and publisher of its newspaper Carolina Journal.