Once a friend of my sister's came to visit from Chicago. When he heard my niece's southern accent, which is hardly an accent at all, he automatically assumed she was dumb, ignorant or uneducated. But after speaking with her for a few minutes he was impressed that she was an English major and had earned a PhD.
A classmate at the John C. Campbell Folk School said he had to make a confession and at the end of our weekend together, he apologized for his past thinking. His teacher in the Midwest had told him that southern people talked slowly because they all went barefoot, got worms in their feet and that affected the way they spoke.
My college roommate, an educated daughter of a colonial in the army, told me she was surprised when she came to Georgia to go to college. She expected us to all be wearing overalls and going barefoot.
This is not old ways of thinking, I am afraid. Today's Television shows about southern people portray us all as dumb, slovenly, and ignorant. I can't imagine why any person from the south would watch those kinds of shows and help build their ratings. They simply add to the stereotype that brands all of us to the rest of the world.
Just as all homeless people are assumed to be drunks and addicts, those of us who open our eyes, educate ourselves by reading and listening to experts, know that families with small children are living in cars and shelters. Men who work every day at jobs that pay so little they cannot save enough to pay rent sleep in shelters, and single mothers with small children who can't afford child care therefore can't work -- all fall into the homeless sector. Most homeless families are single mothers with children and most of the children are under the age of six.
I am told by someone who works with a homeless shelter in Atlanta, that the majority of the residents work every day. Their job pays such low wages, they can't get ahead to pay the first and last month on a room or an apartment. At ten dollars an hour, one can barely live.
I wondered from my subject of southern accents, but I think the larger point here is judging without knowing the facts. How many times do we look at someone and develop an opinion about them before we know anything about who they really are?
Whether it is the way they talk, how they dress or where they live, I try to withhold my judgement until I know the person and their character. I have been judged because of my southern accent. A man who is now a friend, once said he didn't like me because of my accent. He assumed I was not too smart. That was what he had been taught. He grew up in Pennsylvania. To me he has a heavy brogue himself, but I enjoyed hearing him talk even though he sounded far different from me.