This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Sunday, September 18, 2011

What are the Real Demographics of the South?

The New York Times has a very good Op-Ed piece today written by Karen Cox, an associate professor of history at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte (UNCC). She highlights the continuing stereotyping of the American South in television programs.
If you go by the sheer number of programs and casting calls, reality television has become thoroughly Dixiefied. Whether it’s Lifetime’s “Glamour Belles,” truTV’s “Lizard Lick Towing” or CMT’s “Sweet Home Alabama,” series purporting to show a slice of Southern life are huge, and getting bigger: more than a dozen new programs have been introduced so far this year, while others have been renewed for second or even third seasons.
Such shows promise new insight into Southern culture, but what they really represent is a typecast South: a mythically rural, white, poorly educated and thickly accented region that has yet to join the 21st century. If you listen closely, you may even hear banjos. [Note: I personally like banjos, so let's not go there!]
These stereotypical depictions are insulting to those who live in the region and know that a more diverse South exists. Even worse, they deny the existence of a progressive South, or even progressive Southerners.
In fact, the last decade has brought dramatic demographic changes to the region. The South’s population is more ethnically and racially diverse than it ever has been. Hispanics are the fasting-growing ethnic group in the country and, according to census statistics, most of that growth has been concentrated in the South.
These are demographic issues that my son, Gregory Weeks (also of UNCC) and I write about it in our book "Irresistible Forces: Latin American Migration to the United States and Its Effects on the South," so I am not a disinterested reader of Professor Cox's Op-Ed. Still, she asks the good question of why should anyone get upset over this stereotyping? Aren't we all just having a good time here?
First, it gives non-Southerners license to point their fingers at a supposedly culturally deficient region, while ignoring their own shortcomings.
And second, it reinforces a message to Southerners themselves, particularly whites, that they are in fact benighted and backward — so why change?
To present the full scale of the South’s diversity would do more than just undermine negative popular perceptions of the region. It would also ruin the stock in trade that has long been used by the dominant media to represent the South as a place that is culturally different from the rest of the country. Although of course, it wouldn’t be as entertaining.

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