The American South is saturated by mostly unfounded negative stereotypes. In a place as vividly conscious of political correctness as Harvard, I didn’t expect those stereotypes to be so blatantly perpetuated, even though those stereotypes have been depicted in the media and pop culture for years. While combing through about a dozen Southern photo-essays for a research paper last semester, I found exactly what I expected: the South was almost exclusively portrayed in images of crazed religion, white supremacy, and above all, dire poverty. If you judged the South by these images, you’d think it was nothing more than a poor, wild, lawless wasteland. But we’re at Harvard, and we should know better than to take things at face value. To accept Southern archetypes is to foolishly dismiss the beautiful intricacies of the South I know.
I knew it was unique, a tongue confined to my small part of the world. I knew the stereotypes, the assumed ignorance and backwardness associated with verbal loll and drawl, and I knew the North didn’t hear many voices like mine. What I did not know, or rather, expect, was how my distinct accent would become my identifier, how it would immediately—and permanently—make me so boldly stand out when up until that point in my life it had made me belong. I did not expect to root myself in dissimilarity.
I laud Harvard for its diversity, for its medley of race and religion and identity that I was never exposed to in my small, rural hometown. I love the atmosphere of inclusivity and the sense of belonging our college is so dedicated to achieving. I can’t help but notice, though, the glaring absence of Southern accents. I’ve heard it only once, and just in passing, during my first semester at Harvard. Have I just avoided it by bad luck and timing, or is it hiding?