Writing with cultural sensitivity

It has been said that obesity is the last form of acceptable social prejudice. I disagree; it is indeed a largely tolerated form of prejudice but there are others, and I would like to write today about prejudice against the Southern States of the US. In large parts of the developed and Western world (and outside) prejudice has come to mean more than hating on a group because of the characteristics of that group (be it blacks, women, gays or whomever). Sure, hate and negative assumptions are indeed a serious form of prejudice that many, if not most, people are united in eradicating. But to me, living in London in the last decade prejudice or racism has also come to mean something else – it has come to mean making generalizations about a group of people, that even if they can be backed up by hard data and statistics, are made in a crude, offensive to that group, or culturally insensitive manner. Some people think this attitude has gone too far, but I am glad it was drummed into me that this attitude and manner of speaking about others is the right thing to do.

To be honest, my opinion is that I don’t think this extra layer to prejudice / racism is as prevalent in the South as it was in London. I have experienced many people for whom the concept of racism is still largely only tied to hate or erroneous / unfair generalizations and is not so concerned with speaking in a way that doesn’t offend a group of people, or be disrespectful to aspects of their culture we may not immediately consider: such as food choices. Not ubiquitously, but more prevalently than some of more urban / cosmopolitan / racially integrated areas. However, I find non Southerners writing about ‘Southern attitudes’ in a frankly equally unacceptable manner. Because people know I live in Alabama, I find sweeping statements about the ‘inbred racist backwards Southerners’ bandied about in public arenas with little regard for the sensibilities and sensitivities of Southerners. And I find it upsetting and offensive. If you want to write about Southern attitudes to race or homosexuality or religion I would ask that you do not do so without careful thought, as carefully that you might write about other groups of individuals, and do not act in a manner you may well accuse Southerners of acting in. Instead, please:

-Remember the history of the Southern states

-Respect the more prevalent Christian views – whether you share their views on Christianity or not

-Not make statements about racism or attitudes as if what you are saying reflects the attitudes of all Southern people, when in reality there is a huge mix of opinions

-Consider whether your own opinions and expectations of Southerners / the South have coloured how you interpret things

-Remember that racism / prejudice *in all forms* exists in every society (The BNP got a seat in parliament recently, right?)

-Consider whether even though a view or an attitude has been shown to be more prevalent in the Southern states, it could still offend a lot of people if it was written about in a crude and insensitive manner

-Remember that every culture and every society has something we can learn from. There are an awful lot of great things I have learned from living in Alabama, and being exposed to Southern attitudes, about treating fellow humans better.

Of course, acknowledging differences in opinion, or differences in attitude prevalence is OK.  Noting that some views, that you may not agree with are more common, or more likely to be accepted here is OK to me. Sharing first hand observations and opinions, thoughts and interpretations can be enlightening. If it is done nicely and sensitively and respectfully. Please think about how you would feel if somewhat wrote what you are saying about your culture, or highlighted the perceived shortcomings of your culture in such a manner. Otherwise, if you are talking about prejudice / racism – well, in my humble opinion, its just hypocritical.

2 thoughts on “Writing with cultural sensitivity

  1. Leigh Ann Mays

    Thanks for writing this. It especially has weight coming from someone not originally from here :). I don’t fit the stereotypical southern conservative views in every area but I do believe everyone should be treated fairly and without prejudice, left to make their own decisions based on their own convictions not the convictions of the majority of the society/area one lives in. Not to mention being judged based on your google location. Southern born and bred but with a beating heart like my brothers and sisters in NY, Afganistan, Europe, China, and everywhere the map takes us which is circles right back around the globe.


  2. lekkiwood

    Beautifully put, and a great response to people who proclaim only negative views about the South. I was nervous about posting this, because to be honest, it is a lesson I am still learning, so I am glad it came across well. As long as we all realise that we all still have much to learn about respecting and helping our fellow humans, I think things will be OK 🙂


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