Apparently the current president called his attorney general a “dumb southerner” and made fun of his accent. This is one of many ugly incidents reported in Bob Woodward’s forthcoming book Fear. Look, I don’t like Jeff Sessions. He is a racist, sexist, homophobic, and self-righteous little man. But “dumb southerner” is an insult too far. One of Trump’s most annoying verbal habits is that he slings broad insults rather than specific ones. Calling Sessions a “dumb southerner” implies that all (or most) southerners are dumb. It suggests that all southerners have the capacity to be a person like Jeff Sessions. That’s not fair and it isn’t accurate.
I was talking recently with a friend who knew very little about the south. She’d never spent any time there. She said some of the southerners she knew seemed overly defensive about their place of birth. She didn’t understand where that defensiveness originated. Well, I told her, it’s because some people think we’re stupid. This is not news to anyone who grew up in the south. If you speak with a drawl, you can bet there is someone in every room who believes you are a few cards short of a full deck.
Early in my adult life, I learned to spot these people. It’s not hard. They are the people who, after hearing you speak, do not respond to the content of your words, but instead ask where you are from. Whey you say you are from Mississippi (or Alabama or Tennessee or Georgia or Louisiana), their eyes go wide and they back away as if you might be contagious. Once, after a meeting in Texas, a man asked me where I grew up. When I said Jackson, Mississippi, he said, “well that sounds miserable.” This from a man born and raised in Lubbock.
I have news for Trump and for every man who believes that a person might be stupid based on nothing more than geography: stupid people are everywhere. There are no stupidity clusters in the southern United States. I don’t care if the president and the attorney general trade insults from now until the zombie apocalypse, but be specific. There are plenty of good reasons to insult Jeff Sessions. His place of birth isn’t one of them.