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Uplifting Black, Brown, queer, and marginalized voices across the South.

A New Year and a new election season is upon us, and we know what that means! 

It’s time for all you obviously unbiased journalists to parachute down South and report back to your elitist brethren on the ugly state of things in America’s trash land. 

Whether you’re looking to stereotype, scapegoat, or slander, we’ve got an easy editorial “how to” for crafting the rootinest, tootinest and astutest examinations. 

10 Steps to Reporting on the South in 2020

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Someone interview this man, please. (Black man in a cowboy hat riding a horse at an Atlanta gas station in 2005). Photo by Hana Loftus. Used via Flickr creative commons.

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  1. Open with the image of a barefoot child and her bone-thin dog outside a trailer in a holler, or a barefoot child who’s crying while holding a melting popsicle in front of a convenience store in a blighted city. If it’s a sunny day, say the heat and humidity are oppressive. If it’s overcast, make sure we know the dark skies loom overhead like the unyielding approach of an economic and cultural Doom’s Day.

  2. Be very surprised to discover there are people who are not white, hetero, and/or religiously Republican at the charming diner-inside-a-gas station you’ve serendipitously stumbled upon, where you have a heartfelt conversation with locals of all stripes over a scoop of the best peach cobbler you’ve ever tasted. 

    Bonus points if the cobbler reminds you of a fruity dessert prepared by your long-dead, first-generation immigrant grandparent, and someone in said gas station diner shares those roots. Imply you’ve sealed a lifelong bond with this person who, without irony, is wearing overalls.

  3. Use some variation of this language, “hope is running thin,” “hopelessness,” or “long lost hope,”in the lede, nut graf, and your first transition. Sprinkle “desperate” throughout.

  4. Go to the local Walmart. Find someone who pronounces it “Walmarks.”

    Only use dialect in their quotes no matter the variation of speech you encounter. 

    Describe the contents of “Walmarks”’ buggie—canned tuna, a pregnancy test, four children, and a gallon of mayonnaise—with tasteful discount-shopping condescension. Drop in, without explanation, local education statistics and teen pregnancy rates.

    Do not mention the enormous subsidies provided by local taxes to bring corporations to this municipality or how those corporations control farmland or pay people unlivable wages with no benefits. Make no connection between the current socioeconomics of the South and the international scope of the slavery economy, or the history of Northern-funded industrialization that promulgated racist and dangerous labor practices.

    End with a line about how you aren’t sure if it was a joke that “Walmarks” said“quid pro quo” was a fancy fish bait brand. Fail to realize there are different ways to be educated.

  5. Take a poll of six elderly people in a church parking lot and use their answers to extrapolate region-wide beliefs, circumstances, and election predictions. 

    As an example: “In a wide-brimmed purple hat and sensible loafers, Ms. Lula Earl Gene said she wouldn’t be voting in November because no candidate correctly identified the ingredients of her corn casserole during a recent debate. Five members of her Sunday school class, fanning themselves in the oppressive heat, nodded in agreement. Amen, they hummed. Cayenne.” 

    And your headline: “No churchgoing women in 12-Toe, Alabama will participate in the election.” Run a picture of the Confederate flag as the header image. 

  6. Include lots of statistics on how locals elect regressive lawmaking Republicans, using newly coined phrases like “against their own best interest” but avoid including context regarding voter turnout, well-funded national political strategies to ensure GOP strongholds (including but not limited to voter suppression and gerrymandering), or voter apathy born of generational exploitation and misrepresentation.

    Leave out relevant demographic information, never mentioning the South is the most populous region in the US, home to the largest population of LGBTQ people in the nation, or that people of color comprise one-third of South’s population, even in the godforsaken rural areas.

    Call our cities the country.

  7. Ignore joy. Ignore culture. Ignore beauty. 

    Ignore activist-led progress unless pandering to tropes in which you mythologize locals by assigning them godlike qualities born of their suffering and thereby glorifying and fetishizing said suffering.

  8. List all taxpayer-funded programs and national charitable grant-giving organizations that are present in an area, with an expert quote explaining how the millions invested here have not made significant change. 

    Write a palatable, allegorical allusion along the lines of: “Like David facing Goliath, these programs are no match for the locals’ dedication to the ongoing demise of their education, health, and the environment.” 

    Be sure not to take one teeny peep deeper at how laughably out of touch such “help” often is, how corrupt, how locals are almost never included in the designation or oversight of such funds (save the public relations-friendly town hall event), or how national structural issues within our capitalist system might be at play.

    Open the comments section to people who say, “Proud coastal elite here!” and propose—hilariously!— to encourage the South to secede again. 

  9. Mention Dolly Parton, BBQ, Jesus, and football in that order unless in Alabama, then reverse.

  10. Avoid using the terms  “extraction” or “extractive labor.”  You don’t want to remind people of the power dynamics in journalism even if it means—whoops-a-daisies!—perpetuating myths of ignorance and laziness about people whose work has amassed wealth for others since the dawn of this nation. 

    Bonus if you can do this while ripping off local journalists whose reporting on said issues is underpaid. 

    Double bonus if you respond online to local commenters who chime in with an innocent, “My granny led the women’s biscuit movement” by saying, “I literally wrote this article on the biscuit movement.” Pretend you didn’t do so using the knowledge of all our grannies.

OK, y’all! By the time you read this, I’ll be home with a newborn because it’s my duty as a Southern woman to procreate.

But my colleagues at under-resourced Southern outlets will see you out on the road as you search for the elusive perfect bubba interview at all the Piggly Wigglies and county fairs and gun shows! 

Happy hunting!

What the hell is a Scalawag?

Katherine Webb-Hehn

Katherine Webb-Hehn is a mama, multi-media journalist and artist in Birmingham, Alabama.