Thomas Geoghegan's Shameful Stereotyping in the Wall Street Journal
Even in an age of "sensitivity," people from the South are one group it's acceptable to stereotype and denigrate.
Labor lawyer Thomas Geoghegan's recent Wall Street Journal op-ed weighed in on Boeing's decision to locate a second assembly plant for their 787 Dreamliner in South Carolina. In his zeal to defend labor unions and their contributions to the American way of life, Mr. Geoghegan betrayed his real agenda of propagating the myth that people from the South are inferior to their American counterparts from the North and West.
In his article, Mr. Geoghegan opined that union labor such as that found up north is worth $28 an hour because it is highly skilled, and that Boeing's decision to locate a plant in South Carolina was a harbinger of declining quality. He pointed out that South Carolina, like many other Southern states, is a Right-to-Work state where union membership is not mandatory and labor rates average $14 an hour. He contrasted the labor situation in the South with that of the North by explaining that union labor is worth $28 an hour because unions have forced companies to retain highly skilled workforces, despite company efforts that would sacrifice long-term competitiveness to a short-term focus on profits.
His implication is that companies have been forced to embrace long-term competitiveness over short-term profits only through the presence of unions which have beneficently prevented these companies from destroying themselves by refusing to allow these companies to hollow out their workforces. He further implies that unions are responsible for American manufacturing competitiveness and that only stupid companies are foolish enough to fall for the siren song of lower labor costs offered by non-union southern states.
Geoghegan runs down the people of the South like a bunch of bloodhounds after an escaped convict. He implies that we're stupid and not even worth the $14 an hour average we currently receive. In this, he perpetuates the longstanding myth that Southerners, and country people in general, are dumb hicks not worthy of serious consideration, and betrays the general elitist attitude that sophisticated Northerners are so much superior to their country cousins in the South. In his world, we are to be seen only as a pitiful class of wretched idiots too stupid to think for ourselves and a burden to be cared for by an enlightened northern populace.
Imagine the thinking behind this piece. Why, these people are so stupid they don't even mandate union membership. No wonder they don't make more money. How can you build up a skilled workforce without a union? Why, they even believe in God. How stupid can you be? People that dumb don't deserve to do better in life. How could Boeing even consider locating there? Why, this is obviously an attempt to break their union and get back at it for daring to put workers' rights over the greedy ambitions of the owners.
You see, it's OK to stereotype people in the South and run them down as stupid and undeserving. Behavior and attitudes like these that are routinely perpetrated against the South would not be tolerated for a second against groups such as gays, blacks, or Latinos. Their mere mention against these hallowed minorities is a surefire guarantee of instant political and social ostracism, but expounded in the national media such as the Wall Street Journal against Southerners, they are seen as enlightened and bold expressions of the truth everyone already knows. You see, we in the South are really seen by the North as a bunch of illiterate hayseeds incapable of contributing anything to society, and a burden to be cared for by enlightened Northern elitists. Mr. Geoghegan elaborated on this theme in earnest, masking it in the language of union rhetoric, but betraying the elitism all the same. To those up North, before you get to feeling too smug in your condescension of the South, remember that he and his other elitist companions probably feel just about the same towards you unless you belong to his social circle. You're just one notch above the South on their scale, but residing near the bottom nonetheless.
Never mind the obvious economic defense that could be mounted in opposition to his article. Pointing out successes such as the Mercedes plant in Alabama, the BMW plant in South Carolina, the record job growth in Texas despite the recession are meaningless when confronting prejudice. We in the South know a thing or two about prejudice and have made tremendous strides in putting its shameful existence behind us. You can't reason with prejudice because its mind is made up and it won't listen. You have to force prejudice to change and keep forcing it as it resists this change. And make no mistake, it will resist.
Boeing and the other companies which have located operations in the South have gone to see for themselves what we have to offer. We are hard working people who are honest, willing and able to learn, and grateful for the opportunity to better our lives. We realize the opportunities presented to us by companies willing to locate here and we're determined to do all we can to not let these companies decide that they've made a mistake. We are committed to their success and ours, and to erasing the shameful attitudes foisted on us by elitist Northerners intent on furthering this shameful stereotype to their economic benefit.
Mr. Geoghegan should be ostracized for his shameful attitude towards his fellow Americans from the South, but he probably won't be. We haven't come far enough down that path Martin Luther King spoke so eloquently of in his speech at the Lincoln Memorial on the hot summer day so long ago. You remember it, don't you? The one where he said he had a dream that everyone would live and work together without the influence of prejudice. We would see past things like race and color and sex and location and just see each other as individuals worthy of respect. Oh, surely you haven't forgotten it after all these years?
Tom Roberson blogs at tomroberson.wordpress.com.