Stereotyped – again

Berry Craig
Berry Craig
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“Jesus is my savior, Trump is my president,” proclaimed the sign on the Trump Store door in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, the busy tourist town at the edge of the Great Smoky Mountains. (There’s also a Trump Store in nearby Pigeon Forge.)

When I photographed the sign, I got stereotyped – again.

Watching approvingly was a Trump fan – a middle-aged white guy with a buzz cut. He was in blue jeans and a black biker tee-shirt. All he needed was a red MAGA hat.

“Hell, yes!" he smiled and yelled, obviously figuring me for a Trumper. Okay, I fit a significant Trump demographic. I’m old (72), bald, and a white guy. I suffer from Furniture Disease, a geriatric male malady in which your chest sags into your drawers.

“Hell, no!” I frowned and replied. Taken aback, he walked on.

The sign at the Trump Store in Gatlinburg (photo by Berry Craig)

I can see why he got me wrong. After all, I was photographing a pro-Trump sign.

But sometimes, liberals see me and write me off as “one of those.” I get that, too.

Even, so it’s mainly conservatives who stereotype me. Examples abound:

One time, I struck up a friendly conversation with a fellow senior citizen who, unbeknownst to me, doted on The Donald. We didn’t know each other from Adam.

But hearing my western Kentucky drawl — I say “dawg” and “nekked” and “aint” for the spouse of an uncle — he starting praising the president, evidently figuring I’d chime with an “amen.” I smiled, suggested that we agree to disagree without being disagreeable, and bade him farewell.

I am quick to disabuse Ever-Trumpers of their notions about me, politely or pointedly, as the situation dictates. (I laugh at liberal incredulity.)

I relish telling MAGA hatters — thickening my drawl for effect — that I voted for Clinton and for Obama, twice, and for Biden. I do likewise for urban and Blue State liberals who stereotype me as a proponent of what Biden suggests is “semi-fascism.”

My buddy David Nickell, whose faculty office adjoined mine at the community college in Paducah, has experienced liberal stereotyping, too – and in the ivied halls of academe.

Like me, David is a lifelong western Kentuckian who packs a union card and whose politics lean left of progressive. His accent also betrays his roots.

David told me about the time he was in grad school in the University of Colorado philosophy department.

“They brought in this guy to interview for a faculty position. Forrest Williams, one of my favorite professors, said to my class, ‘I hope everybody will give this guy a fair shake because I think he is a really good candidate.’”

Professor Williams added: “‘He’s from the South, and I know that when you hear his accent, you’re going to think he’s anti-intellectual and not very intelligent, but give him a chance.”

With that, Nickell said, “everybody looked at me.”

Okay, most Kentuckians — especially most western Kentuckians — who look like me and sound like me voted for Trump, twice. More than a few of them are flying blue Trump 2024 flags.

If you’re an old white guy from any Red State, it’s commonly assumed that there's no way you voted for the Trumpist unholy trinity: Obama, Clinton, and Biden.

I’ve cast a ballot for every Democrat who’s run for president since Hubert Humphrey in 1968, the first year I was eligible to vote.

I was also stereotyped when Obama was in office. I was exchanging pleasantries with a guy who, like me, was then in his early 60s. Out of the blue, he re-channeled our otherwise innocuous conversation into politics. He said Obama was a liar. I politely but firmly let him know that I disagreed and schooled him that my politics differed decidedly from his.

He excused himself to chat with somebody else. As he decamped, I could almost read his mind: how could somebody like him vote for Obama?

I still wish I’d had a chance to tell him I’ve been a NASCAR fan since I was in junior high school. That would’ve really blown his mind.

I’ve been blowing minds in my home state for going on 50 years – starting as a liberal in-house columnist for a conservative newspaper.

“Where’s that Berry Craig from?” one of my detractors grunted at a colleague of mine he happened to meet.

“Kentucky,” the reporter replied.

“No, no, I mean from where up North?” the guy demanded.

“He’s lived in Kentucky all of his life," my buddy explained, truthfully.

“I don’t believe it,” came the rejoinder. “He’s got to be from up North.”

So it continues into my golden years. “Half the fun is making them jump,” the famous Yankee liberal lawyer Clarence Darrow supposedly said of those who hated him.

I guess I’m proof that right-wing white guys don’t just stereotype minorities. They stereotype other white guys.

Apparently, they think that if you look like them and sound like them, you must be one of them.

All right, I’m the first to admit that white guys like me are an endangered species from Jordan to Jenkins, except in liberal Louisville and Lexington.

I don’t think “socialism” is a dirty word. I’m not of the Jesus-loves-me-not-you persuasion. I’m on the “wrong” side of the Religious Right’s “social issues.”

Anyway, white folks who stereotype me remind me of what the ancient Greeks considered one of the worst sins: hubris.

It means too much pride. I can’t think of a better definition of hubris than to consider it inconceivable that anybody who looks like you and talks like you could think differently from you.

“People make a lot of judgements about identity based upon age, sex, and race,” said Greg Leichty, a University of Louisville professor emeritus of communications. “It isn’t a good practice because you end up surprised a lot of the time.”

But, he added with a chuckle, “if they know you’re from western Kentucky and make a guess that you’re a Trumper, it’s a pretty good guess.”

Unless you’re talking about me, that is.

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Berry Craig

Berry Craig is a professor emeritus of history at West KY Community College, and an author of seven books and co-author of two more. (Read the rest on the Contributors page.)

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