Business Casual: Georgia, Georgia

It’s bad enough when others disparage our state. It’s worse when we help feed the prevailing and often harmful stereotypes.

A few years ago, when I was helping move my daughter into her freshman dormitory in our nation’s capital and busily unloading boxes from the car, a man who had just alighted from his New Jersey-tagged vehicle with a yippy little dog wandered over, nodded hello, looked at my license plate and said astutely, “Oh, you’re from down there in Georgia.”

I have to say the phrase “down there in Georgia” has always raised my hackles because it usually comes with a big helping of condescension, as though the speaker is addressing some quaint anthropological specimen, trying simultaneously to distance and ingratiate himself or herself.

And, sure enough, on this particular occasion, once I acknowledged I was indeed from Georgia and supplied the requested information that I lived in Atlanta, the man informed me he had a nephew who lived there. He then offered a succinct but crude racist commentary on my hometown and was off to walk his dog.

I was offended by his remark but also his assumption that I might welcome his assessment or agree with it. I told my daughter about the incident with a warning that she might need to prepare herself for some assaults on her home state and presumptions about her opinions on a lot of things.

I admit to being a little thin-skinned when it comes to ugly generalizations as well as almost-funny assumptions. (One of the first Georgia questions my daughter got was from someone wondering why she didn’t have a deep suntan since she was from down there in Georgia where the sun always shines.)

I’ve bristled when people outside our borders find it convenient to portray all Georgians as whiskey-voiced aging belles, pot-bellied tobacco-spitters or Deliverance extras clinging to the past.

I’ve taken umbrage when outsiders mispronounce our place names (“No, it’s not KY-row, it’s KAY-row. This is Georgia, not Egypt.”) or mischaracterize our geography (“No, Macon is actually in Central Georgia, not South Georgia, thank you very much.”)

But what most pains me is when we ourselves help feed the prevailing and often harmful stereotypes. Say, for instance, when our legislature narrowly passes – and Gov. Brian Kemp signs into law – a discriminatory “heartbeat” abortion bill, HB 481, that seems designed to drive business and economic prosperity from the state and will almost certainly be declared unconstitutional.

Or when a presumably petulant individual legislator, perhaps annoyed at media coverage of himself or his colleagues, files a last-day-of-the-session bill, HB 734, aiming to create a state journalism ethics commission to regulate, investigate and penalize the media. (That would be Rep. Andrew Welch, a Republican from McDonough; his five co-sponsors – also Republicans — are Reps. Timothy Barr, Ron Stephens, Rick Jasperse, Mark Newton and Mike Cheokas.)

At best, this measure is a colossal waste of time; at worst, it’s a threat to those who report, edit and distribute the news and those who value that news. And, frankly, it makes us look ridiculous – as though we deliberately elect legislators who are unfamiliar with the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. In that regard, HB 734 is a danger to the state’s reputation.

Some have suggested that the timing of the bill was deliberate – nothing was going to happen in the 2019 session, but the measure will hang around until next year as a warning to pesky in-state journalists and a topic of conversation to financial decision-makers outside the state.

Georgia has very deliberately and very successfully put itself in the limelight and made itself a major player on the national and global stage. If we want to be successful, we really can’t come across as a bunch of third-rate bumblers.

Foolish legislation and the consequences don’t stay quietly in Georgia; they are the stuff of national newscasts and social media posts that go viral and jokes made at our expense.

Lots of people have worked hard to make Georgia a music, film and TV hub, a business hub, a technology hub to attract outside investment and corporate locations; a lot of Georgians are benefiting from those efforts.

Why are some of our elected leaders so ready to jeopardize the progress the state has made and the continued progress that is within our grasp?

The rest of the country and the world notice what we do and make business decisions based on what they see, hear and read. Let’s not make it so easy for them to dismiss us.

Categories: Business Casual, Opinions