Stephen Colbert, well known host of the Colbert Report, has apparently been making a running gag out of ridiculing towns named “Canton.” I had no clue this was going on because I frankly grew tired of both the Daily Show and the Colbert Report a couple of years ago, but I subscribe to the local newspaper’s RSS feed here, and caught a story talking about the subject:

Colbert, of Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report,” has aimed jokes at towns named “Canton” ever since presidential candidate Sen. John McCain visited Canton, Ohio, for a campaign stop in late July. So far, the unfortunate towns included in the ongoing gag are Canton, Ga., Canton, Kan., Canton, S.D., and, most recently, Canton, Texas. On Tuesday, Colbert apologized to the residents of Canton, S.D., for calling the town “North Dakota’s dirty ashtray” and shifted his target south.

“Come on guys, Canton, South Dakota, is great,” Colbert said. “At least you’re not an incorporated outhouse like Canton, Texas.”

Here’s the thing… like many metropolitan coast dwellers, Stephen and his writing staff are arrogant asses when it comes to their opinion of the flyover states. I’m guessing the running gag comes from a feeling of superiority that folks from both coasts seem to have about anyone who lives in a red state or somewhere more than a couple of hours from an American coastline.

I can live with that, though it always irks me when I stumble across that attitude (and I take a bit of pride in calling this sort of arrogance out when I see it).

Unfortunately, he’s not wrong when it comes to this particular Canton.

“Before you make a statement, you really ought to know what you’re talking about,” the City Manager Andy McCuistion told the local paper. I know what I’m talking about when it comes to Canton, unfortunately.

I’ve only lived in a few states in the South, so I’m not sure if other states are similar to Texas in this respect: the attitudes pertaining to race and levels of sophistication can range from 0-10 on your dial from county to county.

I live in a town of , depending on who you ask, between 125,000 and 250,000 people. 100 miles away is the city of Dallas, with millions of folks. About four hours South-ish is Austin, which judging from the folks who leave comments around here you’re either pretty familiar with their weird culture (or you’re getting familiar from my posts here and at Mashable).

In between these kinds of cities of varying size are places like Canton, TX. These places, while they may have certain events or attractions that make them tourist traps or even give them something to be proud of, are home to some of the most low-down dirty rednecks and racists you could ever imagine.

When I was 19, I was arrested for some outstanding speeding tickets I had accrued in three counties and four cities. Once Johnny Law got a hold of me, they took great pleasure in extraditing me all over the state to sit out my tickets. It was an odd way to tour the state, but I got a pretty interesting cross-section of cultures. Despite all the odd assortment of (alleged) criminals I met along the way, the only time I was truly shocked was in Van Zandt County (that is, the county Canton resides in).

I spent the first 24 hours in Canton, as I did at every stop along the tour, in the holding cell. In there with me was a couple of white guys (one of them called himself “Cooter” – and he looked about what you’re probably imagining he looked like, missing teeth and sporting a mullet), a hispanic and a black fellow.

To pass the time, the fellows in the cell started telling jokes, and as you might deduce at this point, it didn’t take long for them to get pretty racist. I don’t remember what the jokes were specifically, but I remember cringing pretty hard at the severity of them and hanging out in the corner trying my best to act asleep.

The shocking part of the tale was how racially derogatory terms (inside and outside the context of the jokes) were used for Mexicans and blacks in the presence of the Mexican and black fellow, and how they simply took it in stride and appeared to genuinely laugh at the jokes at their races’ expense. The cavalier way they accepted the hateful terms and roles the white fellows leveled towards them was jaw-droppingly nuts, and to me indicated a state of institutional racism that still existed in the area.

The attitude towards minorities was endemic to everyone I met there. The state trooper from Canton who transported me from Denton to Van Zandt County repeatedly used the n-word to describe black inmates he’d arrested or transported in the past. My cell-mate once I got into general population was the son of the local KKK Grand Dragon (who’s girlfriend, according to him, was one of the deputies there in the county lockup). He also bragged that the title was something his family passed down like an heirloom of sorts, since his ‘paw-paw’ held the same title. Literally every white person I met was a hardcore racist of some variety.

Not to veer too far off topic, but when I see the stupid brouhaha’s that erupt around figures like Loren Feldman where allegations of racism are made towards not only him but anyone who remotely appears sympathetic to him – this incident in my life serves as a clear deliniation point in my mind. It shows the difference between truely racist remarks and politically incorrect remarks. To equate the two as equal truly diminishes and obfuscates sources of actual racism that are still present in our country.

As for Stephen Colbert’s remarks about a town a few minutes’ drive from my city, I can unequivocally say his description of Canton is way off the mark. ‘Incorporated outhouse’ is far too kind of a label for the town of Canton, TX.