I cannot begin to tell you how offensive these depictions are to those of us from Appalachia.
Some of my friends and family think nothing of making derogatory remarks about my heritage. These same people would never make a racist joke, ridicule people based on their sexual preferences, or mock someone’s religious beliefs. But “hillbillies”? Fair game.
Even some of my family who really should know better make comments about being raised as “white trash” and make derogatory remarks about some elements of Appalachian culture. They are making an inheritance they should bear with great pride seem a legacy of absolute shame.
Family members, ones I love dearly and would never wish to harm or offend, have left me speechless with rage with offhand “funny” comments on social media sites. I’m sure they have no idea their comments offend. Comic strips like “Snuffy Smith” and “Lil’ Abner“, television shows like The Beverly Hillbillies and The Dukes of Hazard, and movies too numerous to mention have made the backward, ignorant hillbilly stereotype acceptable.
It is not acceptable.
The inhabitants of Appalachia are the descendants of our nation’s earliest pioneers. Daniel Boone was facing the “western wilderness” of Kentucky long before settlers set out to the lands beyond the Mississippi.
My people come from strong English, Scotch-Irish and German stock. I have ancestors who have fought proudly in every conflict since the French and Indian War. I can show you the military pension records for my kin who served in the Revolution, the War of 1812, the Civil War, and right through both World Wars.
Yes. Appalachia is poverty stricken. Most of my people were farmers or coal miners. Many scraped by on what they could raise themselves. Yet these same families managed to raise and educate their children. They have shown fierce loyalty to their families. It’s a culture which values knowing who “your people” are.
Mountain families pass on their traditions. Their folklore, music, art, and cuisine have left an imprint our American society as a whole. Their traditional values of God, family, and country are ones many people in our nation would love to instill in their own children.
Several years ago, I watched a documentary on PBS about Appalachian heritage. An interview with an elderly woman from West Virginia, one who reminded me of my own Aunt Mary, stuck with me. She said that the term “hillbilly” had no real meaning for her. Her family members were all “Mountain Williams”.
That is pride. It is not backward. It is not creepy or perverse. It is not ignorant. It is knowing who you are and who your people are. Appalachian culture has given you everything from NASCAR, and bluegrass music to biscuits and gravy. In place of ridicule, you might want to give thanks.