Appalachian does not always mean “hillbilly”

B. D. R.
Huntington, WV

While I was born in Appalachia, I am not a West Virginia native. Still I tend to get my dander up whenever someone decides to pick on the region because of their ignorance. Almost 20 years ago I took a newspaper job in Connecticut and was very excited that my wife and I were moving to such a cultured place. To make a long story short, on my first assignment I was covering a terrible accident on the interstate and while standing in the cold tried to strike up a friendly conversation with a local Red Cross worker. When I told her I had moved from West Virginia, without a blink she said, “You know y’all lost the war, don’t you?” I was a bit shocked and didn’t want to alienate a potential future source on one of my first days. But I really felt like mentioning that West Virginia was the only state born from the American Civil War, and was created by residents of western Virginia who did not want to be a slave state.
So while neither Appalachian or hillbilly are really races, it struck me that we put people in all kinds of mental boxes – with all the baggage that goes with them – and that those aren’t limited to race. The one identifier that seems to be universal is “ignorant.”

 

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