Do hillbillies have white privilege too?

Anonymous,
Knoxville, TN.

I’m from the Mountain South, where white privilege and racism take on a range of meanings outside the mainstream. I’ve heard our regional identity described as a kind of “otherized whiteness,” and I think that’s about right. Whatever else we were, we always knew our whiteness was the wrong kind. That’s what the images and dialogues on TV said to us, either directly or indirectly. It was plain that we were just a bunch of hopelessly dumb hillbillies who didn’t speak proper English. My sister told me she worked hard to shed her accent, like me, because she said she didn’t want to be perceived as ignorant. Anybody from the poor white south knows just what I’m talking about. Then there are others who embrace it, who drape it around them like flag. My parents loved watching the Beverly HIllbillies and the Andy Griffith Show, like they reveled in the delight of seeing people who talked like them on TV, even if they were represented as rubes and degenerates. I’ve never really understood that. But then they always loved All in the Family, Good Times, and The Jeffersons too.

On the other hand, it is one of the few sub-regional identities in the U.S. that allows for the possibility of something like a “white culture.” Maybe. But it has its own set of prejudices too. My grandpa worked in the coal mines of southwest Virginia. He always talked about working shoulder-to-shoulder with black miners underground, but how when they emerged on the surface, they went their separate ways with nary a backward glance. My paternal great grandfather was a renowned banjo player in Tennessee’s Cumberland Mountains, but I doubt he had any idea that the banjo was an instrument of African origin. It’s never simple.

 

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