In third grade, we had a student teacher that taught historical facts and timelines of Johnson Co. (our home county) and she taught various geography lessons pertaining to Kentucky. It was then that I learned of Appalachia as a region. I heard of the stereotypes on occasion. Perhaps my parents speaking of them.
In college, I took a course on Appalachian Studies at UK. I had interest in furthering my knowledge of where I was born and raised. The course really opened my eyes to a view (the stereotype) that I think deep down we all know exists, but we bury it away.
We studied several books: Hunter’s Horn by Joyce Carol Oates, The Unquiet Earth by Denise Giardina, The Road to Poverty by Dwight Billings, and Gurney Norman attended class one night to discuss his Confronting Appalachian Stereotypes and Back Talk from Appalachia. All were interesting reads and provoked good conversation and papers. I remember the professor asking during one class session who was from Appalachia. A show of hands determined the long U-shaped table was split about 50/50 between those from the region and those alien to its ways of life. We also watched several documentaries during the semester. I cannot recall the names of any of the documentaries. I can recall that the ones we watched were ones that portrayed a poor way of life and a one-sided view. Most were in black and white. I remember feeling the need to write and speak defensively for my home in my essays and class discussions. While the history, culture, and society discussions held much truth, it was in that class that I learned that we really were different. Our talk was different; our traditions were different, our way of life. I learned that, while growing up in Paintsville I was impressed with the John CC Mayo mansion in my hometown, there was also the flip side of coal. That coal was a dangerous hardship and way of life for my people, but it afforded the outsiders who abused our land finer things. I learned that many of the staple foods in our diets were “outsider” items brought in to the company store. “Outsiders” was a common theme in the class. Appalachia, tucked away in the hills, did not want “outsiders” coming in to their world. Well, perhaps for good reason.
As a medical sales rep, I have traveled to many states for meetings and trainings. Inevitably, the question arises: “Where are you from?” The answer Kentucky provokes a response of Oh, Lexington or Louisville. I would respond, “No, Eastern Kentucky.” I would get the typical responses. “Oh, you wear shoes?” The best line probably came from a physician in Northern Kentucky. I listened to his meanderings on Eastern Kentucky for a while, all the time my “blood boiling.” He summarized his thoughts with “There is a reason Kentucky has its name – all the area West and North of Lexington is the Kent part and all that Eastern area is the ucky – the yucky of the state.” The thoughts that ran in my mind! I professionally said, “And where are you from?” His response was Indiana. I said, “But you have been to Eastern Kentucky?” He responded no. I collected my things and on my way out the door said, “Well, all you have stated then is a lie because you haven’t been there to see it with your own eyes and experience the so-called yucky.” I never returned to his office. That exact way of thinking angers me. The stereotype that media portrays really has an effect. The readers/viewers believe what they read and see. Yet, they have perhaps never been to our land. Appalachia isn’t perfect by any means, but there is a lot of good in that “yucky.” A heritage – one I am certainly proud to call my own. Don’t call me a hillbilly.
Guest post by Kara B.