Yes, Appalachia Is Part Of America Too
While America’s military continues to march across the world, destroying nation after nation and the U.S. State Department funds color revolutions in others, the CIA also continues it’s own campaign of control and manipulation in virtually all the rest. But, moral questions aside, Americans back home aren’t even reaping the benefits of empire abroad. With an economy continuing to mire in depression, crumbling infrastructure, more difficult access to healthcare, tainted food supplies, and a police state that is deepening by the day, the American people are becoming accustomed to lower living standards and all the hurdles associated with it. Indeed, there are parts of the United States – Detroit, Flint, and much of the rural south, for instance, – that resemble a third world country more than anything one might expect to see in “the greatest country in the world.”
Nowhere are the crumbling standards of America more evident than in Appalachia, an area that is often forgotten whenever any political discussion is held. That is, until politicians breeze through the region and attempt to soak up some disgruntled white, formerly working class votes. After election time, however, the candidates put Appalachia and its residents out of their minds and continue business as usual. Economic depression, drug addiction, crime, poverty, and environmental degradation are all part of Appalachia now. They are not the only part, of course, but they have unfortunately become the main backdrop to a region that has suffered the setbacks of every bad decision coming out of Washington and its respective state governments.
Not having the benefit of being made up of mostly protected or chosen minorities, Appalachia is merely forgotten by most Americans or used as a backdrop of mockery and derision by Hollywood producers and academics. When it is remembered, the residents are painted as dirt poor rednecks, racist, misogynistic, dumb hillbillies. One need only listen to a recent broadcast on NPR where Appalachia was being discussed as if it were a foreign country to see how distant certain demographics are from other elements of society.
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Indeed, those elements who identify as egalitarians and constantly harp about “equality” in “social justice” and economics can only discuss Appalachia with academics and “brave” writers who dared live amongst the savages of the region to bring back the stories of poverty, racism, and violence to the more civilized public radio audiences. Appalachia is not discussed with Appalachians, it is discussed with anthropologists masquerading as journalists and authors. Such stereotypes and insults are thrown around in the mics of NPR hosts and guests with the complete confidence that no one in Appalachia is intelligent enough to be listening and, if they are, they are the special people behind enemy lines, drinking from their NPR mugs in secret lest the barbarians beat down their door, stick a gun in their faces, and force them to claim the earth is 5,000 years old.
For instance, in an interview with Elizabeth Catte, a Virginia based historian who recently wrote a book entitled, “What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia,” a short response to J.D. Vance’s book “Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir Of A Family And Culture In Crisis,” which tends to blame “hillbilly culture” for the poverty and “social rot” in Appalachia, the NPR host found herself asking about the most important issue facing NPR listeners today – Donald Trump.
During the course of the interview Catte stated,
There’s an idea that Appalachia is not fundamentally part of the United States, that it’s a place within a place, and it’s not a place but a problem. I would like people to understand that Appalachia is very much part of the wider United States. There’s no mysterious culture here that explains the – you know, the realities. And our stories – the story of Appalachia cannot be separated from the story of the United States and the historical forces that have shaped us.
But why would Catte have to say this? Who actually thinks Appalachia is separate from the rest of the United States, particularly rural America except for the white liberals listening to NPR or the thoroughly indoctrinated college class who have convinced themselves they are intellectuals? No one living in Appalachia thinks they are separate and no one in the rural south thinks Appalachia is separate either. For that matter, rural areas in the South, Midwest, West, and even Northern states do not view Appalachia as a problem instead of a place. Ask most residents in the aforementioned locations and they will find plenty of common ground with Appalachians. There is no question that Appalachia is not some “other America.” Only in the minds of academics, “intellectuals,” NPR types, and social manipulators is that the idea.
But back to Trump. NPR, like its audience, is literally obsessed with Trump and, when it comes to Appalachia, the question is not how to eliminate poverty, bring healthcare, jobs, or higher living standards to the region, it is “Why do these people support Donald Trump?”
In fact, the question in the NPR interview mentioned above, like most NPR interviews dealing with Appalachia, centered around “the forgotten white people who were left behind by a global economy and the rise of Donald Trump.”
Volumes could be written around that question alone. For instance, one could point out that Appalachia is not homogenous and, simply because NPR types have a negative view of Appalachia and thus label it as white, doesn’t make it so. In fact, there are plenty of other races living in Appalachia and perhaps they are even more forgotten than whites in the area since NPR and other academics don’t seem to believe in them. After all, our “intellectual” class may find white Appalachians abhorrent but at least they exist. Still, it is important to point out that Appalachia is not only white, as anyone who ever been to the region can attest to; it is white, black, Hispanic, and other.
It is also important to point out that Appalachians were not “left behind by a global economy.” They were systematically robbed of their livelihoods and their living standards by a trade policy that shipped their jobs overseas for the benefit of international corporations. It wasn’t a failure to innovate and they weren’t “left behind,” they were robbed blind by their government, banks, corporations, media, and the “academics” who supported and promoted that very trade policy.
It is also relatively simple to answer NPR’s question (“Why did white Appalachians overwhelmingly support Donald Trump?”). Without even mentioning the obvious NPR candidate who is so out of touch with any American not in the super rich category that she would go to Kentucky and tell coal miners she would put them out of work, it is a fact that the entire party to which she belongs long ago abandoned white workers. It is no secret that the Democratic Party made a conscious decision years ago to change its own base from labor, working class Americans, to every conceivable minority, orientation, gender identity, and illegal immigrants. The Democratic Party consciously decided to stop making even the heretofore lip service promises of labor concerns in favor of identity politics. That, naturally put whites at the bottom of the racial barrel leftists are so utterly obsessed with. It shouldn’t take a political scientist to figure out why the white working class has left the party.
But why did they fall for Trump? That’s a good question that has an easy answer. Trump, lying as he may have been, was the only candidate who acknowledged that people other than minorities were suffering under the economic crisis. He was the only candidate who acknowledged that decades of Free Trade has resulted in the dramatic loss of jobs and opportunities in the United States while his opponent had an entire political history of promoting it. He was the only candidate who was not pledging to put even more of them out of work on the basis of disproven CO2 climate dangers. Maybe Appalachians aren’t as stupid as the NPR types think they are. After all, Appalachians, like the majority of the country, opposed free trade deals while “academics” and “intellectuals” promoted it along with the bankers, corporations, and politicians that were set to benefit from it financially.
This, however, is what has justified NPR’s (and other media outlets’) use of the term, “Trump’s America” when referring to Appalachia. It is a way of laying blame for Trump’s Presidency at the feet of Appalachians and labeling the “racism,” “xenophobia,” poverty, and “lack of education” of the people there as the reason why Trump was elected. Notice, however, that neither NPR nor any other media outlet would dare travel to an inner city ghetto in Baltimore and label it “Obama’s America” despite the fact that there are similar issues and concerns (and a higher dose of violence) in the inner city as there are in Appalachia.
In a brilliant article by Joshua Wilkey, “My Mother Wasn’t Trash,” Wilkey tells the story of his mother, a woman who, for NPR intellectuals, the words “trash” would no doubt be on the tips of their tongues. Wilkey’s mother died at 55, after years of bad relationships, addiction, and constant work that never lifted her out of poverty and eventually culminated in mental health issues. Her story may have made great reading for academics in between “Fresh Air” and “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me” but, for Wilkey, it was his mother. For her, it was her life. Wilkey’s mother wasn’t a quirky character in a southern fiction novel, she was a real person. Unfortunately, America’s intellectual class is much more comfortable with the fictional woman than the real one.
Much like their views on “social justice,” the intellectual class, after years of being trained to see color, race, ethnicity, nationality, gender, orientation, and any other identity first and foremost, their ideas on Appalachians and poverty are disconnected from the human beings whose economic conditions they claim to want to see improved. Much like right wingers tend to blame minorities for being lazy and “not wanting to work” when it comes to high levels of unemployment in their communities, leftists blame Appalachians for their own poverty because they are, according to them, “racist” and “backwards.”
But let’s be honest. Economic exploitation and blaming the victim is no monopoly of any political persuasion or political party. Indeed, no one in the top levels of society truly believes poor people are poor because they are lazy or stupid. It is only propaganda fed and taught to the middle and “intellectual” classes to justify why some have all and most have none.
As Wilkey writes,
At first reading, the story of my mother’s life seems like little more than a tragedy. However, it is much more than that. Her story reveals the stark realities of growing up poor. All across Appalachia, there are thousands of women just like my mother working, striving, struggling, just to exist. So many people in Appalachia have broken minds and broken bodies and broken hearts, and they do nothing more than survive because that’s all they can do.
It is as popular now as ever to blame poor people for their station in life. Republican politicians love to talk about how poor people could stop being poor if only they made better choices or worked harder. If only they’d stop buying iPhones, they could afford insurance! These assholes – and I do not use that slur lightly – have no clue what it is like to grow up poor. They have no clue how hard it is in many places in the US just to keep the lights on and food on the table. It is easy for them, from the comfort of their cushy offices and homes, with full bellies and bank accounts, to pretend that poor people like my mother are poor because they are stupid or lazy or ignorant or irresponsible rather than confront the broken systems that perpetuate poverty in Appalachia and all across the US. Poor people don’t contribute to reelection funds, but those who profit from poor people sure do. Therefore, truth be told, most politicians couldn’t care less about the plight of the poor. There’s so much profit to be made from poor people – think payday loans, high-interest rent-to-own stores, for-profit colleges, and overpriced mobile homes – that politicians and their crony-capitalist donors have a vested interest in keeping them poor.
Many of us who have personal experience with poverty understand that addiction, mental illness, poor health, and lack of education are symptoms of poverty rather than causes. When I think about all the suffering my mother endured over the course of her life, I can’t help but wonder how anyone could think that she was to blame for her poverty. She started working at 12, and she worked every day for years, long after her body gave out on her. She made choices, some good, and plenty bad, but poor people have fewer options when faced with impending and potentially life-changing decisions. Poor people like Mom are often forced to choose from a small number of shitty options, and most of them try to find the one that is slightly less shitty than the others. When people are eaten up mentally and physically by a lifetime of compounded shitty choices, they reach a point where they can’t even decide what is best anymore, because they realize that no matter what they do – no matter how hard they try – they are cogs in a broken machine and nobody cares about them anyway. Poor Appalachian people are broken, but not nearly as broken as the systems that keep them poor.
Wilkey also briefly summarizes the history of Appalachia. He writes,
For generations, first with timber and coal and later with tourism, Appalachia has served as a sort of internal colony for the rest of the United States. People with no desire to live here came to pillage and plunder. They cheated Appalachian people out of their land and their resources, their dignity and their humanity. In central Appalachia, coal companies engaged in ruthless and ethically bankrupt tactics like using the broad form deed. They moved people into coal camps where they paid them poorly and forced them to buy everything from the overpriced company store. They were compelled to work and remain silent or become homeless. In southern Appalachia, timber barons came for the lumber. They clear-cut the mountains and left environmental and economic devastation in their wake. In both instances, Appalachian people were transformed from independent farmers and craftspeople into laborers treated like nothing more than replaceable parts. They were deprived of their resources, and the profit most certainly didn’t flow back into their communities. Today, all that remains in much of Appalachia are minimum wage service jobs. In the more touristy parts of the region, the people whose ancestors once thrived in these mountains now serve sweet tea and fried chicken to the vacationing descendants of those whose communities and wealth were built in part with the resources extracted from Appalachia.
Wilkey is right. I would suggest adding to that the war on drugs, the economic depression, the inability to find access to clean, nutritious food, lack of access to basic medical care, low ages, few jobs, rising costs of energy, food, and virtually everything else, as well as a polluted environment all serve to deepen the levels of poverty Appalachians find themselves in. America, in general, is becoming a third world country and it is doing so faster than most realize. Appalachia is perhaps one of the areas where that decline is most evident. But it’s not because the people are racist. It’s not because they are stupid. It’s not because they are backwards. It is the direction the entire country is heading in.
When my mother died, she had fifty-six cents in her bank account. Had someone told her they really needed that fifty-six cents, she would have given it to them without a second thought. She lived in a world that led her to understand the importance – no, the necessity – of helping others. If there’s any hope at all for fixing the brokenness in Appalachia, it lies with those who have a servant’s heart. It starts with putting aside condescending and selfish beliefs. It starts with taking a lesson from my sweet little mama and loving the outcast and the unloveable.
I would also suggest that it starts with not creating outcasts out of our own.
Brandon Turbeville – article archive here – is an author out of Florence, South Carolina. He is the author of six books, Codex Alimentarius — The End of Health Freedom, 7 Real Conspiracies,Five Sense Solutions and Dispatches From a Dissident, volume 1 and volume 2, The Road to Damascus: The Anglo-American Assault on Syria,and The Difference it Makes: 36 Reasons Why Hillary Clinton Should Never Be President. Turbeville has published over 1,000 articles dealing on a wide variety of subjects including health, economics, government corruption, and civil liberties. Brandon Turbeville’s podcast Truth on The Tracks can be found every Monday night 9 pm EST at UCYTV. He is available for radio and TV interviews. Please contact activistpost (at) gmail.com.