“You can’t appreciate, that’s why you f***ers hate”
Snippets of this–including the title quote–started going through my head again, as music tends to do whenever I’m awake. Earworms ‘R’ Us…
I haven’t had time and energy at the same time to write much lately–especially since I’ve been working on some PTSD stuff and trying to learn some more effective self-advocacy/negotiation skills specifically for medical settings so that I can maybe actually go to the doctor. I will probably write some more about that, especially in case someone else reading could benefit from some resources there. But, I thought I’d crosspost another one from Tumblr, with a little bit of attached commentary. And no doubt some more here. 😉
(bolding added, BTW)
One of the best summaries I have run across. And a lot of people are so invested in this crap that the modern versions are rarely even seen as abusively xenophobic.
Another example of how it pays to be very, very wary when people who might have some kind of agenda oversimplify and dumb things down.
The kinds of “racializing” strategies employed to otherize Appalachians were only a regionally-specific variation of the mechanisms used all over the world. Indeed, racism “came to serve as one of the pillars of the world-system as it historically evolved” since it functioned as the structural mechanism through which “the world division of labour would be ‘assimilated’” into the universal capitalist culture. To rationalize surplus extractions, wealth concentration, and political inequities, colonizing agents constrain those at the bottom through policies of polarization, exclusion, discrimination and repression. Then they construct myths and stereotypes that “ideologically camouflage” their own oppression and exploitation of those ethnic minorities. In short, the cultural interlopers “rewrite” the ethnic history of the colonized people. Driven by their ethnocentric sense of superiority, the intruders mythologize their capitalist agenda as a lofty mission to bestow “progress” on “backward barbarians.”…
In short, the ethnic denigration of Appalachians was neither benign nor locally-invented. The rewriting of Appalachian ethnic history was two-pronged. First, nonwhites were silenced and made invisible in the regional population. In the scenarios of the cultural interlopers, there were neither indigenous Appalachians nor black ex-slaves. [Nor the various descendents of all the maroons and other Free People of Color, which legally included indigenous people. As did the maroons, in reality. – D.] Second, white Appalachians were redefined to be outside the boundaries of privileged ethnic membership among Anglo-Saxon groups. To become “white enough” for that standard, mountaineers would have to undergo tremendous change that would have to be orchestrated by “civilized” external whites. Writing in 1879, Ziegler and Grosscup argued that Southern Appalachians comprised a “mutant race” that varied from the “norm” of Anglo-Saxon racial superiority because they possessed a “homogeneity of character” rooted in the “racial stock” of early Celtic settlers. Supposedly, “scattered families of other nationalities followed into the wilderness, but so largely did the Scotch-Irish prevail over all other races that the amalgamation of blood which followed brought no perceptible change.” Several writers focused on identifying the “ethnic blood lines” that accounted for variation from the Anglo-Saxon norm in physique, coloration, and in-born predispositions to cultural, moral, and behavioral patterns. Psychologists and social scientists of the 1920s purported to be able to document the ethnicity of Appalachians by applying anthropometric measures to the skulls of school children, and they contended that poverty and other “character weaknesses” were directly linked to one degenerate Celtic root stock for all “mountain whites.” Geneticists bragged that their especially “trained eyes” could recognize that “streak of blood” which precluded the “evolution” of biologically-inferior whites they labeled “sand-hillers, crackers, dirt eaters, red necks, or hillbillies.” The Darwinists pointed to geographical and cultural isolation as the cause of backwardness, as reelected in the persistence of outdated traits from the frontier ethnic root stock. Kephart contended that the descendants of the Scotch-Irish “remained behind in the fastness of the Alleghenies, the Blue Ridge, and the Unakas, and became, in turn, the progenitors of that singular race which… is commonly known as the ‘mountain whites.’” Similarly, Fiske claimed that “prolonged isolation from the currents of thought and feeling… will account for almost any extent of ignorance and backwardness; and there are few geographical situations… more conducive to isolation than the south-western portion of the great Appalachian highlands.” The “degraded strain” of people who lived there, he claimed, were “white trash” who “withdrew from the haunts of civilization to lead half-savage lives in the backwoods.” (7)
IOW, they “went native” and were made to fill in the niche created by the insistence that all indigenous Appalachians were safely dead, vanished into thin air, or forcibly relocated to Oklahoma. This was the social mythology that led to (fellow “mixed” Tutelo) “Mongoloid” Carrie Buck being the first big eugenics test case, as one of “the shiftless, ignorant, and worthless class of anti-social whites of the South.” At the same time that they were measuring schoolkids’ heads and Virginia was also declaring “insane/feebleminded” and forcibly sterilizing people recognized as “mixed” (“This sterilization program did not end until 1979. You read that right: 1979”). Damned either way, and the stereotypes applied were/are near-identical.
(pocketfullofpoesy: ) This is why I hate people who are supposedly progressive pulling elitist shit about Southerners, Appalachians, or rural people. My people are “hillbillies” by descent, and there is such a complex culture behind generational poverty.
(me again) Yep. Sometimes I have a really hard time not just shaking some people until their teeth rattle in their heads. Which is even trickier when you are 57 kinds of “savage”, by definition–never mind the whole nonviolence thing. *eyeroll*
Jason Adams outlined a little more of what happened in some areas, in Self-Determination on the Paleface Reservation: the Melungeon Reemergence in Southern Appalachia:
After the war, which solidified the political unity of the rest of the nation, Appalachia fell prey to a uniquely vicious form of industrial colonization by outland capitalists. This occurred simultaneously, and in a very similar way as did the well-known conquests of large parts of Africa, Asia, and Latin America. By the late 1800’s Appalachia’s resource rich mountains had been nearly cleared out of an asserted indigenous presence, leaving the mineral industry in an infinitely more powerful position than Tubeuf had been a century before. In order to enforce this extraction of profit, Melungeon family claims to southern mountain lands were illegalized by state governments and stolen at gunpoint by industry. The first major action of this sort came by way of James Fox, in alliance with his younger brother, John Fox Jr. James was a speculator, and he made plans to first monopolize access to all of the major entrances to the Cumberland Plateau coalfields of Kentucky, Virginia and Tennessee, including Cumberland Gap, Pound Gap and Stone Mountain and to then extract their minerals. In a nod to his future actions, he mentioned to his brother that these were areas heavily inhabited by a mixed-blood people he labeled a “prolific, dark race” (Wilson, 1995, p. 31).
The Foxes wasted no time convincing Melungeons to sign away their land and mineral rights on the basis of their race, by pointing out records dating back to the first U.S. census, thereby pushing their hand to sign “broad form deeds” over to them (Wilson, 1995, p. 39). Taken at a rate of one dollar an acre in such cases, while comparable land was going for six hundred dollars an acre in other parts, the simple fact that they were Melungeons left them both landless and impoverished. To ensure that their rule over the region would be totalitarian, the Fox brothers quickly replaced indigenous place names, law enforcement, stores, educational institutions, and even local labor with their own. One of James Fox’s business partners even got laws passed that restricted the power of local governments to stop industry-initiated land condemnations unless granted that right by the industry-dominated state government. Members of the “prolific, dark race” who had thrived for centuries on self-sufficient farms and the fertile valley soil they used, were either disenfranchised and run off the land or converted into “freindly gaurdian” tenants and laborers for the mineral industries (Wilson, 1995, p. 22-23). Such totalitarian behavior could not have succeeded had they not created an image of Appalachia as a place in need of industrialization; a “backwards” region less modern than, and implicitly separate from, the rest of the nation. The Fox’s are documented to have foreseen this conflict, and so younger brother John constructed a spectacle of Appalachia that effectively legitimized the exploitation of the land and people. In John’s works, Appalachia was portrayed as isolated from the national economy even though, as one Melungeon woman bitterly put it, “the rest of this nation was built on the broken backs of this region” (A. Collett, personal communication, May 23, 2000)
These would be some of the folks who have since been whitetrashwashed. He then goes on to talk some more about the eugenics movement.
This kind of thing would be why I was not using hyperbole in the little ‘Yeah, when you can visually pick out people at 20 yards and determine based on their “wrong” appearance that they’re part of a group you look down on/despise, you’re a racist. ‘ diatribe in an endnote to an earlier post. For whatever reason, people from the region in question really do overall have some kind of “variation from the Anglo-Saxon norm” going, both culturally and in appearance–and some of us grew up hearing how “wrong” we looked, acted, and thought. I did not even have to open my mouth for the bigoted to know my ethnic background; they could tell by looking. (And, in my particular case, a lot of that was due to, erm, non-European features. While I was getting called “white trash” to my face. I did grow up in a strange island of snotty incomers, which most locals had already fled for surrounding counties.)
When I was younger, I thought I could not call what I was experiencing racism, because people went to such pains to deny that anybody like me could possibly be other-than-white–because there are no non-“white trash” hillbillies at all. People would try to argue you down if you said you were one. And I turned out light-skinned, which did not actually give much in the way of passing privilege in a lot of contexts. (When what you’d be passing/passed as is that “mutant race” made up of the ‘“degraded strain” of people’ from the original article, hmm. Yep, got some of that horrible Celtic heritage going too, thanks.) Yeah, the Black kids caused some cognitive dissonance, and got treated like crap in some different ways; more Indian-identified and/or multiracial people just never existed at all. (“La la la–I can’t hear you!”) Appalachian Black Indian-identified people probably make the sky fall in, even more than most Black Indians. Or binary-thinking bigots’ brains implode, at the very least. Now that I understand the “rules” better, I call bullshit on letting racists define what can be called racism.
The official reasons for looking down on Hillbillies of some descriptions still may not fit into Great American Race Binary-based ideas of racism at all–and the whitewashing explanations the dangerous clowns above came up with may have been absurd–but, even so, it started out explicitly genocidally racist. (In an “assimilate or perish” kind of way. From people who thought they had the “master race” going, and actually inspired folks in Germany.) It still is, though most people do not want to think of themselves as racists and try to do some monolithic whitetrashwashing in self-justification. Classism is oddly OK in certain settings, so we’ll go with that as a justification. And frequently deny that Appalachian people might even qualify as a distinct ethnic group or groups at all, rather than just nasty trash who need to Try Harder to, erm, get more of that Whiteness going. (Another excellent post from Nella Lou, formerly of Smiling Buddha Cabaret.)
Whiteness is a social construct, a definite part of institutionalized racism. It’s an attitude that comprises privilege and exclusivity. Whiteness is all about privilege. It’s a subset of privilege. It is not about individual white people. But it is about attitudes that colonize the minds of white people primarily. Occasionally it occurs in people of color as well who adopt white standards as the default or the norm or the ideal without regard for other viewpoints. These attitudes are perpetuated and reinforced in white culture, especially in the media and they are deeply entrenched in institutions of all kinds. They are very much based on unchallenged assumptions. It is sometimes referred to as a colonization of the mind.
BTW, my seemingly erratic use of “White” and “white” is, indeed, based on culture/identification vs. actual skin tone. It is very possible to be one and not the other. Especially when some colonial racist expectations just do not correspond to reality.
And another relevant snippet from one of those random Google results that didn’t turn out to be otherwise useful for what I was actually trying to find more on:
a lot of what people perceive about west virginia and appalachia in general is from the old stereotypes portrayed by the media , egged on by the corporations, that robbed and environmentally almost destroyed these mountains. also the old cartoons like lil abner, snuffy smith, beverly hillbillies, and hee-haw. i have met people who live like those in hee-haw, but they are far from stupid, mean, or ignorant. they are the nicest , although not “intelligent” book wise, but rather worldly intelligent in a way they do understand how things work, AND non-racist people.
I would change that to “people who might be interpreted as living like those in hee-haw”, but yeah. I think I’ve even met some from the county where that poster lives.
A while back, I started writing something about some continuing patterns there, on the “insane/feebleminded” front–connected with the trend represented by the Hiawatha Asylum–but it got too long and ranty even for me to try to post. *wry smile* That has definitely been a factor in my being perceived as “lazy, stupid, and crazy”# (as mentioned some in an earlier post on disability and cultural competence). And I can rant about other people I know (and, in a lot of cases, relatives) enough to fill several volumes, including at least one who was assumed to be intellectually disabled by the school before they bothered to do any testing–then became mentally ill (and seriously overmedicated) when his IQ tested out 180+. I didn’t see any problem with his behavior before, other than what you’d expect from a little kid. And, yeah, Carrie Buck looked like our cousin or sister.
That is actually less ranty than the post I mothballed. 😉
I knew that Plecker had pretty much dedicated his life to racist documentary | genocide as director of the Virginia Bureau of Vital Statistics, to the point of spending his free time going through old records to find lurking “Negroes”(which would describe all Virginia Natives and people tainted by them, of course–which is actually not that far from reality, AFAICT, viewed through the One Drop Rule and genocidal racism, and further taken to nutty True Believer extremes). But, I was surprised that I had never heard about the program of declaring people documented or eyeballed as “mixed” insane and/or feebleminded so they could be committed and forcibly sterilized until I ran across Patrick Mead’s The Devil and Dr. Plecker. I guess some things are still too hard to talk about much, especially with the multiple layers of stigma involved. The whole piece is well worth reading, but here’s a snippet:
To this day, the State of Virginia will not release the names of all of those sterilized, citing privacy concerns. Right. Sure. It’s to protect the people. We got it.
In Roanoke, Virginia the numbers were typical. In one year 113 were forcibly sterilized and placed in asylums. Of that number, 111 were “mixed” and only two were white. While Plecker and others used the term “mentally deficient” they were not shy in saying that all mixed race people — and non-white people — were mentally deficient. They were diagnosed as being alcoholic, syphillic, schizophrenic, or feebleminded by sight, guess, or by benefit of their last name. Plecker used the current scientific and political consensus that all mixed people were stripped of their “native good qualities” in the process of being mixed.
Roanoke is the nearest medium-sized city to where I grew up. Not surprisingly, I have relatives in the Roanoke Valley. A lot of my own family must have been lucky, with names off Plecker’s list and a lot with that certain “Mongoloid” look and/or some African features. I have certainly reflected before that one great-grandmother and her kids were, as a fellow teen rape victim from a similar background who apparently knew Carrie Buck when she was in “foster care” (i.e., state-mandated domestic servitude) in Radford.
And very few people know about any of this history, to learn from it. Even those whose ancestors were directly affected by earlier ugliness. That is one of the biggest reasons I keep going for history-themed posts, beyond just finding new information that’s interesting enough to me that I want to comment.
At some point, I will probably link to some other posts from Patrick Mead, interesting as they are.
Amazing how this turned out with more commentary than intended, after all. 😉