Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Who can speak for Appalchia? A recent transplant is figuring out that it might be OK if it's him

Local citizens gathered 'round the
microphone at WMMT in Whitesburg,
Ky., where Parker Hobson works.
The Appalachian hills are the world's oldest, according to real geologists, but another old question is the one that Parker Hobson found himself mulling this week in The HillVille, the weekly online magazine of urban Appalachia, a literary meeting place where Appalachian city folks meet with Appalachian rural folks and come to an understanding. Hobson, a native of Louisville who has been living in the mountains for all of eight months, writes that he went back to the city for a festival and when people asked him where he was from, he got to thinking closely about his answer. Then he came home and wrote this:

"I kept thinking back to an article I read this past April. It was, on the whole, a well-written history of the Louisville-Kentucky rivalry and basketball in the state, but a passage near the end grabbed me and wouldn’t let go. After describing driving along Letcher County’s [Kentucky] Route 7 and meeting a 'rawboned' man on a front porch, the author went on to write of Appalachian Kentucky: . . . Communities [here] long have been victimized and exploited . . . More often than anyone wanted, Kentucky’s basketball success became the natives’ only source of pride. As exciting as it was to see Route 7 garner a national shout-out, I couldn’t get past that last sentence.

"A theory began to take hold among sociologists in the 1960s that Appalachia had been treated in many ways like an 'internal colony' of the United States. Whether or not you, reader, buy this specific notion, the fact stands that southeastern Kentucky’s resources have generated incredible wealth over the past century, and very little of that wealth has remained in the region. Kentucky’s coalfield district, in fact, was recently rated by Gallup as having the absolute worst overall quality of life of any of the 436 [congressional] districts in the entire United States. In this context, the use of 'natives,' particularly in support of such a questionable conclusion -- there has existed nothing for the 'rawboned' 'natives' of southeast Kentucky to be proud of save the results of basketball games played hundreds of miles away? -- seemed fairly demeaning and wholly unnecessary. Was . . . this easy characterization of Appalachian folks as simple, different, and somehow apart not in some way responsible for the very sort of exploitation the author mentioned? So that should have been it, right?

"It’s pretty easy to take offense to things—you come upon something, you get the old hackles raised, and presto! You’ve taken offense! People do it every day! I began doubting myself, though. Was it even my place to take offense? What did I even really know about this place? Who was I to speak for anyone here? I suppose I’m still not sure. The more that I’m learning and the longer I live here, I’m slowly becoming more comfortable advocating for Appalachia as an objectively incredible, important and downright inspiring place, but I still feel uneasy speaking for it. . . . This place is worth fighting for, and not just because of the vast, deeply-woven, uniquely American traditional culture that has managed to survive here, or just because these mountains contain a beauty of which I had no idea Kentucky was even capable. There are people here who have been overlooked and under served throughout Kentucky’s history, and remain so today.  . . .  This is a long-simmering crisis of human rights and elected sloth, and the people of this region certainly deserve better. No matter where I’m from, how long I’ve been here, or what you want to call me, I’ve got no problem saying that." (Read more)

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