Appalachian stereotypes are the generalizations that are made about the Appalachian people and cultures as a whole. Appalachian Americans, residents of the United States that reside in the area that spans from the mountains of southern New York through Alabama (referred to as Appalachia), face a number of negative stereotypes. The people of Appalachia are often portrayed as lazy, tobacco smoking, overall-wearing, farmers. “Of the acceptable prejudices, meaning those that are either widely accepted, overlooked, or embraced as truth, that remain, the negative mainstream American attitude toward Appalachia has gone largely unchallenged for decades”, writes scholar Amanda Hayes.
The people of Appalachia can be traced back to a migration of Scottish-Irish settlers that moved to the colonies between 1720 and 1775. The Scottish-Irish immigrants also dealt with discrimination and, as a result, headed west until they found the Appalachian mountains, which reminded them of the mountainous regions from which they originated. African Americans, coming from both freedom and enslavement, also migrated to this region around the same time.
With the growth of coal mining around the 20th century, the population in the Appalachian region grew rapidly, including many different cultures. However, after the Great Depression many families migrated out of the area to find work in the cities where there were more industrial job opportunities.
Currently, the economy of the Appalachian people is constantly plagued by poverty. Many families live on as little as $5,000 per year. Bartering for goods and services is a common practice in Appalachia, and high unemployment is an issue in the area, so many resort to day labor just to feed their families. Scholar Sara Baird writes “Poverty tours conducted by presidents from Lyndon Johnson to Richard Nixon, almost every member of the Kennedy clan, and religious leaders like Jesse Jackson have all painted the portrait of Appalachia the same way: poor, backward, and white.”
Discrimination against Appalachian Americans is significant enough that some municipalities, such as Cincinnati, have enacted laws making it illegal to discriminate against peoples of Appalachian identity. Even the Appalachian dialect plays a role in inspiring the stereotype, those who have never been to the region can still recognize the specific twang that is typical of the area.
Slurs against Appalachian Americans
Derogatory language against Appalachian Americans includes the terms "Redneck" and "Hillbilly," both which can be applied to people of any race, gender, or sexual orientation. These terms often come up in comedic use, such as "you might be a redneck if..." jokes, stereotyped as the role of the "hillbilly fool." The term, "redneck" actually originated in the Appalachian region. With the danger of working in the coal mines, Union organizers and miners worked together to protest against the mining companies, creating the term "redneck" when the union miners tied red bandannas around their necks to unify for their cause. Scholar Wendy Inns wrote, "To this day, the term 'redneck' is one often met with pride among mountain people, however, others like 'hillbilly' or 'hick' are not."
Representations of Appalachian Americans in popular culture
The way that Appalachia has been depicted in the media has a large part to do with the widespread notion that this stereotype is true. These programs choose to showcase a singular type of family, neglecting to depict the Appalachian people as a whole. This one sided representation has added fuel to the already burning fire that is the inaccurate American view of the Appalachian people.
- The Beverly Hillbillies is a good representation of the Appalachian stereotypes, despite being Ozarkian (excepting Granny Moses from Appalachian Tennessee), who arrive in Beverly Hills never having seen a telephone or electricity before.
- The Duke boys in the feature-film version of the The Dukes of Hazzard state that "actually, we prefer to be called Appalachian Americans" when a group of urban (Atlantan) African Americans calls them "hillbillies" in response to their Confederate flag and perceived blackface.
- Here Comes Honey Boo Boo depicts Alana Thompson, a child beauty pageant competitor, and her family. The show is aired with subtitles to better help viewers understand the heavy Appalachian drawl of the characters on the show.
- Comedians such as Jeff Foxworthy and Larry the Cable Guy commonly find inspiration from the Appalachian stereotype coming up with jokes such as “you might be a redneck if…” jokes and “Get-Er-Done” scenarios.
Notes and References
- Inns, Wendy. "Appalachian Mountain People: A Study Of Stereotypes". http://www.usaonrace.com/.
- Hayes, Amanda. "The Lessons of Appalachia". http://www.enculturation.net/.
- Eid, Leroy V. (Winter 1986). . "Irish, Scotch and Scotch-Irish, A Reconsideration". American Presbyterians 64 (4): 211—233. Retrieved 9 September 2014.
- Baird, Sarah. "Stereotypes Of Appalachia Obscure A Diverse Picture". http://www.npr.org/.
- Chapman, Andee. "Illiterate Hillbillies or Vintage Individuals: Perceptions of the Appalachian Dialect". http://www.mhlearningsolutions.com/.
- Beech, Jennifer (November 2004). "Redneck and Hillbilly Discourse in the Writing Classroom: Classifying Critical Pedagogies of Whiteness". College English 67 (2): 172–186. Retrieved 9 September 2014.
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