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Appalachian stereotypes are the generalizations that are made about the Appalachian people and cultures as a whole. Appalachians, 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 Scotch-Irish settlers that moved to the colonies between 1720 and 1775. The Scotch-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 Appalachians 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 Appalachians
Derogatory language against Appalachians 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." 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 Appalachians in popular culture
The way that Appalachia has been depicted in the television 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. Movies often depict wholly negative stereotypes of Appalachian culture. 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 1972 film Deliverance is set and filmed in the Appalachian mountains of Georgia. It features negative stereotypes of Appalachian people, portraying the people as inbred, backwards, and dangerous. It does however showcase rather accurately the poverty that the region and its people endure and explores the negative attitudes that city folk have towards Hillbillies. The 2012 documentary The Deliverance of Rabun County explores how the film affected the people in the region, and how they felt about their portrayal. Many of those interviewed for the documentary felt resentment for the way in which they were portrayed.
- 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.
- 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.
- The TV series Justified (2010–2015), which was set in Harlan, Kentucky, featured various "unsavory characters" running afoul of the law, including "a moonshine-making Appalachian matriarch of a law-defying hillbilly family" and the Dixie Mafia.
- Inns, Wendy. "Appalachian Mountain People: A Study Of Stereotypes". usaonrace.com.
- Hayes, Amanda. "The Lessons of Appalachia". enculturation.net.
- Eid, Leroy V. (Winter 1986). "Irish, Scotch and Scotch-Irish, A Reconsideration". American Presbyterians. 64 (4): 211–233. JSTOR 23330420.
- Baird, Sarah. "Stereotypes Of Appalachia Obscure A Diverse Picture". NPR.
- "Chapter 914 - UNLAWFUL DISCRIMINATORY PRACTICES". Retrieved 10 June 2015.
- Chapman, Andee. "Illiterate Hillbillies or Vintage Individuals: Perceptions of the Appalachian Dialect". 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. doi:10.2307/4140716. JSTOR 4140716.
- "40 years later, 'Deliverance' causes mixed feelings in Georgia". Retrieved 16 May 2016.
- "Margo Martindale: A 'Justified' Moonshine Matriarch". NPR. September 12, 2011.