Friday Fare to Appalachia
Do the people of a geographic region like Appalachia have unique personality traits? Some think so. A number of studies have linked personality traits to U.S. geographic regions or even U.S. states. As an example, a 2013 study done by Time Magazine found that the people of Kentucky are one of the most neurotic and introverted people in the nation. They are not very agreeable or open. West Virginia joins Kentucky in the trait of introversion. But, the people in both states exhibit tough-mindedness as well. Most “happiness” studies that have been done find the people of Kentucky and West Virginia ranking near the bottom.
But, wait! This sounds terrible regarding the personalities of the people of these parts of Appalachia. Since I am one of these people,I don’t think we are all unhappy or that we all have troublesome personalities. Could part of the problem be stereotypes of the people of Appalachia? Read on…..
Appalachia is a large region in the eastern part of the United States, named after the Appalachian Mountains. It encompasses 205,000 miles and the people are 42% rural as compared to 20% of the national population. All of West Virginia is considered to be in Appalachia. Parts of twelve other states are in the region, including Kentucky, Alabama, Georgia, Maryland, Mississippi, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, South Carolina, and Virginia.
John Alexander Williams, an author who wrote Appalachia: A History, specified that there is a “core” Appalachia. That core includes 164 counties. Those counties are the entire state of West Virginia and parts of Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, Georgia, and North Carolina. I tend to agree with Mr. Williams. In case you haven’t read my story on this blog entitled, Appalachian Roots, I was born and raised on the fringes of Appalachia and my mother’s family is from deep in the heart of Appalachia. There is a distinct difference between those living deep in Appalachia and those on the fringes.
I spent a good deal of time with my grandparents in the heart of Appalachia growing up and until I was in my 20s. I became familiar with the personality type of the people. While introversion and tough-mindedness are characteristics of the people, I don’t agree with some of the others mentioned in the Time personality study cited earlier. You do have to recall that people migrated to Appalachia during the pioneer days under great hardship. Many migrated because they wanted privacy and land around them. They did not want close neighbors and the thought of being in the mountains appealed to them. The fact that their descendants are introverted and tough-minded can’t be a surprise.
The author Loyal Jones, in his 1991 book entitled, Appalachian Values described some of the personality characteristics of the people very well and his description tallied with my experience. He said the people had the traits of, “Religious, Individualism, Self-Reliance and Pride, Neighborliness and Hospitality, Family Solidarity, Personalism, Love of Place, Modesty and Being One’s Self, Sense of Beauty, Sense of Humor, Patriotism” (Jones 1991:170). I can picture my grandfather when I read that description along with a lot of the men he associated with at his home in Magoffin County, KY. Jones stated that some other authors considered these personality characteristics to be deficiencies, which I can’t imagine.
I believe these personality characteristics may describe the Appalachian people of the past very well. The citizenry of the region have changed as economic times have changed. Money has gotten more scarce as coal mining and farming wanes, a lower paying service economy picks up, and the drug culture and welfare society explode. These cultural and economic events have taken a toll on the personalities of the Appalachian people. Gone is the sense of self and self-reliance of these once-proud people. Family solidarity has fractured. Individualism is no more. Instead, we see once-proud, hard-working people relying on welfare and selling their food stamps for drugs. We see single girls having babies so they can draw those welfare checks and young men seeking out pain pills and disability checks for non-existent ailments. We see any money that does exist invested in drugs instead of in food for the children and a roof over those childrens’ heads. Only in pockets of Appalachia do we find the once proud people of that region. Where there is no work, there can be no pride.
Why do the people stay in Appalachia? Some of their personality traits explain that. The love of place, their culture, their family — all of those are reasons. But, there have been waves of out-migration from the area since the 1960’s. The smart ones seem to leave. The others seem to find reasons not to. The very personality characteristics which are endearing may spell the end of the people of Appalachian unless economic times change in the area. That is the subject for several more blog posts.
Watch this space! #appalachia #amwriting #writing #blogging