Appalachia: Hillbillies, Rednecks?


So are the terms hillbillies and rednecks, when used to refer to the people of Appalachia, considered derogatory? The short answer is yes, usually they are. If we explore where those terms originally came from, we’ll see that they were not necessarily meant to be derogatory terms but the American people took them and ran with them. Remember The Beverly Hillbillies TV show? The Dukes of Hazzard?  Deliverance, the movie? These words were certainly derogatory in connection with these television shows and, in the case of the first show, gave the viewers something to laugh at. In the case of the movie, Deliverance, these words were more ones for the viewers to be horrified and frightened by.

It is unclear where the word “hillbilly” originated, but it may have been derived from similar words in the Scots-Irish culture. The Scots-Irish people were among the first settlers of Appalachia and may have brought this word with them. The word “hillfolk” was used by the Scots to describe those who preferred living in the mountains and isolation from society. The word “billie” was used to refer to a companion. After the Civil War, Appalachia became perceived as backward as the US moved westward and Appalachia was left isolated geographically and inbred because of that. During the Great Depression, and after, there was outward migration from Appalachia to the north in search of work. The poor whites who emerged from the mountains became figures in stories and the characterization of “hillbillies” emerged even stronger.

When “hillbillies” self-identify, they simply say they are people living in the mountainous regions. When “rednecks” self-identify, they refer to a time when union coal miners fought against mine operators who were trying to oppress them and wore red bandanas around their necks. Rednecks often tie themselves to an entire political and cultural movement in the US. Both terms tend to take on derogatory meanings when used by outsiders. This writer prefers the term “Appalachians” to reflect the proud heritage of the people of the region. #amwriting #writing #blogging #Appalachia



Roundup of Appalachian Blog Posts

Friday Fare to Appalachia

I have committed to writing about my native area, Appalachia, every Friday. Today, I want to do a roundup of the blog posts I’ve written on Appalachia to date. This is for the readers who may have missed a post. It is also for the members of the wonderful new group I have joined on Facebook, Appalachian Americans. Enjoy!

Introducing a Friday Blog Feature on Appalachia

Mother’s Day: Founded in Appalachia

Personality Traits of the Appalachian People

Appalachian Cultural Stereotypes: TV Show “Outsiders”

Appalachia and Food: Green Beans and Corn Bread

Recipe for Memorial Day: Corn Pudding

The Early Homes of the Appalachian Mountain People

Appalachia: Settlers of Eastern KY in the 1700s

The Smokehouse: Preserving Meat

Appalachia and Food: Potato Pancakes

Appalachian Folklore: The Jack Tales

Book Review: Clay’s Quilt

Appalachian Roots

Bluegrass Musician Ralph Stanley Dies

I will blog about Appalachia every Friday, and perhaps on other days, at Writings from the Heart. I look forward to your comments! #amwriting #writing #blogging #appalachia







Appalachian Roots

I am from Appalachia, central Appalchia to be exact. Northeastern Kentucky to be even more exact. My roots have a bit of a split personality. Part Appalachian, part Swedish! What a combination which probably accounts for my split personality and eccentric leanings. Someday, I will write about my Swedish family. Now I want to write about Appalachia. Appalachia breaks my heart.

I have always lived geographically close to Appalachia and spent almost 30 years teaching students who came from the region. I did not grow up deep in the heart of Appalachia but I frequently visited my grandparents and other family who lived in the Central Appalachian region. As I grew up, their culture was my culture, their values were my values, their way of life was my way of life. By the time I was becoming a teenager, Appalachia’s best days were behind it but I didn’t know it. My grandfather had worked hard to insure that his eight children, including my mother, had left the region in order to get an education and seek their fortunes. One had to go elsewhere for an education. There were only two universities reasonably close by and the terrain of the region is geographically isolating.

Poverty was the calling card of the region. My grandfather was a landowner, a successful farmer, and had gas and oil wells on the rich land. When I looked out his front door, I saw acres of corn and tobacco growing and many dairy cattle grazing. He was the exception not the rule. He refused to let his family work in the coal mines, but coal mining was one of the principal industries. Much of the region is not suited for farming as it is too mountainous. Manufacturers did not bring their industries to Eastern Kentucky. There were no good roads.

The people opposed interference from outside the region. They feared that their culture would be taken away, their way of life stolen, their children corrupted. They feared cultural change more than they feared poverty.

My grandparents are gone now but the old farmhouse still stands. Do you know what I see when I look out the door now? Trailer parks. Very poor, hopeless people. Children playing in the dirt yards. Starving dogs surviving on table scraps tied out in the yard. I know enough about the area to know what lies within some of those trailers. Drugs. Heroin. Pain pills. In that county, there is little economic activity with around a 33% unemployment rate. Farming is gone. The gas and oil wells still pump but the owners of the mineral rights live far away or the mineral rights were unfortunately sold along with the land. The people lost their way of life but not to manufacturers or education. They lost it to drugs and poverty.

Appalachia breaks my heart. #appalachia #poverty #drug abuse

Watch this space for much more on Appalachia.